Suzy van der Velden was just six years old when her father made her first desk. It was then when her creativity awoke. She could sit at her desk and spend the day drawing whatever came to her. She still does this today, however, it is often for some of the world’s biggest brands.
Van der Velden has quickly become one of the best Dutch graphic designers. She has established herself through her impressive work with Lululemon, Oilily, and more. When working with the internationally successful sporting wear brand O’Neill, van der Velden once again showed the world what she was capable of.
“I wanted to be part of O’Neill because it’s a brand with a rich heritage. Not a lot of brands have a real story, but O’Neill does and it’s a great one. Rooted in surf, it’s founder Jack O’Neill has changed and touched the lives of many by inventing the wetsuit. That mindset of innovation and to see how we can enjoy nature for longer is something that really attracted me to the brand. As an outdoor enthusiast, I love spending time exploring nature and to be part of a brand that views nature as a playground is an amazing thing,” said van der Velden.
While with O’Neill, van der Velden was responsible for all artwork for the Women’s & Girls collection, including swim wear, snow jackets, lifestyle, outerwear and collaborations such as Liberty London. With such a vast range of work, she researched the different categories extensively, looking to find what the best print techniques were, what was suitable for them, and how to push the limits to innovate and what the trends were. With a shift towards craftsmanship in the company, van der Velden was then free to use her creative freedom, producing the high-quality artwork she is known for, which was more expressive and pushed the brand forward. She worked to create an image for each specific product, as well as the brand as a whole.
“For Swim, I would design in a different way than for a Snow jacket so to say. This could have to do with scale, but also the esthetic would differ and use of color. This made the role interesting and never dull. I became a specialist in knowing what was the best way to approach all the different categories,” she described.
Van der Velden’s passion for the brand was evident in each piece of work she produced. She designs with the end customer in the back of her mind, and at O’Neill she gained a strong understanding of the action sport industry and the lifestyle that goes with it. The energy of the board sports, she says, is reflected in the collections, making it a really diverse and fun environment to be in. Van der Velden also travelled frequently for work, and she really got to see how the brand was appreciated beyond just the walls of her office. She immediately noticed the team spirit from those that wear it.
“I loved the fact that the product I worked on gave people the opportunity to enjoy what they loved most. My greatest reward was being able to see my designs come to life and seeing people wear my clothes in all areas around the world,” she said.
It wasn’t just customers that were impressed with what van der Velden produced. She was able to take trends and translate them into her work in a way that made sense for the brand, greatly contributing to its success. She consistently hit the right tone for each specific product, and her artistic instincts were greatly appreciated by all she worked with.
“It was great working with Suzy and I personally really enjoyed it. She was very well respected by the entire team and had an easy yet professional nature. I found that Suzy could bring a graphic story and direction across with natural authenticity and could get people to buy into the big picture with her simple but very educated communication style,” said David Henry, the Global Snow Performance Product Manager and European Accessories Product Manager at O’Neill. “Three words spring to mind when I think of Suzy: easy going, knowledgeable, and professional. Suzy was always on top of things and this gave me confidence that we were on the right track. She was also always open to others point of view and the resulted in meetings that were well balanced. Suzy always brought a sense of calm with sometimes big egos and I really liked that about her.”
Initially, van der Velden wanted to work at O’Neill for the experience, but it quickly became much more than that. As soon as she started working at O’Neill, she knew she wanted to stay a part of the team of young talented individuals with a passion for action sports. Although it was initially a temporary position, van der Velden’s work ethic and talent quickly impressed, and she was offered a permanent spot not long after.
Van der Velden also was inspired by the story of the founder, Jack O’Neill, who invented the wetsuit. This allowed people to surf in all areas of the world that were never able to otherwise. The goal of the company is to ensure people can surf no matter the water temperature. Their mission is ‘to surf longer’. O’Neill is known for its extraordinary athletes that are always pushing the boundaries, causing people to always be engaged to what the brand is going to do next. Van der Velden’s designs captured those ideals perfectly.
“Innovation is in the brands DNA and this makes sure O’Neill is ahead of the game, plus there is always an element of fun keeping it light,” said van der Velden.
The six years van der Velden spent at O’Neill, were in her words, a “blast.” However, it was always the inspiring story of Jack O’Neill that appealed to her, which she describes as timeless.
“Jack O’Neill passed away on the second of June of this year. It’s sad to see such a legend pass away, but I’m grateful for what he has built and that I’ve been able to be a part of the experience in a way,” she concluded.