Stars, Outlaws, and BlueGreens: Designing with KJ Branded
Having discussed his work on Protagonist via our Uni-Formity series, Protagonist Soccer wanted to dig deeper into the story behind Kevin Joseph and KJ Branded, a source of design that has deeply formed Minnesotan soccer at the professional and American levels, along with leaving its mark on the way Americans support the national team.
While his latest mark in the soccer world may have been via his key role in Duluth FC’s rebranding prior to the 2018 NPSL season, KJ Branded can be traced back through the veins of Minnesotan soccer in the modern era and has even left its mark outside of state lines. Perhaps KJ Branded’s biggest, or most professional, achievement, was his first big break involving a professional soccer club. That club was the Minnesota Stars, a founding club of the North American Soccer League (NASL), created following the folding of the Minnesota Thunder. Though the stars would eventually rebrand to become the Loons we all know today, their time as the stars of the NASL would provide a key plot point in Minnesota’s soccer identity, including the Stars conquering of the NASL Soccer Bowl in 2011. KJ Branded provided the club with its top notch badge and strong, even if short lived, identity as the "L'Étoile du Nord", or "Star of the North”. The badge would be used for the 2012 season, the last before their rebrand into Minnesota United. Joseph considers the badge one of his proudest projects, “my favorite example is the work I did with Minnesota Stars FC (now known as Minnesota United FC). When the club was formed in the NASL, they were known as NSC Minnesota. After a couple of seasons of using that name, they wanted to move on from being attached to the National Sports Center (NSC) by name and move to something that would bring Minnesota to the forefront of their branding. I was very excited to have the opportunity to work with the Stars to bring that to life.” That very badge would find its way on to the kits of players who are now well known constants of the MLS, like Miguel Ibarra.
KJ Branded’s work doesn’t stop at the club level. The designing company has provided the crests for four different branches of the American Outlaws, the unofficial but endlessly passionate supporters group of the U.S. national teams. With his work helping the AO Minneapolis-St. Paul, Washington DC, Knoxville, and Twin Ports branches, KJ Branded has provided positive and professional looks for passionate American soccer fans from all over the United States. As a dedicated fan of the national team, Kevin Joseph of KJ Branded feels this work means something a little different, “I've worked with a few of the American Outlaws chapters to create logos that helped them stand out; as a supporter of the US national team, that cause is important to me.” All four of the AO branches Joseph created crests for still use his work to this day.
Finally we return to KJ Branded’s work with Duluth FC, who he helped with rebranded at the badge, kit, and merchandise level this year. Joseph explained that his work with a lower league club only helped further his appreciation for what a kit and a brand can mean to a team, especially when resources are not as expandable as they may be at the top levels of the game. “When a team plays in generic, off-the-rack kits, it can leave the impression that the organization doesn't really take pride in itself. Working with Duluth FC, it was clear they wanted to create a look that showed pride in their team, their club, and their city… Lower-league teams are more willing to take chances in order to get noticed. When compared to MLS teams, teams like Duluth FC have very small marketing budgets, so going viral with a unique design means a lot of attention at relatively little cost.” KJ Branded’s time with Duluth FC has coincided with a massive increase in the club’s social media presence and responding traffic, leaving it difficult to not see the effects of the company’s work with the NPSL North club.
As the Q&A with Joseph wrapped up, he made sure to emphasis how much it means to see his work received well by the fans its meant for, as was the case with his work for Duluth FC. “I’m very happy with the aesthetics of the kits, but what makes me happiest about them is that they connected with the Duluth FC fans. The team had a poll before the season began to choose what the kits would look like, and the options they chose were overwhelming favorites… the Lift Bridge in the design of the home shirt was a big hit locally.
The soccer world, from the lower league community to the national team community, is full of talented minds that find their home in many different mediums, KJ Branded is just one example of those talents finding a home in their favorite sport and creating great moments and pieces in soccer history. KJ Branded didn’t just make a few images for social media profile pictures and as a feature piece for shirts, instead the design company has created stories and furthered supporter experiences by helping clubs and supporters find branding that they can be proud of. In a pyramid and national team environment where many are often left feeling left out or not heard, the stable presence of pride in those identities may very well be the last footprint of American soccer and its fans. We can all thank artists like Kevin Joseph and KJ Branded for making that possible.