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Small firm, big designs

7/13/2016 | Daily Hampshire Gazette

Category: News

HADLEY — As customers walk through Whole Foods Market at Mountain Farms Mall, their eyes may be drawn to displays and packages for health foods from California and skin care products from Germany.

Little do they know that a small design studio a short distance away from the Route 9 supermarket may be responsible for grabbing their attention, whether it be for Frontier Bites snacks or Weleda skin care.

BRIGADE, a Hadley advertising agency focused on graphic design with a strategic bent, is creating the branding elements for these companies and many more including advertising displays for SVEDKA vodka, graphics for hotels that are part of a national chain and websites and branding packages for smaller companies.

“I think our clients are surprised that this little company can do this work,” said Kirsten Modestow, owner and founder of BRIGADE.

BRIGADE, Modestow said, bridges the disciplines of advertising and design.


“Doing what Brigade does is completely unique for the Valley,” said David Bosch, BRIGADE’s operations and communications manager.

BRIGADE began a decade ago in Modestow’s Pelham home, where she arrived after working in advertising for Hill Holliday in Boston and at San Francisco agencies. Western Massachusetts became home after her husband Darius, a Worthington native, landed a job as a principal in Deerfield.


Significant growth
Over the past two years, BRIGADE has seen significant growth, more than doubling the staff to the current 23 full-time employees, most of whom can draw on their skills as graphic designers, photographers, writers and stylists.

“We’ve had some really exponential growth,” Modestow said. “It’s been awesome.”

After moving to a small office on University Drive in Amherst, BRIGADE last year renovated a 2,000-square-foot autobody garage on Route 9 into its studio. But within months after converting this space, it became too crowded, and Modestow found the opportunity late last year to move to 195 Russell St., remodeling 7,000 square feet most recently used by Zoe’s Fish House.

The design studio features numerous desks for the employees, along with break-out areas where teams can work collaboratively, as well as the restaurant’s former bar. There is space to display the 27 awards BRIGADE received from the AD Club of Western Massachusetts in May, honoring the company for its work for seven clients, as well as room to show off its previous advertising displays, such as a large cardboard cutout Svedka used in stores on Independence Day.

Bosch said the new location, and reputation for working with national and international clients, has brought more attention to BRIGADE.

“We’re thrilled to be a little more visible now,” Bosch said.

Modestow said this comes at a time when changes are happening in the design and advertising fields.

“The creative industry for clients has evolved, the landscape has totally evolved,” Modestow said.

The company wants to be a place for what Modestow calls “one-stop shopping.”

But Modestow added that she remains uncertain how the company has expanded so rapidly.

“Basically it’s been word of mouth. The caliber of assignments that have been coming in are huge,” Modestow said. “We’ve had our nose to the grindstone building our portfolio quietly.”

Client list grows
SVEDKA Vodka, which makes up more than 50 percent of its business, remains BRIGADE’s primary client, with the design firm handling the vodka company’s point of sales advertising, sales materials and branding.

Modestow said the idea is to create posters, cardboard structures and “stunning artwork” by determining what will look good in package stores.

The idea is that this will give the sales force for the vodka company all the tools it needs to make sure consumers are purchasing the product, she said.

“We’re a little like their secret weapon,” Modestow said.

Another big client is the Wyndham Hotel chain, which is having BRIGADE design brand books for the hotels it owns, such as Travelodge and Days Inn. The idea, Modestow said, is to have these books showcase how each hotel has its own look and feel.

“This is to help them brand each hotel individually, so that they each have a different point of view,” Modestow said.

These brand books will be used at expos, and when the chain approaches other hotels about acquiring properties to bring into its portfolio.

Closer to home, BRIGADE has designed the website and done photography for Black Birch Vineyards in Southampton. In addition, it has created the die-cut labels for its wine bottles and wrote the story for its products.

BRIGADE has also provided a new logo and tagline for JGS Lifecare in Longmeadow. “We did their entire identity,” Modestow said.

The new tagline, intoroduced two years ago, reads: “At 102 years old, we have more laugh lines than wrinkles.”

Other companies have approached BRIGADE for packaging help. The owner of Little Red Dot, a company that created Bak Kwa, a food similar to beef jerky, requested help in making the food more approachable to American consumers, Modestow said.

BRIGADE hit upon the tagline “Fun to say. Fun to eat,” and created a series of critters, which it calls dot-i-mals, that are printed onto the packaging, with clear plastic used on these dot-i-mals’ faces so customers can view the contents inside.

“Packaging is something we’re great at,” Modestow said.

BRIGADE is handling the displays and holding packages and digital expo booths for Weleda natural skin care.

For Frontier Bites snacks, Modestow said BRIGADE is making sure consumers understand what these will taste like with no refined sugar, and also helped launch Serpent’s Bite apple cider whiskey and created a story for Vertical Water, which is water infused with maple.

“We do everything for small guys from soups to nuts, then work with mega companies to handle niche work,” Modestow said.

Working at BRIGADE
Those employed at BRIGADE understand there are deadlines to meet for many of the projects.

“There’s a pace here that’s very intensive,” Modestow said.

But Modestow said she and others appreciate the pressure of the advertising world. “We have figured out how to maintain sanity while doing good work,” Modestow said.

Kristen Valle of Greenfield, art director at BRIGADE, has been with the company for a decade. Valle said some projects require quick turnarounds, while others can be a focus for more than a year.

“One of the things that makes it exciting to work here is it doesn’t feel like it’s been the same job for 10 years,” Valle said.

She also likes the visibility of some designs that come out of the studio.

“It’s not every day when you see work out in the world, but when you do it’s pretty magical,” Valle said.

Joe Marden has been at BRIGADE for seven years and as senior creative helped create the designs for Vertical Water, whose maple water aims to conserve forestland in the United States.

Marden said the packaging tells consumers that maple water is refreshing by using bright blue colors on the container and a tree illustration that shows the movement of water.

“It’s really a great project for printing and packaging design,” Marden said.

Marden, who is also handling graphic changes for Travelodge, travels form Connecticut daily, one of several Brigade employees who has a long commute.

And while at times stressful, with special requests for some projects that need to be completed in a day, Marden said he is confident in Brigade getting the work done.

The growth of the company isn’t how Modestow is measuring success. Rather, she said she appreciates that so many are coming forward seeking assistant to help sell their products.

“I think it’s good to bring creative people together in the Valley,” Modestow said.

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