Many people are sceptical about going into business with friends or family, as personal relationships may complicate the professional work environment. But two friends running a design studio out of Berlin and Franklin seem to have made such an endeavour work. Friends Obby and Jappari first found each other through the internet and began working with each other on personal projects. After completing a project for major sportswear brand Under Armour, they officially founded the design studio Obby & Jappari. The studio has gone on to do digital and creative work for a number of major brands and even launch a line of t-shirts. We spoke with the duo about working together as friends, dealing with theft and exploitation as creative professionals, and future collaborations they would like to do.
For readers who may not be familiar with your work, can you tell us who you are?
We are the creative studio Obby & Jappari based in Frankfurt and Berlin. We are collaborating globally with numerous cultural and commercial clients and we focus on art direction and design, producing visual spaces and individual narratives for brand communication. Our experience in challenging creative norms between analogue and digital techniques is a guiding method that always shapes unconventional concepts – for your upcoming projects.
You have spoken about setting boundaries with your work for your mental health. For example, you don’t share your number publicly, so clients can’t call you on the weekends, and you relax and do sports. Since you first started working with each other doing personal projects and are now friends, how do you set boundaries with each other?
Jappari: Our company is doing well because Obby and I know each other really well. We started our studio from zero and tried to master all challenges together. We are still learning more about how to be friends, but also how to do business with each other.
Obby: Being friends and running a business together works well for us. We know each other well and support each other and everyone has their own strengths. Sometimes it's hard to take time to talk about something else other than our work because we have got a lot of stuff going on. What's most important is that we can call each other any time and be there for each other no matter what.
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In an Instagram Questions & Answers post from a little over a year ago, you wrote about sustainable and environmentally friendly fashion. Is environmental awareness important for you? If so, how else do you practice it, besides sourcing from production companies?
Jappari: While we have a lot of viewers on Instagram, we try to encourage people to do something good for the environment. We don't produce any clothes at the moment, but the first two collections we've made try to reduce packaging, for example or use some environmentally friendly materials to make the product.
Obby: When we produce stuff, we try to do as much as possible locally and environmentally friendly. We don’t really drop clothing regularly because of time reasons. But when we do it’s a big part of our process.
In that same Q&A, you wrote about the importance of creatives being paid fairly for their work and advised that others be mindful of when they’re being exploited. Do you have any advice for people that are starting out in design or other creative work and aren’t sure if they’re being paid fairly? Any advice on how those people can advocate for themselves?
Jappari: You must start somewhere. Of course, in the beginning, you can't ask for as much money as people with five or ten years of experience. But it’s important never to work for free.
Obby: There are a couple of red flags everyone should avoid. And we had to learn that. Don’t collaborate with brands or magazines which are making a profit out of your free work. Setting boundaries is also important. At the beginning of a project, let them know your working hours and communicate via mail. Don’t let people you work with treat you badly. Work with people and not for them. A friendly and fair working relationship is important for your mental health.
The first time you worked with a major brand was with Under Armour, and it led to the launching of your studio. How did that project come about, and how would you say it influenced your later work, if at all?
Jappari: When Obby and I got to know each other, we met every day in the studio and worked hard. Back then we didn't have any customers, just an Instagram page with sixty followers. After a few months of hard work, and thanks to Instagram we can publish our work there, Under Armour contacted us. I think that combination makes the difference. If you work hard and do commercial work in the creative field, you need a platform to publish the work, and Instagram worked very well for us.
Obby: This project is both important and unimportant. It's important because we learned how big projects work, how to organise our work, and also what happens when you don’t organise anything and get into huge stress. Design-wise, it wasn’t an exciting project for us, but it helped us learn a couple of pretty important things at the very beginning. And it was the start of our studio.
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What is the inspiration behind your Office designs?
Jappari: There are no concrete inspirations. We do a lot of research, but the inspiration usually comes unexpectedly.
Obby: It’s some kind of a zone where we are completely free. No client feedback, no rules, and no pressure when it comes to deadlines. We can do whatever we feel like, and it feels more like doing art. Sometimes we need that. But it’s a hugely time-consuming task, so we don't do it often.
Jappari posted on Instagram back in September about one of your designs that had been stolen and repurposed. How often would you say you have to deal with theft, and how does it impact your work? Does calling it out help?
Jappari: Almost every week, we get news from where our work is being stolen and also sold. It's not easy to follow them; it's just too many messages about this.
Obby: We kind of accepted our fate. It happened so often, and we were so frustrated that we told ourselves to not get angry about it anymore because it made us waste too much energy. We can’t really do much about it because suing someone from another country over a design is almost impossible.
As a design studio that does multidimensional projects and has worked with major brands, what are your thoughts on diversity and inclusivity in design? How do you ensure that your designs work for different kinds of people?
Jappari: We try to be diverse, always trying something new and not always doing the same thing. The diversity of our work enables us to reach many people.
Obby: First of all, having a diverse team is important. Female artists are sadly still not as accepted as they should be, so we are glad to have many talented women in our team. And our designs are often genderless. For example, our three renderings of a person normally are not of a specific gender.
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