Sophie Bloomfield on inspiring designers – and launching a business in the pandemic

Licensing stalwart Sophie Bloomfield talks about connecting with brands and having ideas

Sophie Bloomfield! Thanks for taking part; welcome to Brands Untapped. What did you do before you got into licensing?
Pre-licensing, my background was fashion design. I studied at University of the Arts London, and my speciality was accessories design and development. My early jobs, in fashion, were working for Adidas Y-3 – a Yohji Yamamoto label – and Evisu Jeans. They were both great training grounds for commercial and creative design and development.

Interesting! Did you have a favourite product from those days?
My favourite product that I designed was a football! There was a lot of maths involved in that – as there is in all pattern design. With footballs, though, you have to work out how the pattern tessellates on the sections. I also got to work with the Adidas football team who are awesome.

Sophie Bloomfield, SBC
You know, it’s never occurred to me that people have to design footballs, with maths, as they tessellate hexagons! I’m curious, then: how did you get into licensing?

Like most people, I fell into it. After freelancing for a while – and having a terrible time – a friend sent me the job vacancy for Mr. Men & Little Miss at Fluid World. Knowing my personality, she thought I’d be perfect for it. I loved the characters so much as a kid and I thought why not.

Well! That begs the question… So we understand your personality, which Little Miss or Mr. Man are you most like?
Ahh! Mr.Men & Little Miss… I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart. I won the Little Miss Sunshine award while at Fluid World, and I’d say we’re kindred spirits. Like her, I’m an eternal optimist and love nature to bits. Also, I’m obsessed with the colour yellow and made sure I included it in my company branding. My favourite shade is Pantone 123c… It speaks to me that, in the words of Harry Styles, “Everything’s going to be golden.”

Sophie Bloomfield, SBC
Great answer! See, now I feel we know you… That should be my go-to question. So – you applied? And got an interview?

Yes! And I very clearly remember it! It was with Libby Grant now of The Ambassador Theatre Group, and James McKnight from The Blair Partnership. We had such a fun chat about creativity, our approaches to design, and what licensing was. Within an hour of leaving the interview, I got a call from James – and the rest is history.

Sophie Bloomfield, SBC
And your recent history was heading up the creative team at Wildbrain CPLG. Their brands include Peanuts, Teletubbies, and Inspector Gadget… Where did you focus your attention?

I always managed the brand / licensor requirements in line with our internal business needs. I had regular meetings with our Key Account Directors and the sales teams… They’re the on-the-ground experts, so I’d ascertain and define what those needs were as they can vary from one territory to another. I also created bespoke strategies, tapping into trends to ensure my team was strategic in its approach to maximize revenue opportunities. I also made time to develop long-term creative strategic approaches.

Can you give me an example of the kind of thing?
Sure! I’d be talking to licensors about key dates they needed to hit, and how we could roll out creative directions, develop new guides or curate look books in house to support this. I strongly believe it’s important for commercial and creative departments to work in harmony.

Sophie Bloomfield, SBC
And what else do you believe? Or maybe I should say: what else did you learn there that still serves you today?

Wow! There’ve been so many lessons over the years that have got me to where am I now… The key ones would be: listen to your gut intuition: it’s right 99.999999% of the time. Build relationships with people… I’m not a fan of the word networking. I prefer to make friends with like-minded people, in the hope we can collaborate, because that’s what makes work fun… Working with fun, like-minded people and being inspired by others.

“Listen to your gut intuition: it’s right 99.999999% of the time”

Okay! So not networking, but building relationships… Anything else?
Pay it forward – by which I mean respond to a person’s kindness by being kind to someone else. I just think it’s important to help your community, both creative and licensing. With lots of people losing their jobs or being furloughed, helping people out, or connecting them with someone that might be able to help is more important now more than ever before.

It’s great to hear that being said with sincerity. So let me ask you this: what, in your view, is the secret to having a great idea for a brand?
I have a strong belief that everyone has the ability to be creative and have incredible ideas. It’s all about nurturing that part of your brain. My approach to creating ideas for brands hasn’t happened overnight. It’s taken years of nurturing.

Sophie Bloomfield, SBC
And for you, what kind of things DO nurture that part of the brain?

Things that have helped me, personally… Meditation. Being in nature… Surrounding myself with content and creative stimulus. I say that, but not overwhelming myself; balance is key! And being inquisitive; not being afraid to ask questions.

In terms of your creative process, then, how does that go?
When pitching for a new IP, I always start by immersing myself in the brand. This isn’t simply reading a brand deck. To be brutally honest, I find connecting with a factual deck much harder that connecting with visuals or emotive language.

What do you do to connect like that?
So if it’s animation or entertainment based, I’ll watch the content, then start the internet trawl and find anything that connects with me emotionally. Then I see if this might have the ability to connect with other people as well. For example, I’m currently working with the creator of the 80’s classic The Racoons.

Ralph, Melissa, Cyril Sneer… Now we’re talking?!
Right? So when I started on this brand, I watched the content, which was a joy, and so much fun reliving my childhood and calling it “work”. Then I thought about the current trend for Racoons, the animal on platforms like Tiktok, and Instagram Reels, and felt what licensing needs right now is some joy and fun. The Raccoons is perfect for this moment.

Sophie Bloomfield, SBC
So to some extent, it starts with very intuitive research. What’s next?

My next step is to flesh out the core themes and start to dream! Like Dora the Explorer says, “Dream big”. I’m a total dreamer so this is how I approach creative… I ask myself, “What would I do with this brand if there were no restrictions?”

This is still instinctive, or intuitive? It’s based on what you feel?
Yes, mostly. When a consumer sees a product in store, it’s often the emotional connection that moves them to buy the product. So this is usually my approach. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule; for example like when I worked on utilitarian/functional brands.

“I always ask myself: What would I do with this brand if there were no restrictions?”

Conversely, then, what is the death of creativity? What kills it stone dead?
I don’t think there’s ever a death to creativity, but there are some road blocks which I always refer to as challenges. And all creatives love a challenge! Sometimes a project might be monotonous or drag on… But I’d always say to my team, “Let’s switch things up and make things fun again”, or “What’s a different approach we can take?”

You don’t just push through the pain?!
No, because if we find the approach boring or uninspiring then, nine times out of ten, the consumer will see this reflected in product. I’m also a strong believer in empowering and inspiring all designers and creatives. If they’re forgotten about in the back studio, slogging out lots of designs, it’s often hard to keep them motivated. I believe a day out of the office – or virtual office – seeing this is so important.

Sophie Bloomfield, SBC
So what would be a good thing to do? What would be motivating?

Obviously, in our current climate it’s much harder – if not impossible – to go to a museum, a fun pop-up store or an event… So I look for the creative joys to keep things exciting For example, looking at font choices to local stores. I love doing this, there are so many technically bad ones! I almost love them and find them cool in their own way. Like Regina George from Mean Girls says, “Fugly”! Inspiration is everywhere, but it’s important to step away from the desk.

Brilliant. You’re now the Creative Director of Sophie Bloomfield Consultancy. Tell me about that. What do you want to achieve?
I came to a point in my career where I wanted more autonomy to try things out, take more risks and try new things. During the 2020 pandemic I realized life is too short to say “What if” so I thought “It’s now or never.” So I parted ways with WildBrain CPLG and created my own creative consultancy.

Sophie Bloomfield, SBC
Over 2020 I had the pleasure to work closely with the WildBrain brands team on the social media campaign for Teletubbies adults. It gave me great insight into what’s missing in the licensing model, social marketing, and e-commerce tie-ups between brand owner, retailer and their community/consumer. So a big part of my company’s development will be in the digital space, offering licensors 360 creative strategies for the new world. I’m also continuing with my key areas of expertise: trend-forecast reports, retail pitching and execution, connecting like minds… Fashion collaborations, brand strategic-creative direction.

Sophie Bloomfield, SBC
No danger of you being bored by the sound of it! Tell me, then: if you could wave a magic wand and make it happen, with what kind of clients would you love to work?

The kind of clients I’d love to work with are the ones that want to collaborate, and are open minded about trying new things. There are a few dream projects which I’m currently working on – so watch this space!

Are there any things you’re working on that you can talk about?
One thing I can talk about is my fantastic client, The Raccoons, created by Kevin Gillis, Run with Us Productions. I’m helping his team on a variety of things, but starting with a focus on fashion and trend forecasting for The Raccoons brand. I’m also on the advisory board for a fantastic charity called Wastebusters, founded by Katy Newnham…

This rings a bell! Educational media? How small change helps the planet?
Yes! The overall goal is to educate children on the how’s and why’s of recycling and caring for our planet. There’s a fantastic webinar coming up, so keep your eyes out on social-media platforms for news on that exciting virtual event.

Sophie Bloomfield, SBC
Great stuff! Sophie. I’m going to put a picture in there – a link to your site – and start wrapping this up! Just a couple more things… First, what one question haven’t I asked you that I should have?

Hmmmm. I think maybe: “What has Covid shown you?” or even, “Why set up your own company during a global pandemic and recession?!”

Great! And if I asked, what would be the answers?
What Covid has shown me is the importance of work/life balance… It’s helped me set boundaries, and curated my time effectively and efficiently, so things are more in balance. It’s not perfect, but it’s getting there… Making time for your friends and family is so important. I’ve come to fully realize that if you’re not having fun, you need to re-think things. We need to work with kindness, treat people well, and not sweat the small stuff. And last of all, we need to work to live, not live to work.

Wow! Terrific. Do you know, I wish I’d finished on that question it’s not gonna get fed up with that! One last thing, then… What’s the funniest thing you’ve done for a brand?
The Funniest thing was at Fluid World where myself and Alexandra Filletti of Viacom CBS ended up stranded in a snow storm trying to get to Alton Towers for a Hello Kitty themed event with the Merlin Group. No spoilers, but it was THE most random work trip of all time! Probably deserves some sort of Sanrio award. We survived to tell the tale…

I look forward to hearing more about it! We’ll put a link to the website in here, by the way, so people can find out more. And that’s it… Sophie Bloomfield, thank you so much!


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