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GDUSA · “Responsible Designers to Watch”

Katie Klencheski

FOUNDER SMAKK, NEW YORK NY

Katie Klencheski is the founder of SMAKK, a branding and growth studio where she uses her passion, creativity, and experience to help values-led clients build world changing brands. Her mission is to change consumer behavior towards purchasing decisions that are better for people and the planet.

Katie began her career in advertising working with global brands (Sony, American Express, Cartier and more), but felt a pull to bring that knowledge to companies and organizations working to make a world that is more sustainable, thoughtful, and socially conscious.

At SMAKK, she’s built a team that uses their expertise as a force for good. They work closely with their clients to craft cohesive, meaningful brands that disrupt categories, differentiate products, and build consumer loyalty. Leveraging beautiful creative and technology, the team creates holistic brand experiences that drive multi-channel growth. SMAKK gives brands the strategy and tools to compete with giants.

Since 2011, SMAKK has grown into a 17-person agency with a focus on branding and growth tactics including campaign and content development, ecommerce, social media, marketing, and digital experiences. Serving a wide range of consumer facing brands in beauty, fashion, wellness, lifestyle, as well as benefit corps, nonprofits, and city-led initiatives, their clients include: Harry’s Razors, The Honey Pot Company, Two Blind Brothers, Shiseido, Ellevest, The NYC Mayor’s Office for Sustainability, SC Johnson, Simon & Schuster, American Express, Greyston Social Enterprise, and more.

How did you become involved in socially responsible communications and why do you believe design can be an effective tool for this goal?

I’ve always been an activist and working on environmental causes but doubled down on this commitment during the Trump presidency after completing the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training with former Vice President Al Gore. Before that, while joining the creative workforce and developing a career in advertising — I started to feel powerless. I got jaded, and stopped showing up for the environment. I saw that capitalism, in the short term, had little to gain by embracing sustainability, and that most CSR initiatives weren’t much more than PR stunts. Through the program, I learned that I had a role to play in incentivizing action, changing consumer habits, and persuading people to care.

Design is the communication language of business and the process by which we find creative solutions to business challenges. With 100 companies responsible for 71% of climate change, business needs to change dramatically to solve this crisis. Designers are uniquely positioned to find solutions and build consensus behind them. For my part, I’m proud that SMAKK has helped transform brands from problematic single-use formats to zero-waste packaging with our work for Busy beauty; created plastic-free solutions for Canopy and Otis Dental; and especially the work we did for NYC Accelerator — helping drive change in the city I call home. We’ll also continue to push for change with our Mission Plan series where we share our knowledge on sustainability so other brands can adopt solutions for the future.

Given the confluence of events and challenges our society now faces, does 2021 present any special opportunities, urgencies, obstacles to designing for good?

I think that there is certainly a turning point right now with everyone talking about sustainability. In fact, brands that market themselves as sustainable are actually leading category growth. The danger is that this can be taken advantage of — marketing a brand as sustainable and being sustainable are two different things. We have a responsibility to hold ourselves accountable to exceptionally high standards. We need to educate ourselves so we can educate consumers and the public to call bullshit on the brands that aren’t doing enough. The stakes in this moment are higher than ever.

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