Since its launch in 2006 as a curated virtual stream of design references and mood images, JJJJound has pivoted from digital inspiration to real-life design studio. Under the direction of moodboard-cum-brand founder Justin Saunders, the Montreal-based studio produces limited product drops spanning dryer balls and coffee beans. JJJJound has also lent its discerning brand of normcore to collaborations with A.P.C., Reebok, Vans and most recently two pairs of New Balance 992s.
When HYPEBEAST Magazine sat down with Saunders back in 2018, he spoke about how he became a 21st-century entrepreneur, his thoughts on developing meaningful products and uncompromising collaborations — and why the coffee is better in Montreal — are relevant as ever. The interview from HYPEBEAST Magazine Issue 21 is reprinted in full below.
How did JJJJound begin?
Around the blogspot.com era, I started a blog called MAYBE SOMEDAY that I used as a creative diary. The JJJJound we know today happened when I removed all text/copy from the blog and turned it into an endless scroll of color coordinated references/mood. Some might remember, the original URL for JJJJound was jrsrules.blogspot.com.
How, if at all, has your view of the internet changed from when it was still unchartered and unclear to now?
My personal view of the internet hasn’t changed. I’ve always taken it seriously. Twenty-four-hour access to information on all topics. The best communication tool humanity has ever seen. Once it became a money-making tool, I feel popular culture started taking it more seriously, but it always was. If they take it away, we will find a new way to communicate.
What did you see JJJJound as when you first began the blog?
I used it to contextualize my ideas.
Did you ever have an “a-ha” moment going from a personal blog to a company and brand?
There was no “a-ha” moment for the site turning into a brand. Just a slow, patient build into the honest and credible entity that it is now. The true “a-ha” moment came when the website went viral itself and became a hit.
When you have limited resources, you hope to create something similar to a spark, in the hopes that it attracts like-minded individuals that will help you light a bonfire.
What are your thoughts on this new age of inability to describe exactly what you do?
It seems as though everyone is a jack-of-all trades these days. No clear titles. Maybe that’s how it should be?
Only reason a creative needs a title is to negotiate salary, in which case anything goes. To be honest, I like to rely on what drives people when trying to define what they do. When you ask someone what they are obsessed with, you can see where they put their energy. Where humans put their energy is really what’s most informative.
“My brain basically only turns on to solve problems.”
Thoughts on modern day entrepreneurship?
I think the same old principles still apply to modern day ambitious types: you come up with a great idea that hasn’t been done before, or you take something that has been done and you make it better. I like the old world rules, there’s really no substitute for putting the hours in and doing the work.
Tell us about Justin Saunders, not JJJJound, or are they the same?
I have mixed feelings about popularity. I’d rather not tell you about Justin
What’s your favorite thing right now?
It can be anything at all. Not gonna lie, nothing has been more exciting than buying back my childhood on eBay lately. Teenage years too—buying those back as well. From LEGOs to Blockbuster memorabilia, and anything I can get my hands on that get old neutrons to connect.
Bikes, totes, shoes, etc., what do you think draws brands to the JJJJound brand or aesthetic?
The studio’s day-to-day revolves around client-based consulting work. When you work for clients you always make compromises. JJJJound the product brand is about us not making any compromises. Our mantra is to design and produce items we need and want to be judged for. We’ve been driving our Head of Special Projects, Mehdi, crazy this year spending an absurd amount of time on R&D. I invested all my loose change developing all types of samples the world will never see. It’s justified though, our angle is that the world has enough rushed fast food garbage products. I don’t advocate putting products in the world that haven’t spent a year in the incubator. Less is more. We feel comfortable with the infrequency of releases and our audience knows and respects this.
What inspires you?
At this point in my life, I’m only inspired by problems that don’t yet have solutions. My brain basically only turns on to solve problems. It shuts off pretty fast once confronted with old concepts.
What are your thoughts on people building their “personal brand”?
I remember reading up on Bill Watterson early in my life and realizing it was okay to work hard, love what you do, put out great work, and not have it rely on whether or not you are a celebrity. A lot of young creatives these days are obsessed with stardom, and perhaps that’s the new cheat code. Different strokes for different folks.
“Only reason a creative needs a title is to negotiate salary.”
Having built a brand/platform first before going into products, is brand identity more important than actual product?
It depends. In some cases, brands are running strictly off identity, not the actual product, and it totally works for them. In other cases, some brands create products that have such high purpose that they technically don’t, or shouldn’t need the identity to support it. With JJJJound I like the idea of sitting in the middle.
What are your thoughts on the new generation of artists creating in real-time and using the internet as a reference point?
I guess we call them the new generation because they bring something new to the table. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.
Is the internet beneficial or detrimental to the creative process?
Both, probably. Each creative has his/her own process, so it’s hard to make a statement about the effects of the internet on creativity as a whole.
What sets Montreal apart from other cities, in your opinion?
I wanted to open the studio in Montreal because I like the work ethic there. It’s a small, European-like city jammed inside North America with a joie de vivre I truly enjoy. People who work hard in Montreal do so because they love their job, which is why I think the food and coffee taste better?
For someone who’s known for being “online,” how do you unplug and get away from it?
I grew up in Europe spending my childhood in a van camping with my family in the most random areas without electricity. I wasn’t plugged for the first half of my life. As soon as I was exposed to the internet I got plugged. I haven’t unplugged in a while—I love communicating and when you unplug the conversations stop. Perhaps I will retire someday, completely unplug again, and solely focus on drawing cartoons with clever quotes from a cabin in the woods?
How do you see JJJJound continuing on in the future? Do you think it will shift with the times and developments?
It wouldn’t be wise for me to pretend I know what the future holds.