MOUTHWASH on how they balance client work with their podcast, magazine, journal and apparel
Co-founded in Los Angeles by Abraham Campillo, Mackenzie Freemire and Alex Tan, MOUTHWASH is both a design practice working within art, film, fashion and culture; and an ‘offbeat experiment’ producing a podcast, journal, magazine and apparel. We caught up with them to find out they manage to balance it all, and more.
EM So, MOUTHWASH is one part studio, one part ‘offbeat experiment’. What’s the relationship between the two in terms of ethos, and who works on them?
MW It’s a good question, because the model we’ve set up is somewhat uncommon. MOUTHWASH was created with the intent to tell stories and connect with those around us. We still find that to be true today. Whether we’re working on a new website for a client, or designing a new collection of apparel and objects, there’s always a narrative we’re pushing forward. So in terms of ethos, the values we prioritise at MOUTHWASH are the same ones that fuel our discussions and creativity at the studio. We’re always considering: is the work we’re making something true to ourselves and what we believe? And is it something we can look back on and find that it has stood the test of time? Hopefully if we do both those things well, people will be able to recognise that our fingerprints were all over the work – a result that feels rewarding to us as a group.
As far as who works on them, we’re a small team of five, so there’s a lot to be done. Roles are pretty fluid, and none of us are ever caught doing just one thing. But that’s the beauty of working with your friends – we’re all willing to do what needs to be done to realise our goals.
EM How did you guys meet and decide to start working together?
MW We all met through the internet. MOUTHWASH started as a podcast and magazine. We created the podcast as an excuse to stay close to each other and have a reason to consistently communicate. Shortly after, we created the magazine as a way for us to grow and bring other people into our circle. Over time, the conversations surrounding the studio really started to take off and make more sense. For a while, it felt like we were working two jobs. We spent every night trying to figure out how to transition out of our agency jobs into a studio practice. Fast forward a year and a half later and we’re all currently working full-time doing what we love together.
We’re all willing to do what needs to be done to realise our goals.
EM As well as the five of you, you seem to be consistently collaborating with the same people. Do you think working with people you know and love makes for a better outcome?
MW 100%. There’s a level of trust that we have established with our collaborators that’s hard to replicate. It makes communications easier, it lends more room to innovation and exploration. But we’re always trying to bring new people into the mix as well. It keeps us inspired. And we feel like we’re just scratching the surface when it comes to working with new designers and developers. There’s so much talent out there, we really want to continue growing our circle.
EM Expanding on what you said about work aging well, do you think it’s possible to design something truly timeless?
MW We certainly hope so, but I guess we’ll leave it up to time to decide that. That’s part of what it means to be timeless. It’s history that makes things great. Which is why there’s so much to be learned from the work that has so far stood the test of time. Figures like Josef Albers, Enzo Mari, Donald Judd. They’ve all made work in the last generation that has been timeless up until now. And you look even past them; the Michelangelo’s, the Da Vinci’s of the world. Bach, Shakespeare, the list goes on. All of their work has transcended the mediums they’ve worked in. So certainly the same could be said for design.
Taking all those things in consideration, it’s also important for us as a studio to enjoy the present day and create and innovate with what’s at our disposal. That’s where we really feel like we can add value, by studying the past and using modern tools to provide new solutions to current problems.
EM The three identities and websites for Waka Waka have been a joy to witness and experience. You must be super proud of those pieces of work?
MW That work has a special place in all of our hearts. It’s some of our favorite things we’ve ever made. Abraham and Ben spearheaded the projects, and the rest of us were brought in to play our parts. Working with Shin Okuda to timestamp the last decade of his studio practice was beyond an honor. He really gave us the bandwidth to run in whatever direction we wanted to. We’re excited to see how those Collections age alongside Shin’s work. There may or may not be a Print Catalogue in the works.
EM Every interaction and movement on Salomon Ligthelm’s website feels so carefully considered. Can you share some insight into making that one?
MW We’re glad to hear that. That was another big one for us. We’ve looked up to Salomon’s work for years now. We had him on as a guest for our Podcast back in 2018, and had been hoping to have the opportunity to work with him on this for a while now. But to answer your question, we were really focused on how people experienced Salomon’s work through the website. His work is so visually stimulating, so it made sense that we made the viewing experience have layers to it. Each hover state feels uniquely rewarding. We balanced out the visuals by including text layouts for some of his videos. It’s easy for the eyes to wander on a lot of sites, so offering a resting place through negative space was an interesting solution for us. A lot of Salomon’s personality shines through this site. He’s a deeply reflective and thoughtful individual, so finding a solution to his Ethos page was important for us. Including this iconography from the Christian Orthodox faith was how we made sense of it. You see it on the loading page, and throughout the rest of the site. Small details like those were really what gave the site an experience that was uniquely true to who Salomon is as a filmmaker and human being.
There has to be a level of personal investment to make it happen.
EM How do you strike a good balance between commercial work and making the podcast, interviews and apparel?
MW It’s obviously something that we’re still trying to perfect, but at the root of the question is this need to prioritise. We feel very lucky to be in a position where our commercial work is just as exciting to us as our passion projects – the podcast, journal, magazine and apparel. We spent a lot of time in the beginning of MOUTHWASH making projects for ourselves that would eventually lead to the type of client work we wanted to be making. We knew that people wouldn’t ask us to make the type of work we believed in if we hadn’t done it ourselves yet. It’s why we have such a good balance between the studio and the brand now. We found that if you want to be in control of the type of work you’re making, there has to be a level of personal investment to make it happen.
EM As a result of that, are you in a position to say no to projects that you don’t believe in?
MW It’s always a tough conversation, because we need to keep the lights on at the studio. Anybody who owns their own company knows this struggle well. The project you don’t believe in could very easily be your means to accomplish what you want. But it’s also easy to become pigeonholed by that. We’ve been incredibly fortunate that we haven’t been forced to make that decision just yet. Everything we’ve worked on so far has been exciting and fresh to us.
EM When it comes to making apparel and objects, how have you found the process of finding the right fabrics, materials and production methods?
MW There’s been a lot of growing pains, which is to be expected. And we’re still learning better practices and improving each time we release something. Our first collection was a big jump for us. Releasing 13 pieces of apparel and objects was something we weren’t even sure we were capable of doing. But we’ve been trying to scale back and do smaller releases in more limited quantities. We find that it feels more personal that way. And honestly just a lot easier on us. Lately we’ve been trying to explore sourcing more sustainable fabrics, limiting the use of packaging and waste that comes with our products. But we’ve got more apparel and objects coming to the shop in the near future that we’re excited to share with everyone.
EM Do you have a vision for what the brand and studio will look like in two, five, even ten years time?
MW On the studio side, we hope to just maintain the momentum we currently have going. We just passed our first year, and are really pleased with the quality of work we’ve been able to put out in such a short amount of time. We really want to keep pushing boundaries and continue to make work that spans into the fields of art, film, fashion and culture. And we hope by doing that, we can continue to grow and work with people who inspire us. We can really feel the wind in our sails.
As far as the brand goes, we want to see it continue to grow into new and exciting places. We really see it as a platform where we get to do whatever we want. So coming up with exciting ideas and having the ability to execute them is something we’re always looking towards. And just like the studio, there’s so much room for great collaboration, that we hope we can continue to knock on the doors of those who inspire us and open up the conversation.