After a fair bit of back and forth and rescheduling on both parts we were finally able to get on the luxurious 31 bus at peak hour to travel to the outer skirts of Oslo centre to the home of multi creative designer Jens. The Arabia Moomin cups we put to use were just one of the many pop culture references that were on display. An assortment of fashion and art books also lined the walls in designer shelving creating the perfect representation of Jens and who he is as a creative, drawing inspiration from various places, often from the realm of pop art, music, vintage clothing and sci-fi.
Jens is from Oslo, growing up with street and skate culture of the 90’s. He got into clothes and fashion when he was around 17, while he was working in a store called PLAYLIFE, a sporting goods store that also sold streetwear. He laughs that he spent a lot of his time there playing Tony Hawks Pro Skater in the store and then after work would run home to play more. Starting Esmod in 2003, Jens focused mainly on womenswear for his first two years, but produced a mens and women denim collection for his final collection. Graduating in 2006 Jens was headhunted by H&M in Stockholm where he was employed as a design assistant working within casual wear. He worked there for nine months before being promoted to product designer, designing knits, sweats, jerseys and shirts for the mens department.
We talk about design in the high street and he speaks openly about the common misconception that exists with the creative freedom of working for a commercial company and feels like during his time at commercial retailers he has had the ability explore his design needs, as he is strictly just designing, something that is limited when you run your own company. Within H&M he found the design process similar to those other high street brands, working closely with the buyer to create the collection together with them focusing on your own areas of expertise whether they be commerce or design. Jens says you do start in the same room and establish brand direction before starting the inspiration process, which for a company like H&M, took Jens to places like Tokyo, New York, Los Angels and London to help in forming collections. He says, “It is pretty free and it is cliche, but you do feel like part of the machinery. It was really fun and a really good learning process for me creatively to be in a place like H&M where I only got to do the creative stuff.”
Moving home to Oslo in 2010 he started with Carlings as Menswear designer, a position he held for five years. During this time he worked on a number of side projects including building a denim brand called EMMETT JEANS with a couple of colleagues. Similar to his time at H&M, Jens enjoyed creative freedom within Carlings concept recalling being told “you can do whatever you want, as long as the people like it.” For him that is a very positive thing because if he or a team member had a burning desire to do something they had that freedom to pursue it which he finds awesome. He laughs that he has done some mistakes, but that comes with that kind of creative responsibility, sometimes you have to take chances.
One of these burning desires he did decide to pursue led him to quit Carlings in 2015 to start his own company RYE®. It is really difficult to start your own brand and he was told that he was crazy and it would never work, but it was a passion of his and something he had to do. Looking back, all the money and effort he put into it was totally worth it. Where his roles at H&M and Carlings allowed creativity and a steady paycheck, within his own brand, he says, “It is about 10% creativity and then the focus is on accounting, marketing, logistics and all the rest.” Jens found the process of having a brand, alone, as eye opening. With RYE® he worked close to two years in the old F5 Studio where he was alongside other creatives, including photographers, artists and designers.
Being in a startup environment where everyone is focusing on their own projects he missed having someone to bounce his ideas off and he smiles saying, “You spend your whole career longing to do your own thing with total creative control, but when you finally get to do that…guess what…you miss the other people.”
As a designer, he says, the creativity is there and the ideas are not the problem, it is the selection and decision making process which he finds the most challenging. For him “design is about making decisions”, the creativity comes naturally and he is able to toss out a million ideas, or sketches, but when it comes down to deciding on what to actually do and produce, “It is the hardest thing of all.” Being in a creative space, yet all alone and “having to make all these decisions when you are the only one who really really cares on an extremely nerdy level, it is a challenge," he laughs.
After pursuing RYE® full time for two years, Jens accepted an offer to return to Carlings in a restructured role as Head of Menswear, which still allows him to work on his own projects. Now he is keeping things as simple as possible with a product range consisting of tees, long sleeves, caps and re-done denim which he produces under a brand called TAKEGOODCARE. Although he still produces a couple of things with RYE® and will continue to do so, he feels that TAKEGOODCARE is more accessible and after originally putting a couple of T-Shirts in a pop up shop, the project became something he wanted to spend more time on.
“The way I see it, when it comes to a simple thing like a T-Shirt with embroidery, or print, or graphic, I think I really love that type of product and it is the stuff I buy. TAKEGOODCARE really comes to life when it is in a store like F5 because they have this range of other high end garments and I think it is the right environment for my brand. I would not wa nt it hanging in too much of a street store, I want it to be somewhere with something more upscale where it highlights the DIY and punk spirit of the brand, even though it is thought through and a bit sophisticated in the design, it is no just a T-Shirt that anyone would wear”
For him the organic process of building a brand has become important and he has a lot of respect and understanding for how long it takes saying, “You cant expect a sale after one trip to a fair in Berlin or Stockholm.” Whether it takes two or ten years Jens says he will continue designing his own brands as it is what he enjoys and whatever comes will come, naturally. “Time is a luxury," but it is important nonetheless and to have the time or “take the time with your brand and develop it to a point where it has enough content is very important.” As we discuss brand identity and building up an image he speaks about the identity as being not only for yourself as a designer but how others, the consumer and industry view your brand which happens organically. The growth of a brand and the content you put into that brand is important but what other people see is also very important and if the brand has a rich history or a lot of content it is easier for people and consumers. At the same time, however, it is not worth rushing to create that content.
Within TAKEGOODCARE Jens has experienced the consumer or market driven image of the brand with the best selling product being mistaken for the logo. The yinyangish emboidery, an idea he came up with while thinking of badly reproducing an image, in this case the Yin and the Yang, it would be yinyang-ish. The logo is more of a graphic based print and the yingyangish was supposed to be a one off thing until he showed Alex at F5 who said, “You are probably tired of it, but we have just seen it." Now a lot of his friends want it and F5 wanted more so Jens had to change his concept and is now producing the product in a range of colours. The brand has changed from making graphic based tees to embroided logo tees in a selection of colour ways with the yinyangish pattern becoming somewhat of a logo for the company, something that was not planned however, “Sometimes you don't get to decide, the people decide.” This year he is going to do a big colour range for TAKEGOODCARE dropping in fall/winter and will start to get back to the roots of the brand including some up cycled denim as well as working on a few other projects that he keeping close to his heart at this point.
Jens draws his inspiration from pop culture and you can see this in his apartment which is decorated with various books including the likes of Rin Tanaka books along side Harry Potter which he admits he is a huge fan as he shows us his two small symbolic tattoos. “It is weird how you get your references, especially creatively, I think a lot of things manage to, like harry potter, inspire and make people want to do something and it sometimes won't be obvious but maybe you are thinking about those books and you get an idea from somewhere.“
Our conversation moved on to creativity and creative output and Jens highlights his various projects including hand printed greeting cards which are stocked in one of our favorite shops in Oslo, Lush Dive, as well as being part of the DJ concept, 100% POLYESTER.
We continue our conversation about creativity and Jens cites the Star Wars movies as reference points. We discuss the old and the new, as well as how he feels this is changing and I can’t help but interject with my own opinions on how I feel with the current trend of constant remakes or back stories / prequels / sequels and not leaving things as they are to which Jens jumps in saying “I am not going to start on the new movies” laughs and continues “I don't want to influence you” laughs again, “but I am really big fan of Star Wars and I hated The Last Jedi in every dimension. Sometimes it was really beautiful, visually, but apart from that I am upset and I stayed up late a couple of nights ago just watching youtube clips of people losing it.” He laughs "you should defiantly see it so you can be as mad and bitter as me."
All photography by Ronja Penzo