While there are a sea of sassy enamel pin, patches, and other “flair” artists selling their designs on Instagram, there are few designers that so overtly capture the independent, tongue-in-cheek attitude like No Fun Press.
Toronto-based graphic designer, photographer and artist Reilly Hodgson is the creator of the publishing company. A distaste for hyper-motivational branding, combined with a love for DIY punk and hip-hop sensibilities inspires his iconic designs.
“I don’t have time for that shit. I lived in Vancouver, and that Lululemon attitude is not for me. I don’t need 50 inspirational phrases on a tote bag. That’s not real life,” said Hodgson.
No Fun Press has been proudly sporting their bad attitude since 2011. Since then, the brand has become one of the prominent makers of pins, patches and threads, famously specializing in their unique brand of pessimism. Their products ship globally, and have been worn by the likes of Atlanta rapper Killer Mike and YouTube celebrity Pewdiepie.
Hodgson grew up collecting pins and patches, while also learning to make his own punk rock band t-shirts, eventually moving on to zines, posters and accessories.
Hodgson kickstarted No Fun with the Ontario government’s “Summer Company” grant, which helps students between ages 15 and 29 start their own company. He originally planned to use the money to fund Blood of the Young Zine, a publication he had ongoing with friend and fellow artist Dimitri Karakostas.
“I was planning to just funnel that in the publishing thing I was already doing but they [said] it had to be a new thing. So I [thought], ‘I’m going to do the same thing but under a different name. There was stuff I wanted to make that just wasn’t on brand for [Blood of the Young]… between that money and that last bit of OSAP… the grant let me establish a thing, and then the [last bit of] OSAP was just like, ‘fingers crossed, this is make [it] or break [it].’ And I didn’t break.”
Between No Fun Press, and the work in his collaborative zine project, Hodgson decided to drop out of OCAD University’s printmaking program to focus on these projects, spending his last $1,000 of OSAP money on an order of blank t-shirts.
Despite the well-curated branding associated with the press company, the name itself was started as just a working title for the summer grant program.
“I’m more of a creative person than a planner, and they wanted all of this paperwork and these official business plans and shit because they’re putting up real money. They obviously want a real plan,” explained Hodgson.
“I’d written ‘No Fun’ on the top of the page because it was awful to do, and I didn’t have a set title yet because I was still trying to figure out if I could roll it into the other thing, and by the time I time I submitted it, [the name] seemed right.”
Since then, the design has been appropriated by other hustling 20-somethings looking for an outward expression of the realities of the school, work, side-hustle life style. Hodgson’s plain text designs include ‘Anti-You’ shirts and beanies, as well an exam seasonal favorite: the ‘Stress’ t-shirt.
For many people, their first encounter with the No Fun starts in the streets of their hometowns.
In Hamilton, Toronto and cities worldwide, an attentive eye can spot the occasional No Fun sticker on street signs and local landmarks. Even the walk to Hodgson’s Parkdale studio apartment in Toronto was littered with the brand’s stickers.
“I grew up doing grafs when I was younger, and so my ideas for marketing come from graffiti… I’m just going to put it everywhere. It’s sort of a work ethic thing too… As a graffiti writer you understand the only way to get your name out is to just go and do it and so I have the same kind of attitude running a business, where if I want to put my name out I just have to go out and do it, because no one is going to do it for me,” said Hodgson.
“[During] the first three years, and even now, anytime I do pop-ups in the city, I’ll get people who’ve never seen the products before, but they come through and they’re like, ‘oh those stickers... could I get some?’”
A hands on approach and small-scale of the project has had its drawbacks. Like many graphic designers and apparel makers, Hodgson has also been the victim of corporate bootlegging.
His ‘Anti-You’ slogan has gained more traction than the No Fun name because of the sheer amount of rip-offs. It started with small online Etsy stores that Hodgson said was easy to take down.
The same could not be done once Walmart and Urban Outfitters stole the design.
“Urban Outfitters, Zara and Walmart… the game is just ‘we see this is cool, we’re going to rip it off. We will have made thousands of dollars before they even realize and if they want to sue we’ll bury them in legal fees.”
Unsurprised, but also not discouraged, Hodgson returns his attention to his newly released Fall/Winter collection of designs, which includes “never satisfied”, “born to lurk, forced to work”, “praying for your mother because she’s sinfully ugly” and a No Fun Magic 8 Ball keychain. All the while, Hodgson maintains a close relationship with fellow artists and designers and is currently featuring patch design by Toronto tattoo artist Brandon Ing.
On the side, he still works on his professional photography, which he has been showing in local exhibits since 2008.
This year, he has shown at the Northern Contemporary art gallery in his own neighborhood, and is preparing to show more of his work in December.
“I’ve sort of known since I was kid that I wanted to work for myself. If I can pay the rent and make something, than I’m happy,” said Hodgson.
“Is this really negative shit going to pay my bills forever? Maybe. Considering the state of the world maybe it would. But is this going to be what I want to do forever? No. Not necessarily. I’ve been doing this for five years, before I did this I was paying the bills doing photo work.”
While the success of No Fun Press is not looking to slow down anytime soon, the message of the pessimistic accessory and apparel brand embodies Hodgson’s work ethic and commitment to the hardships of a young artist lifestyle. No Fun could continue to flourish as a generation embraces a similar lifestyle, but if one thing is obvious about Hodgson’s work, it’s that he isn’t afraid of taking another leap of faith when the time is right.
He certainly isn’t letting his success get in the way of a healthy dose of pessimism.
“You do these projects because you like them, not because you expect them to pan out. Not every idea pans out; not every idea is good. I just turned 29, I’ve been doing projects up until then, and every one of them pretty much flopped so [this] is just a surprise. A nice surprise.”