Skate boarding through a tunnel
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Industry Interviews

Inside Origin: Steve St. Jean

Ben Hewitt
Jan, 2020
6 mins

For the third episode of Inside Origin, we figured it was time to head East… all the way to the fair city of Toronto, where our Associate Creative Director Steve St. Jean works his magic. An Originer since 2017, Saint Steve is one half of our collection of Toronto-based Steves (we’ll introduce you to the second half in an upcoming edition), and brings a boundary-pushing creative sensibility that’s heavily inspired by his love of skateboarding and music. But now we’re getting ahead of ourselves, so let’s just sit back, and let Steve take it away…

Origin: You’re known around the office for your love of skateboarding. When did that start? 

Steve St Jean: I had one of those cheap KMart skateboards when I was a little kid, but I wasn’t really into skating. When I was 10, my older brother took me along to one of his friends’ house, and while we were there, I saw the guy do a kick flip. And that one trick literally changed the path of my life. It was like I’d never known something like that was even a possibility, and suddenly I did, and it just opened up this whole world of creativity. I quit baseball, I quit karate, I quit pretty much all my extracurricular shit - it all tanked. All I wanted to do was skate and immerse myself in the scene.

Origin: What did your parents think of that? 

SSJ: They were just stoked that I had something I wanted to do. They could see the passion. And in some ways, it really helped focus me; I had no real drive for academics, but once I started skating, I started trying hard in school because I knew if I did well I’d have more time to skate. Which was probably good, because I really didn’t have a plan for growing up.

Steve St John

Origin: And yet here you are. How did you end up working for a creative agency?

SSJ: Coming out of high school, I felt like I had to make a choice. I remember my mom sitting me down and asking what I loved about skateboarding, and I said something about the creativity, the graphics, and the way it encourages you to look at the landscape and see something no one else has seen, which is a pretty good description of what it’s like to work at a good agency. In any case I ended up at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, and got an advanced diploma in advertising and communications media.

Origin: What happened after that?

SSJ: After I graduated Mohawk, I went to school in Australia to get a bachelor's in communication, majoring in contemporary art and digital writing, which is just so obscure. I mean, I’d left Mohawk thinking I’d be an advertising art director, and here I am in Australia taking classes with interpretive dancers and people who do sound installations for art exhibits. I was like “what the hell did I just do?” But it was like a fork in the road, and I stopped thinking so much about corporate advertising and started thinking about having a real voice in my personal design.

Origin: What happened when you got out of school?

SSJ: One day, my professor got a call, and I could actually hear him on the phone saying “I’ve got the guy for you.” And he hung up and said “Steve, do you know Globe? [ed note: Globe is a well-known skate brand] I just got you a gig.” So I went to work for Globe part-time, building ads and doing design. Honestly, I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I loved it, and just soaked up as much as I could.

Steve standing with his skateboard
Skating through colourful tunnel

Origin: Were you still in Australia? 

SSJ: Yeah, I was still there, and still taking classes, and reading everything I could get my hands on in regards to design. I came back to Toronto in 2008, and the recession was happening, and everyone was getting laid off. I’d just had this incredible experience in Australia, and now it felt like it wasn’t getting me anywhere because I didn’t know anyone, and everybody was losing their jobs, anyway.

Origin: What’d you do? 

SSJ: Eventually I found a small shop that was doing really cool work, and I drove into the city with my brother, and I said “park here, I’m going in.” I walked in, and it was a really tiny creative studio. I walked right into a meeting and said to the first guy I saw that I was “here for a meeting with the Creative Director”  even though I didn’t have an appointment or anything. They looked me up and down and told me to wait. And finally, the Creative Director comes out and says “you’re here to see me?”

Origin: What the heck did you say?

I said, “I know you’re not going to give me a job, but I’ll work for free.” And that was the start of everything. I worked for five months totally unpaid, and then I got a real job, and then another after that, just trying to gain as much experience as possible.
Steve St. Jean Associate creative director

I worked on everything from brands like Nike, Red Bull and the Canadian Olympic Committee to Shopify, TELUS and too many alcohol brands to name. And then I got a call from Origin.

Origin: We’re so glad you answered! Can you talk a bit about how your work is influenced by your immersion in skate culture?

SSJ: Skate culture is all about individuality; the community is so creative and so accepting of everyone. And I think that’s really empowered me to look at everything from as many angles as possible. I’m always asking myself “what are other ways I can do this?” It actually makes things much harder on me, because I can’t help but question the brief, I can’t help but want to put a different spin on it. It creates a lot of tension for me. But it’s almost like I don’t have a choice.

Origin: What would you do if you weren’t working at Origin? 

SSJ: I’ve spent the past decade running a Toronto media publication called Beyondthewatch.com. It’s mostly an outlet for my music photography, and it’s won a bunch of awards. And I still love going to shows and taking photos, but when I tapped into the Origin culture I also tapped into something I didn’t even know I was looking for: It’s become an outlet for me to get outside more, to do meaningful work, and to give back to something that matters. I really love the work we do with POW, for instance.

Origin: What’s next for St Steve?

SSJ: I’m pretty much at a point in my life where I’m up for anything, and want to do as much as possible. And I want to keep doing things that are good for the earth… I’m legit learning to garden.

Origin: That’s so cool. 

SSJ: Yeah. I think so, too. Gotta get your hands dirty dude.