Next up in our Concept to Reality series is none other than London based creative agency, Generation Works. Set up by Ben and Will, Generation Works specialise in bringing brands to life with their unique approach to branding, design and their content creation.
Having worked closely with them in the past on our Converse collaboration, we sit down with founders Ben and Will to discuss their paths and the ways they bring their unique ideas to life.
Footpatrol: Hey guys, how are you? Thank you for taking the time to talk to us today! We have worked together in the past and know all about you but for our audience can you give them a little insight into yourself and what it is you do?
GW: We are Ben Ari and Will Kemp, co-founders and co-directors of GENERATION.works, a creative studio based in London. We specialise in branding, design and content creation, but also do things like exhibitions and events, research and consultancy.
FP: How did you go about starting the agency? And what difficulties did you have at the beginning?
WK: Ben and I have been friends for years ever since we first met back in 2007-ish when I was doing my streetwear brand Second Son, and we started working together on that. We stopped Second Son in around 2010, but we’d always said we wanted to work together again in the future doing something that brought the best of our mates’ talents together.
BA: When we both left our jobs and went freelance back in 2017, we joined up with another old friend of ours, Ry Barr from The Drop Date. Initially we worked on helping set up the clothing side of the business, and later this evolved into establishing a creative function to support The Drop Date through things like media partnerships and events. Fairly quickly we realised we all really enjoyed working together and wanted to push things forward even more, so we set up GENERATION.works in 2018 as a fully-fledged creative studio. We were incredibly lucky to have a platform like The Drop Date help support us in those early days and we still work really closely – it allowed us to grow things pretty naturally, and it’s been non-stop from project to project ever since.
WK: From there, one of the key things for us was the network of creative talent we already had around us, and our existing brand connections meant we were able to hit the ground running in terms of projects. We’re both much more comfortable being behind the scenes so self-promotion isn’t something we really focus on. I mean, our website has just been a holding page for two years…
BA: Proper site coming soon, we promise!
FP: What were you doing prior? Was it a creative job? Freelance? Or something completely different?
BA: In my late teens I was mainly roaming around East London doing things I probably shouldn’t. I discovered places like Kazmatazz and Gloria’s (a couple blasts from the past for the older heads) and would spend most of the cash I made there, it was a real introduction to stuff for me which was a world beyond what I knew. Eventually Pete Yak introduced me to Will who was running Second Son at the time as it was stocked at Gloria’s, and that’s how we first connected and I started working on marketing and events for the brand. From there I was lucky to have a couple of great people take me under their wing, first by Steve Monaghan in the really embryonic days of his communications agency, SANE and later by my friend Marc Chamberlain who was re-booting French sportswear brand le coq sportif. Initially I handled Brand Communications, and then moved on to developing their Made in France Apparel range and some of the footwear collaborations, splitting my time between London and Paris. It was hugely challenging working with a small brand with limited budgets and a big history, but the learning curve that came with it was invaluable. I’ve sort of done a bit of everything over the years, and I think it’s the same for Will.
WK: Very much so, I think we’ve got a broad range of experience in various aspects of this industry – we’ve all swept the shop floor, and I think that ground-up knowledge is instrumental to our creative approach.
I started out studying graphic design and working in illustration. I was working part-time at Bond International off Carnaby Street, which was the UK’s first streetwear store and acted as a social club for a huge amount of people in the local and global industry today, (including the OG Footpatrol team). I was a skater who was far more into design than fashion – still the case in many ways – but I consider my time at Bond as a kind of apprenticeship that introduced me to a wider range of subculture beyond the ones I already knew, plus a lot of good friends and future clients. I did graphic work for brands like Carhartt WIP while doing design and creative direction for my own clothing label, dabbled in some fashion journalism, and worked on other design and branding jobs both in and out of the fashion industry. Then when I had a baby I moved to a full-time job doing graphic and apparel design for a clothing brand. It put food on the table and gave me a lot of useful experience at a bigger brand level, but it sapped my soul so I left to go freelance again after a few years and that’s when the stars aligned and allowed us to begin what we’re doing now.
FP: What we would like to know is how you get from concept to reality. Would you be able to choose ONE project that you have worked on and summarise into 5 steps the process from the client’s initial email to what the consumer sees?
Once we receive the brief from the client, we take some time together to work through our initial ideas. This process is generally about us trying to find a middle ground between what the client thinks they need, and sometimes what we really think they need. I’m sure that’s lost us some work over the years but we sleep slightly better at night knowing that we generally get to do things the right way.
Being mates helps loads with this process because we are naturally on the same wavelength a lot of the time and approach things the same way. We’re really collaborative in our process, from client conversations right through to the final product.
When we’ve decided the direction we want to go in, we bring relevant members of the team into the conversation to start pulling things together. We’ve got a combination of industry veterans and new blood, all rooted in a passion for product and knowledge.
The deck that we send back to clients is usually pretty exhaustive; we try and be as thorough as possible in working through our concepts and providing options. Our detailed approach goes back to our roots in product and really being obsessed with aspects of things most people don’t notice but that for us, make all the difference.
Once the approach and timeline have been agreed with the client, we move on to executing it using members of our own core creative team and bringing in external collaborators where we think it’ll add something unique to the project. The first Converse x Footpatrol project we worked on was a good example of the way we combine research, campaign creation and community seeding. Footpatrol had designed the shoe with a wealth of references from classic collegiate sportswear and Converse history, and we wanted to reflect that. We drew on our apparel side project SOUVENIR.works to create a huge patchwork quilt made from vintage sportswear in the same colours and materials as the shoes, stitching it all together around the star emblem that appears in both the Converse and Footpatrol branding. This patchwork became the basis of the whole project, from campaign shoot to in-store display.
Once the shoot was wrapped, we moved to the in-store displays. The patchwork was a way of literally stitching together the influences behind the shoes, and we continued this collage approach for the window display. We worked with sculptor Joseph Bond to create an assemblage of sports trophies and relevant items like Badminton racquets and basketball hoops, all built on a podium-shaped base and coated with layers of orange spray paint to reflect the pop colour of the shoes which it displayed. The hoodies were hung on a vintage sports hall bench we had taken apart and recoloured to match the rest of the build, and the vintage sportswear patchwork was hung from one wall.
With the campaign imagery going out on Footpatrol channels and in the wider fashion press to tease the release, we organised a small, intimate in-store seeding event to involve relevant members of the Footpatrol community and reflect the team ethos behind the shoes. When it comes to seeding, we’re rooted in a wide and varied community of footwear enthusiasts and we always aim to tailor things so we’re only approaching people who will really be into the products. We value real resonance with the products over Instagram likes; it’s more meaningful for the people receiving the products and invitations, it leads to a real sense of community and conversation at events, and it works better for the client too.
FP: Would you have any advice that you could share with our readers?
WK: I think it’s important to look beyond your own immediate industry for inspiration. And to ensure you’ve got a good base of knowledge – or that you work with people who have. The internet means anyone can get surface knowledge of even the most niche subject, but if you aren’t able to see where things evolved from, you won’t be able to anticipate where they’re going.
BA: Absolutely, don’t try and be an expert in everything all on your own; keep a thirst for learning and improving, it’s much more important to surround yourself with knowledge and good people and work collaboratively at every opportunity. The strength of the work we do is as much about the team as it is about us as individuals and that’s probably what we’re most proud of.
FP: How you are coping with the current lockdown. Is there anything particular that’s keeping you going?
BA : I have a 3-year-old daughter, which is a real blessing in terms of keeping me busy and sane, but not so good for getting work done. I’m slowly making my way through a pile of books I’ve been trying to read for about 5 years. We’re also getting to focus back on our SOUVENIR.works side project, which focuses on exploring references from the past and re-imagining them through products. We might even finally drop some new bits, maybe.
WK: My kids are keeping me going for sure, and they’re an endless source of creativity. I’m enjoying reading more, listening to a lot of music that’s new to me, and taking the opportunity to step away from the laptop and get back into research and hands-on, messy experimentation, both of which I think are hugely important but can easily be sacrificed amongst all the day-to-day demands of office life. Creatively, I like working within constraints as it pushes me to be more resourceful and imaginative, and I think that’s true of daily home and family life in the current circumstances too.
FP: And finally as it was trainers that brought all us together originally – what would you say is your staple go to for the following:
BA: New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v10
WK: New Balance 1080 for running, Chucks for the gym.
Casual every day
BA: Nike Spiridon OG or Reebok Workouts
WK: Chuck ’70, Nike Blazer Mid 77, New Balance 990v4, Reebok Club C
BA: New Balance x nonnative 997 or Only In Soho’s
WK: I don’t think I have many impressive shoes. Maybe Visvim (old man hype) or New Balance 1300 JP.
Staying at home
BA: Jungle Mocs, Woven Footscapes
WK: Suicoke or Nike Air Moc. I’m a slipper nerd.
Thank you, stay safe!