As everyone knows, advertising can be a soul-sucking and thankless job. That’s why two ad creatives have started a passion-project that lets them take creative control and fulfill some of their more altruistic leanings.
The project is a socially aware clothing brand called Young&United. Savannah College of Art and Design graduates and Razorfish designers Sean Metcalf and Ben Lebovitz are the two guys behind it. Sean took time with Digiday to talk about the new clothing brand, compartmentalizing work and his side project and the pros and cons of advertising.
How did you come up with the idea fore Young&United?
I came up with the idea during college in my Studio II class in Spring 2011. My professor had assigned us a social-awareness campaign and was also educating us about our role as an artist and designer. He wanted to bring awareness to the responsibility that, as artists and designers, we create images that influence people’s outlook on society and their decision-making process. He was challenging our class to look at the issues and problems in the world and to use our skill set to create work that would inspire others toward positive change. I really took this to heart and wanted to craft a social-awareness campaign around America: something that could inspire the next generation of Americans living through some of the most difficult times our country has ever faced. I started to really look into American history to better understand the ethos that moved our country out of previous depressions and into our greatest days. That’s when I rediscovered JFK’s inaugural address. Hearing and seeing it this time on YouTube made me realize the energy and spirit from back then wasn’t there today. Pretty much a life changer. I designed a series of posters and t-shirts and posted the project onto Behance in May 2011. The response from the global Behance community was really encouraging, and I knew I had to keep growing this idea.
There are a lot of clothing brands and t-shirt companies out there; what makes Y&U different?
Young&United is different from other clothing brands because we are defining a lifestyle and culture that hopes to unite a generation through a spirit of positive change. We’re bringing back classic messages that guided our country and the optimistic American spirit of working towards a more perfect union. Becoming a clothing company was sort of a by-product of all of this, because fashion and branding play a heavy influence on our culture. We’re also different because we choose to make all of our products in the U.S. The American Lifestyle made in China is sort of joke and is humiliating to our country — we’re working to change that.
So Y&U is a brand that’s all about social and personal responsibility. But so often advertising (aka everyday) you have to do work for clients whose products or ethos probably have nothing to do with promoting social good. How do you reconcile that with yourself?
We’ve just had to recognize that Y&U and our agency jobs are separate endeavors by really compartmentalizing the two. We love our jobs, but at the end of the day, we have no control over what work we get. And that’s OK because we keep positive and allow what we’re missing from our agency jobs to fuel our passion on the side.
Do you think it’s important that agencies support their employees’ creative endeavors and side projects?
Absolutely. Side projects not only keep you inspired, but we’ve learned so much in the process. There’s no better way to learn than through experience. We’ve had to wear many hats and quickly dig up answers to problems we didn’t know how to solve. A lot of mistakes we’re made in the process, but because of that we’re better equipped for the next time around and better equipped for our agency jobs. If agencies want the best employees, they have to leave the door open for them to create freely and do what they love.
What’s the best and worst part of being in advertising?
The worst part about advertising is that a lot of times, the industry serves the client before the work. You then find yourself creating work to satisfy the client rather than truly solving the problem and creating something awesome for your audience. Kinda puts a cap on your creativity, which can be a bummer. The best part about working in advertising is being surrounded by people who are passionate about creating awesome work. We work with a great office that has kept us inspired over the course of the last year, and we have grown a lot because of them.
Image via Young&United