A Conversation with Jared Blake

Day Party recently linked up with our close friend and fellow New Yorker, Jared Blake, to kick start our new People series. A creative in his own right, Jared is the co-founder of design agency Lichen and a producer at the web-based powerhouse Annex88. We sat down with the uber talented Brooklyn resident to discuss the person he is today, his love/hate relationship with New York, what it means to be a creative,  Instagram success, and his brand new company Lichen.

Barron:  Who is Jared Blake?

Jared:  I'm still trying to figure that out. I think it keeps evolving, I think it changes, the older I get, things that I like, that I dislike and how I perceive the world. People around me. It changes us. I have no idea, I couldn't even answer that in a sentence. I have some fundamentals and pillars about my character and personality that will never change, but everything else sort of changes around that. My engine is intact, but the coat on the car itself changes I'd say.

Barron:  Who is Jared Blake in 2018?

Jared:  Much more open to being wrong. I'm not as stubborn as I used to be. When someone makes a valid point, instead of arguing for the sake of arguing, I like to spar with people's concepts and ideas. For example -- why do you believe that? Prove it. I'm also open to being wrong more, which is huge.

Barron:  How would you describe the early years of your life?

Jared:  I would say the early years of my life were being in a constant state of learning. I've been a new kid a lot. I've switched schools a lot. I've lived in a lot of different cities, so that gives me the ability to not be pigeonholed in one area. People don't know where I'm from, they don't know what accent I have, or where I've lived, which is great because I approach being everywhere as a visitor, even if I've lived there for a long time. A lot of my life is spent behind the scenes. I'm in constant observation. My early life -- I was born in Jersey. I grew up mostly a single child, my mother moved us to Florida while my father stayed in New York. I went back and forth during Summers, Christmas and holidays, but I lived in Florida for about seven years. I'm not the biggest fan of Florida, but you know I had some good times here and developed some good friendships. Then I moved back to New York with my father when I was around sixteen. I was kind of just finding myself -- playing sports, doing martial arts. Then when I went to college I wanted to be in sports media broadcasting. But yea, I lived in Florida, my mother remarried and had two more children -- my younger brothers Kai and Caden. One is seventeen now and the other is fifteen. They still live in Florida. They were here last month for my mother's birthday. Yeah, I was pretty much a homebody as a kid. I kind of stayed inside and made my own toys, played a lot of video games, I was sort of anti-social in those early years.

Barron:  Would you say that you're still a tad anti-social or would you say that part of yourself has completely changed?

Jared:  I'm definitely 50/50. I am anti-social -- an extroverted introvert or an introverted extrovert. I can talk and I'm social and I'm good in social settings, but I would prefer smaller groups, something really intimate with one-on-one conversations, hanging out with a few people at a time. I work really well alone.

Barron:  What do you love and hate about New York?

Jared:  What I love about New York is that it's really hard to get complacent. It's really hard to sit back and rest on your laurels when you're talking to everyone and everyone's striving to be something better than what they are now. They got this project they're working on, they've got this (or that) going on -- it's a double-edged sword because that’s what I hate about New York is this constant pursuit of happiness that I don't think everyone really achieves because they're constantly chasing that same thing. It's like the chicken or the egg -- well I want to be happy and comfortable in the most uncomfortable and unhappy city. So, when do you sit back and say, "I did it?" You really can't. There's no time where you can be like, "OK, this is it."

Barron:  What do you think you need to accomplish to be able to sit back and say "I did it?"

Jared:  Sell my company for 22 million and/or 2.2 million, cause that number is good for me. And use that money to...

Barron:  You're going to have to explain the twenty-two thing. I heard either 22 or 2.2? What is it about the number two?

Jared:  The number 22 is just something that's been really advantageous. I can't even call it a lucky number, it's just a number that's always showed itself to me, I can't explain it. It's like a guardian angel that's constantly showing itself as a negative or a positive. It's just something that I feel progresses in my life. It's like bread crumbs left for me from a past version of me that constantly shows itself. And I've chosen to not deny the fact that I've seen it.

Barron:  Why did you say 22 or 2.2 but not 222?

Jared:  I'll take the $222 million *laughs*

Barron:  Your Instagram profile says you're a creative at Annex88. How would you describe the term "creative"?

Jared:  I like the term 'creative' because it doesn't put me in a box. At Annex88 and in advertising, a creative is someone who actually generates the content that's being distributed. So it's a video, it's Instagram -- just general assets. Content creator -- that's what I do. I create content. I create visual assets that can be used anywhere. Whether it's billboard posters, Instagram stories, Snapchat -- I create the content that's being shopped.

Barron:  How?

Jared:  Photography if I'm producing a photo shoot -- I am the point guard for all the creative concepts and all the creative assets. For photographers, yes they shoot the product, but they get a ready-made menu to move on and I'm the person who makes that menu. Also, I'll cook it myself if I have to. I've had to do everything myself. I've written copy, fucked around with graphic design. And this question is interesting because no creative knows how to really answer that -- there's no black and white definition for it. I create content, that's it.

Barron:  What is good content versus bad content?

Jared:  Good content has a narrative. Bad content doesn't. I was talking to a friend of mine who's a graphic designer and he's anti-Instagram because he just feels like people are showing off. And to a certain degree, we all kind of do. We flex for the gram. I'm not going to say I don't show off. But I think the difference between good content and bad content is you can show off or you can show and tell. Those are two things that are very similar but also distinctly different. For example -- good content has a layer to it and it's a little bit more of the 'why.'

Barron:  You mentioned Instagram and showing off versus showing and telling. It seems to me as though people who show off are the ones who get the likes and the followers because I've seen a lot of people who show and tell and are talented with a very small like and follow count. How do you define success on Instagram?

Jared:  I still have a quality over quantity approach to Instagram, which is a very anti Instagram model. One of my favorite clothing brands, Han Kjobenhavn -- it's not underground, most people have heard of it, but the creative director, I just found his Instagram and he has 500 followers. Now this brand has been around for a number of years, it's in all of my favorite doors. Five hundred followers -- no one knows about him. He's almost like an alias. Is he not successful? He's incredibly successful. He's built a brand that's been running itself -- it's a multi-million-dollar brand at this point. It's running itself, and he's super behind the scenes. If I can achieve that, if I can stay exactly where I am now and my work is starting to speak for itself -- I'm cool with that. And he's telling a story because his brand is telling a story for him. He doesn't need two hundred thousand or a million followers. Someone brought something up to me really important. A lot of people consume Instagram differently. People consume it to be sold things, people consume it as a marketer, people consume it for storytelling. Like I'm not out there with my feed. I'm not trying to show off that much. I'll leave that for Insta stories -- but I'm not trying to be a blogger. 

Barron:  I am going to bring this a little bit back to when we were talking about the idea of a creative and what that means. Who are some of your favorite creatives? What creatives do you look up to?

Jared:  I have a buddy of mine his name is Michael Grapes, and that is GOALS. He has a clothing line but it's also a concept. It's a community-based clothing company, then he just flips it. I recently bought a University of Wyoming graphic tee from him, obviously a reference to Kanye's Wyoming thing, but it's a cool graphic tee. It was very timely. And he's older which I think is important. He's forty something but, youthful, exuberant. He brings people together. At his events I run into people. And it's the right people, that I haven't spoken to in like months but I've been following for years. It's like this small degree of separation that you assembled with your products. The same way that I can have drinks with you today and Mo yesterday and Jonny a day before, but I've actually never seen you all at the same time. And I actually only know all of you through social media. But when I connect with all of you it's the same thread of energy that's like yeah, I get it, I get what you're saying and I understand this energy. In a large way, Day Party is at the center of that. With Mike, his clothing brand is at the center of these other things, all these other people that I've talked to and his approach to it, it's very anti clothing. For example he has this one project where there's a care package, it's basically tiered so you can do $50, 75 or 125 and you just pay whatever and you get a box of things curated for you. It helps obviously if you know him, but you answer questions. Like what actor do you find has the best style? What piece (of clothing) from your childhood would you want back in your wardrobe? I used to wear a lot of bucket hats. I haven't worn a bucket hat in a while. I really like Idris Elba on Luther, I think he's very well put together. I think Jeff Goldblum is great as an actor, his style is always impeccable. So then he (Mike Grapes) sent over a curated package and it had Brooklyn gum, it had a film strip from that movie that I mentioned. It had a bucket hat, it had a story and it keeps changing. But he won't do it anymore. These concepts like the curated care package -- and it's just gone after that. He's not a designer, he's not a photographer. It's not one thing he could possibly be but he'll pick it up and do whatever with it.

Barron:  Name two or three more creatives that you look up to. Who are some guys that I should check out?

Jared:  I'd say Andy Spade, he works in advertising now. Kate Spade's husband. He has an agency called Partners & Spade, they do great work. I am a big fan. Mike Grapes, who I spoke about and Justin Saunders of JJJJound and Michael Bargo.

Barron:  I think we met for the first time when you were working on Arevalo. Considering that's a project you're not working on any longer, how would you define that experience?

Jared:  Life-changing, absolutely life-changing. So working at Jack Threads taught me a lot. It taught me how to shoot, what's expected, the level of quality that I can get out of my capabilities. It gave me a barometer for my work. Now there were a lot of things that Jack Threads wasn't doing. For example I'd suggest a concept like 'oh, we should do this and shoot it here.' They were like 'eh no,' because it was a little off brand. Perfectly fine. Arevalo gave me an outlet to exercise everything that I was not getting from my day-to-day. It gave me a platform with the right people involved where I could exercise my creative ability. And do things, take chances that you can't take in the day-to-day. You can't take chances with your 9-5 that you can when it's your own thing. So, it gave me an outlet to flex and do things that worked and also that didn't work.

Barron:  Why didn't it work?

Jared:  I think it's just timing and how much you're willing to put into it and the energies involved. We had amazing tools in some areas and we were lacking in others. I think the business acumen hurts a lot of upstart clothing companies because a lot of us didn't go to school for anything we're trying to do. We didn't know how to get an investor. We didn't go to school for fashion design, we're figuring  things out the hard way and it's expensive. Trying to do cut and sew, made in New York. That shit is super expensive and if your design team doesn't see eye to eye on designs, but someone really believes in it, and is pushing out these designs that we might not all collectively agree on, maybe we should have one designer, but that's not how the team works. You have four people who want to get their vision across.

Barron:  Is four people too much for a new business?  

Jared:  I think so. I think it's just too many chefs in the kitchen. What I appreciate now with Lichen versus Aravelo, is that I have complete creative control and freedom, and that will never happen with four people.

Barron:  What is Lichen?

Jared:  Lichen is a furniture design agency, that's what I'm going to call it. That feels good to say right now.

Keep up with Jared Blake and learn more about Lichen on Instagram: @imnotjaredblake + @lichen.nyc

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