The Power of WOND3R
Updated: Feb 21, 2019
Elva Ramirez, Contributing Writer
Last century, Madison Avenue was shorthand for the center of the advertising world. This century, however, a small agency in Houston is poised to define the future of marketing.
Meet WOND3R, a Texas-based marketing upstart with projects set to influence everything from street fashion to space innovation.
WOND3R’s three founders collectively have worked for some of the biggest clients in the world, such as H-P and Kraft. But it’s their current clients, and WOND3R’s approach to bringing ambitious projects into the limelight, which will change how consumers view fashion, sports, science and art.
WOND3R’s CEO Kerry Chrapliwy says the key to successful marketing in the new era is creating hybrid experiences that connect multiple worlds and experiences in a meaningful way. “You can't just talk about marketing,” Chrapliwy says. “You have to demonstrate it."
“It’s like a political belief system,” he adds. “You can no longer just sit back and talk about yourself. You have to engage with the community.” For example, in 2016, WOND3R was tasked getting people excited about traveling to Houston. The old-fashioned way to tackle the problem: Order up some billboards about Space City and plant them in Times Square or the Sunset Strip. The more innovative approach? Hire a high profile designer to do an entire Houston-themed runway collection, in which every piece referenced something about the Texas metropolis, and present it at New York fashion week.
The “Western vibe” of the collection felt “fresh,” Vogue said of Vivienne Tam’s Spring 2017 ready-to-wear collection. “Sequined rockets mingled with vibrant Mexican blooms, super-soft fringed suede jackets were teamed with chrome metallic flares for a ‘space cowboy meets rodeo’ vibe, and botanical prints were spliced with a constellation of stars.”
“Within 90 days of hiring us, we had more than 200 articles in 50 countries talking about how great, multicultural and diverse Houston is,” Chrapliwy says. “There were maybe a few hundred people in the fashion show but we reached two billion impressions.”
It’s nothing short of remarkable to change the narrative of one project so quickly. If WOND3R hit a homerun with the city of Houston, their current project is a figurative and literal moonshot.
An early meeting with a potential client, the Space for Biomedicine, initially looked to focus on research. A brief outlined the project in dry and technical language. But an interesting stat jumped out: Only a minority of a space scientist’s time is dedicated to survival, which means that an estimated 80% of their time in space can now be devoted to research.
“For those of us who aren’t scientists, we asked: What is their real mission?” WOND3R co-founder Graham Painter says. “It’s humanizing space. When we realized that, the project went from something deeply scientific to something very humanistic.”
This outlook lead to an ambitious effort to link researchers with curators and contemporary artists. How would Jeff Koons, known for his playful and outlandish sculptures, approach space exploration? What kinds of questions would contemporary artist Terence Koh ask of the limitations of living or traveling in space? How might creative minds inspire their scientific peers to solve different kinds of problems?
“We were talking to an artist who said, I want to go to the moon but I want to smoke when I get there,” Chrapliwy says. “When we brought that up with the scientists, we were almost embarrassed to ask them that, but they thought it was a really interesting thing.”
“Right now, science is only looking at surviving,” he says. “But artists are looking at all the nuances of the things you want to do in space.”
The project evolved into a first of its kind effort to teach contemporary artists about space. Artists would undergo the full training for space travel and create works that would then be on display in a Space Capsule. In the second phase of the project, the Capsule is sent to the International Space Station where it is put on view and beamed back down to Earth. The last, and most ambitious phase, sends artists into space where they create works in a completely new environment and in a micro-gravitational field. The next innovations for space travel could very well emerge from questions posed by outsiders and creatives.
But it’s not just academic treatises and a lofty goals. WOND3R is also linked to a fast-moving fashion movement that began as an idea for a runway show and which takes direct inspiration from streetwear. Former NBA player Kevin Willis may be known for his on-court skills but his love of fashion moved him to start a fashion brand. He came to WOND3R with a request to stage a fashion show. WOND3R countered: Why put on one fashion show when you can set off a cultural revolution instead?
“The fashion industry needs a reset button,” WOND3R’s Charlie Le says. “Kevin Willis knows everyone. He could be the voice of culture in fashion. He already has the credibility for it.”
Rather than present a single fashion show, an idea spawned to create the industry’s first sportswear and fashion event. Dubbed CROSSxOVER, the project will encompass the thriving world of athleisure, plus tap into the sports world’s fashion-ready celebs. It could be the beginning on an entirely new fashion week entity, apart from the runway shows in New York, Milan and Paris, and it arrives with a built-in audience of sneakerheads, fashion fans and image-conscious celebs.
“People are latching onto this idea,” Le says. “It's grown way past a TV campaign. It’s turned into this platform that is way bigger in terms of message than it was originally.” As the project gets bigger, there’s more opportunity to generate influence.
“It’s not just a play to create fashion,” Le says. “This is about curating and cultivating the next generation of creatives.”