January 29, 2013

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JONATHAN SHERWOOD ARTIST INTERVIEW

How old are you?
31

How long have you been in UK?

Just over 2 years now.

Studies & Work experience?

I studied Graphic Design at tech before starting work at an advertising agency called ADDC. We did loads of FMCG work there and it was an amazing learning experience dealing with massive brands so early out of school. Doing projects for Unilever and Tiger brands was literally getting thrown in at the deep end but what I learnt there was invaluable. I worked there for 2 years before deciding to start my own company distributing BMX brands in SA. Although I studied design what I was (and still am) really in love with was brands and brand development. The design side was aesthetically exciting, but brand development has so many more layers to it. Starting Empire allowed me to follow that path while putting my energy into BMX which was something I really loved. At the time there was almost nothing available in SA and I wanted to try do something positive for the local BMX scene. I can hardly put into words how amazing those times were. After 6 years of running it on my own I teamed up with Clay at RSS and from there my focus shifted back to design where I was doing all the creative for his brands KFD, Killer, and Verb. That chapter is one I look back on with great memories. Being a designer who skated as a kid you always dream of being able to design at least 1 board in your lifetime. After 2 years at RSS I had had done more then 20, and the line of Killer softgoods I had worked on was outselling brands like Volcom in the Revolution stores which blew my mind. It was a good team of people working on awesome projects which motivates you in its self. After that the opportunity came up for me to work for Fox at their European Head office in the UK. Up until then Id worked in advertising, the BMX and cycling industry, skate and a little surf at RSS, so when the chance came up to work at Fox which is a strong Moto brand it just seemed to make sense as a new chapter. In the past I had run all of FOX’s BMX events in SA, so I knew the brand well and the new opportunity was something I just couldn’t pass up. Ive now been working for Fox for just over 2 years and have loved every minute of it. It now looks like I will be based out of Barcelona moving forward where I will be part of a new chapter for Fox. Its not a place I ever thought Id end up but Im looking forward to it.

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What are you working on at the moment?

Im currently the digital marketing manager for Europe so pretty much all of the work I now do is in the digital realm. One of the major projects Im constantly busy with is maintaining and developing all of the brands digital platforms. This includes the website www.foxeurope.com as well as all of our B2B platforms, social media, and video projects. Right now Im trying to organise a series of team edits that will focus on our top athletes. Making sure all the concepts are locked in and the production is sorted out is one thing, but trying to get the riders all in one place and healthy ready to ride is another!

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How did you get into riding bmx? How has this shaped who you have become?

I owned a BMX for many years as a kid but to me it was just a bicycle. It was only after my parents sold it and got me a nice shiny MTB at the age of 11 that I found out what BMX was really about. A few short months after getting that MTB I told my folks I wanted to sell it and get a BMX again and ride it properly. They thought I was crazy but I did it and have never looked back since. That was 21 years ago now.

As far as shaping my life I believe it has had a massive influence. Right from the start BMX was a small community with very little available in terms of bikes or spares. You literally had to make or fix things to keep your bike going, and because the scene was so small you had friends all over the country simply because you rode. I remember looking at old BMX Plus mags and wishing I could have UGP, Bomber, or Cardboard Lords number plate for my race bike. There was no way I could ever get one so I would ride around the neighborhood looking for estate agent or security company sign boards. It was the only way you could get your hands on the right type of plastic in the right size. Id take them home and use thinners to wash off the signage, cut them into shape, and then draw my own graphics onto them. Its sounds crazy but thats how desperate I was haha. The same goes for bike pad sets or even T-shirts. We couldn’t get BMX clothing brands in SA so we just started our own. No one was organizing events so we just started organising our own contests. By the time I was 17 I had started “Clicked” clothing, and was running the National Dirt Jump series. Its not because I really wanted to either, I just felt if I didn’t do it there would be nothing going on so just decided to get it done. I used the money from weekend jobs to mail order parts from stores in the USA, and began ordering 2 or 3 of the things I wanted to sell on to other who needed them. The whole ethos was very much DIY, and looking back its clear that all those things I had to do to keep my interests alive are definitely the foundation for how I now make a living and even approach life in general.

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What are your other passions/interests?

Wow I dont really know where to start here! ha ha. I’m passionate about loads of things and at the same time they are all rather unrelated. The Thundercats obsession started while I was working at ADDC. At the time Vinyl toys were just starting to take off and I was looking at all these design figures selling on kidrobot and place like that. They were definitely rad, but it got me thinking back to when I was a kid and how crazy I was for the toys back then. Thundercats was my favorite show and I loved the toys as a kid and I could remember how excited I was walking into a Reggies store and looking at a wall full of my favourite characters. No matter how “cool” the vinyl figures were they just seemed so dull and lifeless compared to the old stuff, and in that instant I just had to have ALL the Thundercats! haha. It took me a year or so to finally complete the collection but I now own every single one (yes, including variations for all the nerds out there! haha). Thats not to say I don’t appreciate the Vinyl stuff as I do love it. Ive even done a few of them myself that have been featured on sites around the world, however I dont have a connection to them like I do with 80’s stuff.

Im also really into restoration and restoring old things. I love the idea you can take something that has essentially “expired” and bring it back to life again. It could be buildings, machines, cars, bikes, motorcycles or whatever. I just love the restoration process. This carries over into a few of my other passions and I love working on old VW’s and well as collecting and restoring mid school BMX bikes. Ive been into VW’s for ages but strangely although Ive been riding BMX for most of my life I only started collecting them fairly recently. Its something I’m completely obsessed with now, and I spend all night hunting down rare parts and bikes I want to own. I guess you could say I’m interested in anything that has influenced my life in some way, or has been an influence on the things that interest me.

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Who are you inspired by?

Im inspired by anyone who makes things happen, both for themselves and other people. You often see people spend loads of energy giving you 101 reasons why something cant happen, but I always feel if they spend half that energy actually trying to make it happen it probably would. So yea, anyone who stands up for what they believe in and works to make it a reality inspires me to do the same.

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How did you end up working overseas?

Well the European Marketing Director for Fox is Brode Vosloo (also a South African) and I had worked with him in the past on tours and events with Fox in SA. He got in touch with me and said there was a position opening up in his marketing team and wanted to know if I was interested. From that initial point of contact to the time I actually got here was almost a year, but it eventually happened. There is loads that goes into packing up your entire life and moving abroad, the paperwork alone is a nightmare, but in the end its so worth it.

What have been the best parts? Any surprises (good/bad)?

On a personal level the best part for me has been living in a place where you are no longer a minority. And by that Im referring to ones lifestyle, interests, and the ability to take part in those things you enjoy the most. As much as I love SA the things I love and enjoy are not easily accessible there.

On a work front its been great working right at the heart of a major brand. So often brands in SA are simply at distributor level, and that means no matter what your involvement with the brand you are always just forwarding on a pre determined idea or product from the brand to the consumer. By working at the Brand its self you are able to effect change right from the top, as well as learn a tremendous amount from people at the same time. Its a really rewarding experience.

On the flip side SA is a very unique and beautiful place. No where in the world is quite like it and you cant really substitute anything for it when you are living abroad. If you accept that and embrace your new surroundings then you will get on just fine, but if you constantly searching for that SA “vibe” in another country you will be disappointed. Accepting your new surroundings is really important if you want to move forward.

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What is your experience of working for an international brand?

So far its been great. As I said before the level of evolvement is so much more rewarding simply because you are at the heart of the brand. You have the ability to work on projects that shape the brands future, and ripple out across the entire world. At the same time working at this level is a great learning experience, and exposes you to aspects of business you wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to simply operating as a distributor.

What, over the years, has made the difference?

I think its really important not to limit yourself in work or life in general. Its not something that comes easily as you naturally want to live in your comfort zone, but I think if you can open up to new ideas you really benefit from it. Ive always had this idea that a person should never only surround themselves with like minded people. To me if you are going to live your life only interacting with people who think the same way as you then you may as well just be alone haha. You learn nothing from people who are just like you, and I think in some ways your outlook on life becomes very insular. You don’t have to agree with everyones opinions, but I think its important to take them on board and try understand why they think that way. If anything it will validate why you think differently, but at the same time by exposing yourself to new ideas your understanding is always improved, and the projects and ideas you are busy with work out so much better.

So yea, don’t limit yourself, aggressively pursue your passions, and don’t be scared to try new things. When something is no longer enjoyable close that chapter and find the next thing that is. Life’s too short to keep doing stuff just because you always have. It doesn’t matter if its a job, a project you are working on, and artistic style, or even the town you live in. If you not feeling it then change it up.

Did your work in the scene here (in SA) influenced the way you approach stuff there? (If yes, then how?)

Most definitely. Coming from SA you have to make things happen for yourself. And because of that when they do happen I think you appreciate them a lot more as well. Being an artist, a designer, a skater, a musician, or anything other then the “norm” is hard anywhere in the world, but I think you have a whole new set of limitations on top of that in SA as well. Having to learn to live with those and overcome them really gives a person an advantage when they are able to step outside, and work without those limitations in place. The whole DIY attitude that you have to have in SA is still something that will always be a part of my life no matter where I live.

What are you most proud of so far – in terms of your art/work/life in general?

I’m really proud of the work I did with Empire. I think we did a lot of good for the scene, and the legacy of that still lives on to this day. From a design point of view I really enjoyed the work I did at Revolution. Im not sure if technically any of it was a master piece haha, but I loved doing that stuff so I guess you could say Im proud of it. And I guess in general Im glad that I managed to get this far and still feel like Im having fun and learning a lot as I go along. You often hear people complaining about their jobs, or being bored, or wishing they could do things, so I feel very lucky that Im able to do what I do and have a good time with it.

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What are your own personal projects? (In the past, present, and going forward?)

Ive always had a few things on the go and still do. Ive owned a few clothing companies in my time all of which were a great experience. Clicked (which later became CLKD and then Bicykiller) was a clothing company I worked on with Tyrone and was probably my first step into the BMX industry. Empire was the biggest personal project I ever worked on and that was really rewarding. Currently the 2 projects Im busy with is the Highway Collective which is a clothing company based around my obsession with old VW’s. And then Im also just kicking off a project called Make Your Bones. This is a joint project between myself and Fraser Byrne. Myself and Fraser go way back and have always been working on little commercial projects together. This is our first official joint project though, and Im pretty excited about it. Its basically the manifestation of our different yet complimentary personal interests.

LINKS/WEBSITE:

My portfolio / blog
Make Your Bones Tumblr