Rhys Kearns of Norse Projects

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A chat with Rhys Kearns, Creative Producer at Norse Projects

Norse Projects started in 2004, as an art gallery slash creative studio in Copenhagen that grew out of a small chain of skateboard stores. It seemed natural for it to design a t-shirt, which it did with Danish artist Husk Mit Navn, and that was the first product with a Norse Projects label.

Founded by Tobia Sloth, Anton Juul and Mikkel Grønnebæk Norse Projects launched a menswear line in 2009 and womenswear collection in 2015. It’s also known for its collaborations, with brands like Vans, Doc Martens, adidas, New Balance and GORE-TEX, and brings together street fashion, art and design. This is very true of its Journal, as well as seasonal campaigns, both of which are looked after by Rhys Kearns, who acts as both graphic designer and content provider in his role as Creative Producer.

We talked to Rhys to learn more about his life in Copenhagen and how things were going at Norse Projects.

How long have you been with Norse Projects?

It’s been a little over three years. I started with the company in July 2018.

What was your background before you started there?

I had been a graphic designer in Vancouver prior to life in Denmark. After a brief stint in art school, I dropped out and started working at a clothing shop called HAVEN. In 2015, we focused our energy into print and started a magazine called Intelligence. Working on Intelligence as Design Director for three years taught me a lot and also opened a lot of doors to an international audience and this industry that I work in now. We wrapped our final issue in the Fall of 2017, and it was after that I reached out to Norse Projects and found my way to Copenhagen.

Did you know Copenhagen before you worked there?

Definitely. Copenhagen had been on my map since I was 19/20. I was often on sites like Hypebeast and Highsnobiety back then and would read up on their city guides, specifically their brand profiles. There was a mini-doc on a site called Frontlineshop (I would be surprised if it’s still around) that did a feature on Scandinavian streetwear brands. The Copenhagen scene really stood out to me, and it got into my head that I had to make it out here at some point, for a holiday at the very least.

That period of time, and video, I guess you could say were the genesis of my interest in Copenhagen and Denmark. I never thought I’d actually make the move, let alone work for one of the most well-known Nordic menswear brands. But I guess looking back, that thought of living here stuck, and here I am.

What are the main attractions of the city for you?

It gets written about a lot, but I feel like there is a great work/life balance here. The fact that I can bike anywhere in the city within 20 minutes still feels surreal after living in a big North American city. There is also a strong sense of design that permeates throughout daily life. Whether it’s furniture, architecture, food, or personal style, I feel like I’m constantly getting inspired.

Have you noticed Norse Projects evolve since you first began working for the brand?

I think the brand has made a gradual pivot away from its ‘streetwear’ roots into clothing that is more technical, and purpose driven. The collections are getting tighter, and the materials are becoming more diverse.

How would you describe your role with Norse Projects?

Always a tough one to sum up. I float between graphic designer, art director, producer and, sometimes, copywriter. As Brand Creative Producer, my role is to find ways to communicate the Norse universe while also crafting and articulating that universe with my team. This can come by way of planning a campaign or working on special content through our Journal or other channels.  

Is there a distinct design aesthetic you have to follow in your Norse Projects work?

Certainly, and that’s what attracted me to the company on both a personal and professional level. Norse Projects is a Danish brand and our design codes are rooted in Scandinavian minimalism. From a graphics side, we always keep things very pared down to try and let the beauty come by way of simplicity.

How do you decide on what appears in the Journal?

We try to focus on subjects and people that align with the values of the brand. I think, intuitively, we know whether something or someone does or doesn’t. During these pandemic times, we’ve pumped the brakes on our output so that we can focus on our online D2C business. Before the pandemic, there was a lot more freedom to travel within Europe and interview people or photo-document certain places.

When it comes to deciding who or what goes into it, not to put it too simply, I tend to ask myself ‘is this cool?’ or ‘will somebody out there think this is cool?’. The Journal is one of those things that not everyone will read, and I am aware of that. With the Journal, I’m trying to speak to that person who is a fan of the brand and wants dive deeper into what we’re about. The fun thing about it is that it acts as channel where we can focus on storytelling rather than selling product.

Do you think collaboration brings out the best in both brands?

I think so, yes. There is always something to learn through the creative process, whether the collab is a success or a dud. I think collaborations are a great exercise at internally looking at your brand and expressing who you are and what that looks like in the present moment.

What’s next for you and for Norse Projects?

We have some collaborations slated for release in 2022 that, for obvious reasons, I can’t talk about yet, but am pretty excited about. As for me, I ask myself that often. For a long time, working at Norse Projects was my dream job. Now that I am here, it’s hard to think of what comes next, and that in itself is exciting.