Emily Jacobs – Head of Global Licensing at The LEGO Group – on how passion and purpose fuel great partnerships

In the past few years, LEGO has creatively expanded its brand outside of the toy aisle and into fashion with some smart apparel partnerships with the likes of adidas, Levi’s and HYPE.

We caught up with Emily Jacobs, Head of Global Licensing at The LEGO Group, to dive into some of these collaborations – and find out what LEGO looks for when it comes to brand partners.

Emily Jacobs, LEGO
Hi Emily, great to connect. Prior to joining the LEGO Group you worked in the fashion industry, so was fashion always a core passion?

Yes, I’ve been in the fashion world for over 20 years, but within that I’ve worked across many different types of brands – High Street brands, sportswear brands, streetwear, high-end designer brands… It’s been really interesting working on both the brand side and the retail side. I have gained a strong perspective on what brand building looks like, but also what the consumer needs too.

I’ve also spent some time working in FMCG and electricals too – so I’m not pure fashion, but prior to the LEGO Group, the majority of my career has been spent in that space

Was that a useful background to have moving into LEGO?
When we’re selecting new brands for the LEGO Group, we may refer to the fashion industry as a point of reference, particularly for brand relevance and “coolness.”

That said, with any type of brand that you work with, it’s so much more than just the aesthetic that connects with the consumer – it’s increasingly about purpose. Purpose means something different today than it might have done 10 years ago, but that’s always been key to helping brands connect with consumers.

It sounds like a daft question because, after all, it’s the LEGO Group, but what drew you to the company?
It really is the coolest place in the world to work, let’s be honest! The LEGO brand is so ubiquitous. Everyone knows and loves the LEGO brand. Talk to anyone about it and their face lights up. It’s got such an amazing heritage and stays true to its values, rooting back to the brick.

What are those values?
It’s all about caring, helping children learn through play and building their skills for the future. There’s a real authentic purpose behind the LEGO brand and that makes the company a joy to work for.

The other side of it is that The LEGO Group oozes creativity. And that’s not only with regard to what ends up on shelves but it’s also about the people, the culture and the LEGO way of working. Creativity is its lifeblood.

The LEGO Group has embarked on some really interesting brand extensions in recent years. What do you look for in a partner, and does their approach to design play a part in where you go with licensing?
It’s a bit of everything. We are super conscious of partnering with brands that share the LEGO values. That’s really important. We look for brands who fundamentally care about kids and learning through play, as well as the environment, sustainability and diversity & inclusion. There has to be that value-match first; that’s the foundation.

When you get all of that and find a company that also embraces innovation, that’s when you get that magic and the creative stars align.

Emily Jacobs, LEGO
Lots of your recent apparel partnerships have smart design touches to them, whether it’s the secret Ninjago language on your HYPE range, or the Levi’s line that consumers can customise with LEGO DOTS… How do those kinds of smart touches take shape?

Fundamentally, when we enter partnerships, we look at what only the partner and the LEGO group can uniquely produce together. How can we do something different. We might do some simple t-shirts but underpinning it all is looking at how we can partner with a brand to create something that no-one else has a chance of doing. It’s really key.

With Levi’s, we worked with them to explore how we can apply LEGO elements to fashion for the first time. Not only are they industry leaders in their own field and therefore come with an abundance of expertise, but they are super creative and inspired our own designers to see things through a new lens.

Emily Jacobs, LEGO
One of the wonderful things to come out of that partnership was that it was a completely gender-inclusive approach and we took LEGO DOTS to streetwear that attracted both males and females. There was no gender barrier, which was really exciting. It was a unique approach that remained true to what the LEGO brand and LEGO Dots is all about.

It’s the same as when we partnered with adidas. When you have leading designers from two completely different industries sitting round a table, they challenge each other to think differently in a way that’s just mind-blowing.

I can imagine! Is there much legwork before that kind of meeting happens to ensure both brands are singing from the same hymn sheet – or is it thrashed out in that creative clash?
To get there, there is a journey, and we do a lot of foundational work to research and understand the DNA of each respective brand. For example, the adidas team spent a lot of time at our Billund office and they visited LEGO House. They saw our museum and our archives and got some real hands-on experience of the brand – they even worked in our design studios!

We also went and worked in their design studio and went into their vault to get under the skin of the history and heritage of their brand. Once you get that grasp on each other’s brand DNA and bring in world-leading designers, you come up with something amazing. That’s why these collaborations are so special; they’re not just visual interpretations of the obvious.

Emily Jacobs, LEGO
On that, do you have to be smart when it comes to the design of these kinds of brand collaborations now? Does doing the ‘obvious’ not cut it anymore?

Consumers are demanding more and looking for more. As creative and innovative as a design is, it still has to be tasteful. It still has to be something that people will want to wear! We are raising the stakes when we collaborate these days, but it’s not all about fashion in collaborations anymore.

Consumerism is changing and I don’t see fashion brands as having a monopoly over what is cool and creative. Fashion is going to remain very important as a means of self-expression, but relevancy is changing and becoming much more diverse. You’re seeing so many collaborations going on, but fashion is not always involved in that, whereas fashion used to lead the way. It’s more about brands, purpose and innovation now, as opposed to purely a fashion conversation.

How closely do you work with the core LEGO toy design team? Do you see an early theme and get to work on where it could work in other sectors?
We work extremely closely with our product design teams and they are very much part of the journey when we evaluate which brands to bring into LEGO products. We place a high emphasis on understanding what consumers are passionate about and how we can reinterpret that through a LEGO lens.

On that, two big highlights from the past year have been the launch of LEGO Super Mario and LEGO VIDIYO in collaboration with Universal Music Group.

Emily Jacobs, LEGO
Great stuff! Well a huge thanks for taking time out for this Emily, I really appreciate it. I have one final question: how do you fuel your creativity?

A few years ago, I would’ve given you a very different answer! I would’ve said my creativity was fuelled by a big list of artists and creatives, like James Jebbia, Lady Gaga, Serena Williams, Jane Austen… From working at the LEGO Group– and having kids myself – I’ve realised that I admire those people and they inspire me, but what really fuels me creatively now is my kids.

I look at them and, while they’re not technically great at drawing, their thoughts are so uninhibited. They come up with so many creative solutions and I find that so inspirational. Kids don’t worry about crazy ideas or getting things wrong; they just come out with them. It fuels how I think and it’s actually inspired me to learn more about children’s creativity. It’s made me try to spark genuinely free thinking in my team and for myself. That’s where the best ideas come from!

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