Then & Now: A Look at BCKRDS Agency’s Growth Within the Industry

A little over a year ago, we chatted with BCKRDS founders Wade Moonsamy and Samu Belle – intrigued by their efforts to create work deeply nestled in design culture, with a greater cultural impact on creative spaces. Now, we find BCKRDS on an upwards trajectory, steadily growing their client base while staying true to their roots! We caught up with Moonsamy and Belle to chat about the past year of business and how it’s unfolded, grounded in their belief in the importance of “togetherness” in the industry.

A year has gone by since our launch interview with BCKRDS. Tell us what the brand and agency has gotten up to since then?

We’ve been quite busy, fortunately, so not much has changed to be honest. Lucky for us, over the past year our process was not disrupted heavily by the pandemic and so not much had to change. We still consult with a broad range of clients, we’ve picked up a few more big brands, we still do some cool work with our friends, and managed to sneak in a few products over the course of the last year.

The last time we spoke, you had a number of projects and clients listed to your name such as MTN, Zkhiphani, Is Yours Mag, and more. What are some of the new projects you’ve worked on since then?

*Checks Google Drive*. Some of the larger corporate projects we completed over the past year were a rebrand for Telkom Business and a rename and rebrand for Yellowpages, now called Yep!. This is a project we pitched for and won with our great partners at Blackswan Assets (big s/o to Themba and Wandi). We created a new positioning and identity for Lutcha (an African podcast network for our friend Mashudu Modau) and a rename, brand identity and packaging design for 12AM STUDIO (our favourite jewellery brand with our friend Aleeyah Mohamed), as well as few fun ones that will launch over the course of this year.

Telkom Business rebrand in collaboration with Blackswan Assets

How has running an agency changed in the past year – considering the global pandemic and the current economic climate?

BCKRDS hasn’t changed that much. There were slight adjustments to our process, but we still run quite a tight ship and rely on our pool of excellent creative resources we collaborate with to deliver impactful work and fly stuff for our clients. Our biggest adjustment was running teams and projects remotely which worked out fantastically. South Africa has some of the best creatives in the world, our grit and ability to adapt really showed during lockdown.

Can you tell us about how the brand has grown since it first launched in 2017 and what has the journey been like?

The journey has been an interesting one. At BCKRDS, we bounce between being a brand and being a brand consultancy and we have yet to resolve that balance. Currently, we spend 90% of our time on the agency stuff, consulting and doing design-y things for clients with money things. That other 10% we dedicate to the brand/product is not nearly enough. For now, we keep things tight and make great stuff for the people that like the brand. We don’t like to rush and try to be very intentional about the products we do put out and ensure they’re at highest possible quality. 

Looking back, BCKRDS was always an opportunity for us to have a voice beyond consulting, a platform that allowed us to put our ideas out into the world. At the time as young creatives sitting in agency we felt we were witnessing a big shift – that design was going from occupying a purely industry/professional space to occupying and forming its own space in the zeitgeist/culture landscape. Design suddenly mattered to a whole host of people who were never a part of the conversation. The debates and talks around design are no longer limited to creative studios and agencies. Today, you might see your work loved and hated by the public at large in under 140 characters, which is both cool and terrifying.

We are currently in a creative boom and are witnessing the rise of the creative economy which is really huge. Now we’re at a place where designers and creatives, in general, have the potential to create platforms for themselves that stand alongside those of famous musicians, athletes, celebrities etc. This has been interesting to observe and see take shape. Our biggest hope is creatives will seize this era to create the empowerment and independence we’ve been shouting for all this time.

To us, BCKRDS was always a kind of intersection between design as a profession/craft and design as part of culture. And that’s a space we’ll continue to explore. 

Brand ID and Design for 12AM STUDIO by BCKRDS
Images by Afrah Mayet

In what ways has your previous agency experience equipped you with the right skills and knowledge to fully run your own agency?

Our time at Grid was pivotal. It’s important to note that what we saw and experienced at Grid didn’t just equip us to be great in this industry but it enabled us to be great at anything. Much of what we’ve learnt about running a business we’ve had to teach ourselves and learn on the fly, but it was the people at Grid that equipped us with the experience to even give this a go.

It’s important to point out that South Africa has a huge youth unemployment issue and a general gatekeeping culture that locks young people out of decision-making processes and influential roles, even when you do manage to get your foot in the door. For us, at Grid these things didn’t exist. It was really like Exposure Therapy. They were not afraid to put us in front of the most challenging briefs, projects and clients.

So really when it comes down to it, we had a lot of responsibility and opportunity that young creatives seldom get, and by the time we had left Grid we had worked on every kind of project one can work on. Today, we seldom get a brief that comes across our desk that we don’t know how to handle. In a way, we’ve seen it all. Obviously owning our own business gives everything its own twist and changes the experience drastically but at least we never doubt our ability to deliver – and we have our experience at Grid to thank for that.

Yep! Yellowpages rename, repositioning and rebrand in collaboration with Blackswan Assets

You recently had a shoot, “What is Agency?” where you had a number of people in the industry come together. People such as Binwe Adebayo, Anthony Bila, Wanda Lephoto and more. Tell us about the shoot and what the concept behind it was?

I’ve always loved the idea of the formal sounding company descriptors like firm, practice, enterprise etc. When we started BCKRDS, we had no idea what kind of business to call ourselves – a studio, brand, design practice etc. What we knew was that we didn’t want to be a conventional agency – especially because we wanted to blur those lines and be “more” than that. What I love about the term “agency” is it simply means to do together (among other things), and I felt that it has been our approach from the beginning.

Agency for us is not about having an account manager, copywriter or art director in house. It was about being able to execute our ideas with our incredibly talented friends, a lot of whom have their own creative practices. So we designed a tee, invited them over and shot portraits of all of them to highlight and celebrate our respective agencies. It was an incredibly meaningful exercise for us because it felt like we were also making a statement about what we think the future of the creative industry might look like – a group of diverse, specialist, hungry and independent creatives working together to execute our ideas for ourselves and our clients together.

In this project, you emphasised on “the power of together” within this industry. Why is this an important element for the shoot and within the brand, too?

Nothing great can be done alone. I think if you look at our industry and the industries across our economy there’s not a lot of competition. Really what we need is more people starting business and creating more opportunities for everyone by making our landscape more diverse and rich. We can’t do that alone and even as we start businesses in the same space it’s important not to solely view each other as the competition because to really solve some of the bigger challenges we face. we all need to continue to co-exist and even thrive together so that the new spaces we create are resilient and long lasting. It’s important to collaborate where we can and find alignment, especially in the beginning, because we’re all just trying to find our footing and our place.

BCKRDS “What is Agency?” shoot
Direction and Photography by Mthandeni Khambule
Creative Direction by Wade Moonsamy

As a branding and design agency, what do you want people to take away from the work you create? What is the central message and/or theme that is present across all your work?

I hope we create work that people choose to engage with. Work that is intentional and interesting and, if we’re doing our job well, I’d hope that our work is culturally resonant. Whether that’s for a bank or a jewelry brand. 

Fast forward to five years from now, where do you see the brand?

I’d love it if in five years we’re still a brand with an independent spirit, working with our friends to make things we find interesting and doing it all for ourselves and our clients.

What can we expect from BCKRDS in the year? Are there any projects and collaborations to look out for?

We’re not a “big things coming” kinda joint 😉

BCKRDS merch
Images by Ricardo Marcus

Follow @_bckrds_ on IG.

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