In the last decade, British cycling brand Rapha has become renown for their innovative creative, high performing products and most importantly their brand integrity. They are the touchstone for all things cycling and have built a loyal following through their authentic and passionate approach. Art Director Jack Saunders has been there since the early days, crafting soulful photography and bold graphics for the leading edge brand.
How did you get started?
I studied art and design at school, exploring the disciplines of photography, design and illustration. From there, I knew I wanted to be a graphic designer. I left university and started freelancing, working with some boutique design agencies in Manchester. I was really interested in the arts sector so placed all my energy trying to get my foot in the door.
What captivated you about the art’s sector?
I was excited to work with beautiful assets and collaborate with people who are visually minded. Working alongside curators who talk your language was super exciting. Having an engaged conversation around art, design and photography was invaluable as a young creative.
I eventually moved to London to work at inhouse at Tate design agency. Print was my thing; I loved working in all aspects of print from posters to book designs.
How did you discover Rapha?
I’ve always been into cycling. I got into road riding in Manchester and when I moved to London I reconnected with some friends who introduced me to Rapha. I’d never heard of them. They described them as a design led company with a deeper connection to the sport than your average cycling brand.
I was happy in the arts sector at that time. But once I checked Rapha out, I was captivated. I loved the rich black and white imagery, the website felt fresh and they had an interesting approach to typography. You could tell a graphic designer had been heavily involved in the brand. Back then, it was still very much a start up.
You have been with the company for eight years now, what were those early days like?
When I got the job as the Graphic Designer, Rapha didn’t have brand guidelines, so it was my job to unpick the design and really understand who they were, to enable us to moved forward and evolve. It was an incredible way to start a journey at a company. I went on to build a design team working alongside our Head of Brand. Our responsibilities were photography, graphic design and marketing materials. We are now we are a team of ten, it’s been an amazing journey.
On paper it sounds like a dream role, seamlessly blending your passion with your job, but in reality does that come with it’s own set of challenges?
I believe all good creative need to bring a fresh perspective to the table. At times, that can be tough, I spend all day thinking about the work and then spend my weekends riding. I work hard to step outside my industry, exploring new ideas and approaches to enable me to come back with a fresh perspective. I spend a lot of time attending talks, reading and listening to people outside my industry. At Rapha, we have always set our creative benchmark in the wider industry, and we are always striving for creative excellence.
On the flipside, cycling being a personal passion of mine is really helpful. I think really great things happen when you know your audience and know how to speak to them.
Who’s making work that excites you right now?
I love watching small companies bubble up. I’m really excited by Document Clothing, a tiny start up with a really particular take on a well-crafted product. Outdoor Voices are commissioning some really interesting photography which brings a new aesthetic to the space.
The people we collaborate with constantly inspire me. We’ve just started working with an incredible new Photographer Cait Oppermann and she has just blown me away.
How do you deal with creative doubt?
At Rapha, it’s really important to us that we foster a relaxed environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their opinion. Everyone’s opinion matters. I have a few trusted individuals who look at work from a different point of view to me, who I can get feedback from. I trust and respect their opinions and I find that process really valuable.
At the end of the day, I feel like it’s about being calm and retaining a sense of belief in what your doing. If that fails you can always take the edge off with a drink in the pub.
What’s been your creative highlights at Rapha?
I’ve been lucky enough to have a few of those.
We don’t often work with agencies, but we worked with London agency Accept and Proceed who developed a graphic for a product capsule called Data Print. The print was designed using the data of professional athletes. We collaborated on design, photography and a film. It was also my first shoot with a professional athlete, Pete Kennaugh, shot by Ben Ingham, which was super exciting. I pitched a bold idea to shoot the campaign on the streets of Hong Kong with a reportage approach. Prior to this, all our campaigns had been in epic natural landscapes, but something about the graphic nature of the jersey and the architecture of the city made sense. It was an incredible shoot.
We also pushed our creativity outside of our comfort zone on this project. Accept & Proceed created a data animation as part of the campaign, which felt like a huge risk at the time, but it was really well received. I’m really proud of the work, and that we pushed ourselves to take a risk.
For me, the project still stands up a few years later, which I think is the true test of successful work.