In the latest edition of our Next Wave Leaders series, we’re continuing to showcase the creatives, business leaders, innovators and thinkers who are shaping tech and culture in Europe.
Next up is Jolyon Varley, Co-Founder and Head of Brand for OK COOL. With offices in London and New York City, the creative studio humanises brands by helping them tap into subcultures with authentic content. We spoke to him about how he draws inspiration from counter culture, why niche interests are driving the cultural zeitgeist and more.
To start, please tell us a little about yourself and the kind of work you do.
I’m Co-Founder / Co-Creative Director at OK COOL— a creative content studio headquartered in London and New York.
What inspired you to want to join this field and create the kind of work that you do?
I’ve spent my whole life making and shaping youth culture through art, fashion and music with my friends and peers. I’m inspired by the same counter cultural pursuits at 39 as I was at 14: skateboarding, punk rock, rap, graffiti and DIY publishing. OK COOL fizzes with them.
Jolyon, you are based in the UK. How does your physical location, its characteristics or creative culture, shape your work at OK COOL?
I’m a born and bred Londoner leading creative offices in London and New York. To my mind these cities are the twin crucibles of cultural cool. That is our product. That is our team. That is what we sell.
What emerging Internet trend or development are you most excited to engage with in your field?
TikTok. Social media is where modern businesses are built and TikTok is the most powerful driver of the cultural zeitgeist on the planet.
Concepts that once existed outside the mainstream – gender fluidity, diverse models, same-sex relationships, self-expression, hyper niche fandom and communities etc – are now part of the broader conversation because Gen-Z has flocked to TikTok to create. We’re stoked to be on the front line, as both a TikTok agency for brands and as TikTok’s own agency
What digital projects have you looked to or continue to look to for inspiration?
I find most of my inspiration offline— in streets, galleries, books, zines and travel. I used to produce an arts and literature journal called A tale Of Three Cities with a friend called Alex Tieghi-Walker, now a curator and gallerist who’s work centres on folk art and craft traditions that can be overlooked by the mainstream art establishment.
I’m inspired by artists, entrepreneurs and innovators who take risks for their beliefs. And it’s often more about the people than specific projects for me.
Nicolas Roope, Founder of The Lovies, is another (rather apt) example. A man following his multifarious creative instincts to reliably interesting ends. That attitude to making gets me fired up.
I’m a big fan of the graffiti writer, Neckface. His interview with Kerwin Frost is probably my most watched YouTube video. In it he talks about growing up making weird art, and the importance of sticking to what you like to make, irrespective of what others think. To me, that’s the essence of this whole thing. That’s the truth.
What do you think is defining this oncoming era of an open and decentralised Internet? What excites you about it?
Unfettered collaboration, new models for ownership and the ability to build audiences and community outside of the big platforms. I’m all for it.
A “7-Words of Lovie” Speech is the hallmark of the Lovie Awards. How would you sum up your career in seven words?
One, singular, aligned, integrated expression of self.
Who should we look out for next?
I can’t say who but I can say what— creator brands. TikTok creators with hyper-engaged communities will launch personalised products, at scale, faster and more efficiently than any brand in history. Buckle up.