For our next interview, we spoke to the good people at the Polar studio, made up of five partners who combine their passions and talents to create inspiring and relevant work, exploring the essence of each client. In our interview, we get into the stories, influences and visions of Ralph, Bruno, Lais, Ronaldo and Matheus, the founders and creative minds behind Polar.
Each member shared their personal stories and ties to their sneakers, and how they reflect their identities, style and approach to design and everyday life.
This interview marked the closing of a cycle, which began in 2020 when we hired Polar to create Kickstory’s new logo and visual identity. Only this time, they were able to experience what it’s like to participate in our interview and share a little of each one’s story.
Ralph First, I would like to thank you guys for giving us the space to speak here. For us, it closes an important cycle – having come into contact with the project, with you guys, with your content and now being a part of the content. It is very symbolic for us.
My name is Ralph and I’m one of the partners at Polar. I have a degree in Design and have been working in the field since I graduated. I love playing video games, I have a dog called Filó and I’m married.
Bruno My name is Bruno, I also graduated in Design. I’m from Minas Gerais but I’ve been living in São Paulo for 14 years. I started out working in design studios, but as an entrepreneur it was with the Grade studio, together with Ralph, which later became Polar. Today I also own P.A.C. bakery. I divide my time between the two. In my downtime, I really like to actually rest, do nothing, cook and watch TV. Matheus I’m Matheus, also one of the partners at Polar. I’m from São Paulo, but I lived my entire childhood in the inner state of São Paulo and moved back here to go to college 11 years ago. I graduated in Advertising and Graphic Design. I’m very passionate about cinema, music and fashion, so I’m always looking at these references. I’m a cat person, I live with my boyfriend. I’m into calisthenics, still an amateur. I love sports in general, but especially individual sports that challenge personal overcoming. And I’m also addicted to drag queens. Lais I’m Lais, and I’m also a partner here at the studio. From a very young age I was interested in visual things, like painting, videos and art in general. Here in the studio we have our mascot, Bigorna, our dog. She’s always here. Ronaldo and I are a couple, and she never leaves us. She’s a huge part of our lives.
I’m from the inner state and I’ve been living in São Paulo for ten years now. It was a dream for me to live here, this thing about big cities has always enchanted me. But today, every chance I get, I prefer not to be in the city, not to be among buildings. I’m more of a nature person. A curiosity that might be pertinent is that there are two types of objects that are very difficult to please me visually: cars and sneakers. I have a very specific taste in sneakers, so specific that today I’m wearing the Nike Cortez, the silhouette I like the most.
Ronaldo I’m Ronaldo, I’m also a partner here at Polar. As Lais mentioned, we’re a couple and we also had a studio before Polar, Arco. I also have a degree in Design. I was born in São Paulo and have lived here my entire life; I’ve never lived in any other city.
I’m someone who likes to collect hobbies because I dive into one and then abandon it and move on to another. My current hobbies are trying to make drinks at home and I’m now embarking on a new venture to open a brand, Cromo, focused on the universe of motorcycling. I don’t have many goals in mind but it’s a desire that I’ve always had and now I’m putting it out into the world.
So each of you already had your own business going - with the Arco and Grade studios. What was your trajectory like, why did you decide to merge the two studios and create Polar?
Ralph To talk about the beginning of Polar is to go back a long way in our individual lives. We crossed paths for different reasons, in different places, at different times, until Polar happened.
On the one hand, I met Bruno in college, we worked together for a brief period of time at ESPM‘s video studio. We’ve always kept in touch, we’ve always been close to each other, and then at a certain point, Bruno sent me a message: “The bidding for the Pinheiros Sports Club magazine project is about to open and I’d really like to try and get it. What do you think? It will have to become a business because we’ll actually need to open a company”. I was working at Futurebrand at the time (where I met Lais and Matheus), but I thought it made sense and agreed – and so Grade Studio was born.
In 2017 we won the bidding and this was Grade’s first job, and the only one for a while until we established ourselves. We kept working on the magazine project, every month we published it and a schedule program. Bruno was already a freelancer, but I left Futurebrand to join Grade.
Lais Going back in time, me, Matheus and Ronaldo, we met in college, the three of us studied together and even after graduating we kept hanging out, and in our professional lives too. Matheus and I did our internships at Futurebrand, and then eventually Ronaldo started working there too.
Then there was a moment when the four of us were working there at the same time – me, Matheus, Ronaldo and Ralph. We began to develop an affinity of interests, in the way we worked and so on. We gradually left Futurebrand, Matheus went to work in a studio at Galeria Metrópole, while I went to Galeria California, both in the center of São Paulo. Since we were close by, we always had lunch together.
Ralph At that time, Bruno and I were looking for a place to work, and then Matheus suggested we share a table with him at the Platô space, which was in the Metropole gallery. Eventually we invited Matheus to join Studio Grade, our studio, and a while later, Lais and Ronaldo got together to create studio Arco. They also came to work at the Platô space. Lais So at the Platô coworking space, one table was Arco studio (Lais and Ronaldo) and the table behind was Grade studio (Ralph, Bruno and Matheus). We literally sat side by side, and over time we started working together. We saw that we had very similar ways of working, an alignment of desires, goals and tastes. There we felt that working together was more interesting, cooler, than working separately. Ralph It took months of flirting before we actually committed to the relationship (laughs). We made it official at the beginning of 2020, a month before the pandemic hit. We left Galeria Metropole, rented a space, bought furniture, microwave, fridge, table, chairs, everything for everyone to work together. We worked there for a month as Polar, but then the pandemic hit and we all went home. Lais When things started getting better, around May 2021, we moved back to this studio.
Including yourselves, how many people are there on the team?
Ralph We are now 12*. As a result of the pandemic, we expanded our team not only to have presence here in São Paulo, but also to include people working from anywhere in the world. Today our team is spread across Brazil – we have one person in Rio, one in Goiânia, Porto Alegre and Itaitinga. The team is very multidisciplinary, it has people with different expertise, but at the end of the day they are all designers and can carry out design projects.
We have an illustrator, a very good 3D person, a typography specialist, so we were able to expand not only from a cultural point of view, bringing in people from different parts of Brazil, but also technically, this was something that consequently ended up happening.
How does the dynamic and distribution of tasks work between you?
Bruno Everyone undertakes projects, we partners are creative directors. But each of us has a more specific role – I take care of management and finance, as well as editorial projects. Ralph does more digital; Lais does visual identity; Ronaldo does visual identity and motion design; and Matheus looks after our commercial operation. Lais And it wasn’t always like this. It used to be a case of “save yourself if you can”, everyone did everything. It worked too, but in a more chaotic way (laughs). We learned what worked best over time. Today we’re much more organized when it comes to dividing up projects and calculating how much time we need for each project, we have a much healthier and tidier organization of our time.
What kind of impact you hope people will get from the work you do? Whether it's clients, product consumers or even designers who are inspired by your work.
Ralph We’ve been working by a motto: we want to do projects that people can identify with – and that we can identify with ourselves. This originates from a very real desire on Polar’s part. When people notice that the visual result speaks to them in a way that stands out from the ordinary, they end up identifying with it more, as well as the client or the public involved. Lais Nothing is done automatically, we look at everything carefully, we put a lot of effort into it. You can see this dedication at the end of the project.
In addition to all the projects, you take the time to create a Polar product line, and one of the items is the famous calendar. How did this idea come about?
Ralph Our first calendar was for 2018. It originated at Grade studio as a project, because we wanted to gift some people at the beginning of the year. It was a great experience to see people getting in touch with an item that wasn’t a delivery for a client. It’s a project that’s 100% what we’d like to create, and gift people with it.
The first calendar we made 50 units and that was it. In 2019 we made about 400 units, and it was the first time we flipped a switch, and said “well, this is for a larger number of people to get in touch with us”. It was no longer a souvenir material, a gift, and became a prospecting material as well. We actively sent it to a large number of people and in the end there were a lot of famous people with the calendar, it was very successful (laughs). When we became Polar, everyone agreed that it was an inheritance from Grade and that it made sense to keep and expand.
In the end, the calendar ended up being the first product, but it was also the spark that made us go on to produce other things. I think that today the calendar, and the store itself, play a role in enabling us to materialize another vision that the studio has, in another type of project. In the end, everything is a project for us – we see it as if we ourselves were the client. There’s a deadline, a timetable, a layout, delivery, approval, just like we do for any client. I think that this not only helps us to sell our professional vision, of thinking about the art direction of the photo, thinking the finishing of the product, the packaging, the shipping, a whole matter of logistics, but this is also the place where we can bring tangibility to personal desires.
We made a sweatshirt that was really cool, because it was the first product that we came in contact with the production chain, and we had to understand how the whole process worked. Then came the Polar Open t-shirt, which we made for the team meeting that took place here. We made a version for the store, and then we began to understand what these places of opportunity were, so that we could fit a product that made sense aesthetically for the studio, but also strategically for us to be able to tell our story. So that it reaches other people, other audiences, because I think the relationship between a project seen digitally and worn physically changes a lot.
Ronaldo The store also unites our desire to have something tangible, from the physical world. Maybe because of the pandemic, we stopped making physical books, packaging, because the market wasn’t asking for it. So we had this desire to make both physical and printed items, to work with materials, choose fabrics, define print colors and everything else. And the opportunity to put out work that we believe in, that is cool to us, also that serves as a portfolio, which sometimes we can’t show in other projects.
Once the product is ready, we also think about the art direction. How will the photos be taken? What will the promotional campaign be like? Will there be a teaser? Will there be a launch? The e-commerce photos, the photos of products that won’t go into e-commerce, in short, we think about everything and put it into practice – while simultaneously showing that we’re capable of doing it too.
Bruno It’s also cool because we create a new audience, without depending on clients. In a way, we manage to create a Polar community.
“In the end, the calendar ended up being the first product, but it was also the spark that made us go on to produce other things. I think that today the calendar, and the store itself, play a role in enabling us to materialize another vision that the studio has, in another type of project. In the end, everything is a project for us – we see it as if we ourselves were the client. There’s a deadline, a timetable, a layout, delivery, approval, just like we do for any client.”
I know that everyone here has a different relationship with sneakers. Beginning with you, Lais, why did you choose the Nike Cortez for Kickstory?
Lais I remember that from a very young age, the thought of working in an office, in a cubicle, made me desperate. Having to wear a suit, social shoes, I just couldn’t do it. My ideal dream was to work in a nice, well-lit place where I could wear sneakers, I remember saying that. Not that sneakers were something I related too much, but I always preferred them to any other type of footwear. Especially after the pandemic, there was no turning back.
I’m picky about everything, not just sneakers. But sneakers in particular are very hard for me to be pleased with. The Nike Cortez is the one I wear the most, I’m afraid they’ll get discontinued again, and I don’t want to wear mine out, so I use some backups (laughs). But I’ve been wearing Cortez for many years.
I like that it hasn’t changed much since it was released. It has those special editions, like with Kendrick Lamar, that I really wanted. In fact, the one I’m wearing is children’s size. When I traveled to the US, I watched many, many videos of people going to Nike outlets, and I kept stopping the videos frame by frame to see if there were any Cortez. I was already asleep on the sofa, and Ronaldo woke me up saying “Lais, look, there’s a Cortez in this one!”, just to add that the video had been published two weeks before. We went to the Nike store in the video, which was far away, and I couldn’t find it. I went to three other Nike outlets and finally found two models… only they were children’s size, so I bought them. I recently found them on the website Enjoei. I’m waiting for them to arrive, it’s very difficult to find new ones.
And do you remember the first Cortez you had?
Lais The first Cortez I had was the black one with the white logo and the white sole. I wore them until the sole was destroyed, there was a hole in the bottom, on the side, I wore them a lot. That’s why I’m preserving mine a little more now.
Like many people, the first time I saw these sneakers was in Forrest Gump. I remember my mother hated it, she said “it looks like a soccer boot”, and I kind of liked it because of that – it has a retro look, but at the same time, it’s very contemporary. This is an object that I think is wonderful, it’s the only sneaker I always want to wear (laughs).
“Like many people, the first time I saw these sneakers was in Forrest Gump. I remember my mother hated it, she said “it looks like a soccer boot”, and I kind of liked it because of that – it has a retro look, but at the same time, it’s very contemporary.”
And you Ronaldo, why Vans Old Skool?
Ronaldo I’m a very indecisive person, so it was hard to choose one pair of sneakers (laughs). I ended up choosing these Vans, which I’ve had for a long time, so much so that close friends would look at them and say “I can’t believe you’re still wearing those sneakers” (laughs). But it persists. And the reason I chose Vans is because I can’t remember not having at least one pair of Vans in my closet. Whenever the sole of one wore out, I’d get another one in a new, different color, I never repeated a pair. And this particular pair is the one that has stayed with me the longest.
I’ve never really ventured into high-top sneakers and I think that’s why I ended up identifying more with Vans. Although I can’t do any tricks, I know how to skateboard and so I have a certain affinity with the skateboarding universe, and within that universe, Vans was the one I identified with the most.
There’s a funny story that happened with these Vans. It has the side stripes in blue, but I wanted it in black – so I made a mask with tape and colored the leather with a sharpie pen, but it came off as I wore it. One day we went to visit a client on a farm, for an identity project for a cheese factory. I didn’t know if it was a real farm or just a place for cheese tasting, you know? When we got there, I was in my white Vans, and it was a real farm. We were next to the cows and I managed to step in a mud puddle and they turned brown. I came home, gave it a good wash and then the insole started to fall apart and the sole started to peel off. So today they’re in a very precarious situation, it’s even a little dangerous to walk with them in the street because they have no grip at all. I’m praying that the sole doesn’t fall off while I’m walking (laughs).
And how about you Matheus, what's your story with the Reebok Club C?
Matheus I’ve always loved fashion, dressing up and putting together outfits, but sneakers have always been my last priority. As I’ve never had much choice of shoes, I’ve always opted for those that are more common. Then came a time when my sneakers were rotten, very old and worn out. And whenever I was going to invest in footwear, I’d buy a pair of boots, a pair of shoes, a pair of sandals or a pair of slides, but I didn’t prioritize sneakers. Every time my boyfriend would look at my worn-out sneakers and say, “These sneakers are bad, they’re ugly, they don’t go with anything you have. You need something new”.
And then in 2021, I think he was fed up that I didn’t have any decent sneakers, so he gave me this Reebok Club C. And he said “take these white sneakers, they’re versatile and you can wear them with everything”. And it was love at first sight because when I got it, I realized how much I needed a pair of sneakers and I wasn’t buying one. Since I got these sneakers, I haven’t taken them off my feet. These have sentimental value, mainly because they were a gift from him.
The first week wearing them I walked to therapy. It was raining, I was walking down a slope and then I fell. I’d just gotten the sneakers and had bought an Apple Watch all in the same week – long story short, I damaged the sneakers and cracked the Apple Watch on the same day! I was pissed, but then I assimilated that it was part of the sneaker and nowadays I don’t care. I know that when these sneakers get too worn out I’ll want to find another Club C. It’ll be like Lais with her Cortez (laughs). Nowadays I feel more like buying sneakers and it’s because of them.
“I know that when these sneakers get too worn out I’ll want to find another Club C. It’ll be like Lais with her Cortez (laughs).”
And you Bruno, what's your story with the adidas Ozelle?
Bruno Before the interview, I spent a long time thinking about how my relationship with sneakers began. When I was a kid, sneakers were the only thing we could choose for our school uniform. And so I think sneakers were the first item of clothing I chose, worrying about what other people would think. The first sneaker I loved and bought was a Nike made entirely of neoprene, which you could just slip your foot into, it didn’t have laces, and there were spikes all over it. I felt like the most gothic kid in fourth grade (laughs). Since those sneakers, I’ve always prioritized practicality and comfort, and not having to tie them is perfection.
I’m bad at taking care of my sneakers, so I’m very modest when it comes to buying them because I know that expensive sneakers won’t last long on my feet. That’s why most of my sneakers I bought in outlets. I have some sneakers stored away, very well preserved in my wardrobe, because I don’t like them, so I don’t wear them much. Some I like a lot, but I like the idea of the sneaker more than I like it on my feet.
I realized I needed to buy a pair of sneakers. I spent a whole year looking but couldn’t find anything I liked. Then one day I went to the adidas outlet in Teodoro street and found the Ozelle. I put it on my feet and saw that the insole was made of suede, very comfortable! Since then I’ve never taken them off. They’re very, very versatile, they go with everything. I’m a little picky when it comes to sneakers too, but it has more to do with comfort than aesthetics. I think that if it’s very comfortable, I can overlook the fact that it’s kind of ugly. But if it’s good-looking and not comfortable, it’s a no go for me (laughs).
“I’m a little picky when it comes to sneakers too, but it has more to do with comfort than aesthetics. I think that if it’s very comfortable, I can overlook the fact that it’s kind of ugly. But if it’s good-looking and not comfortable, it’s a no go for me (laughs).”
And Ralph, why did you choose the Nike Air Force 1 for your Kickstory?
Ralph I’m also picky about sneakers, just like Lais. Except it’s crazy because I’m picky because I don’t like trying new things. Once I like something, I get attached to it and then I stick with it for as long as I can. For example: If I like a nice, basic, cool t-shirt, I’m going to buy 20 of them and just wear them. Or like “these pants fit well! I hope they never stop making these pants in the history of the planet so I can keep wearing them”.
I didn’t realize this until I started dating. My wife once said, “I’ve never seen that, when we started dating you had three identical sneakers that only varied in color”. And that’s exactly what I wanted. She understood and now she encourages me to do it. This particular Air Force she gave me for Christmas, because the other one was so worn out it was sad.
Sneakers have a very practical and functional aspect. The Air Force is very good for everyday use, it’s resistant, I ride a motorcycle and the fact that it’s made of leather also helps. Ever since I bought my first Air Force, about eight years ago, I’ve only worn it. Besides, it brings me peace because I can buy it at any time, there’s always restock. Despite the inflation of the Air Force, if I were to lose my sneakers today, I know that tomorrow I’d be able to buy the same one and everything would be fine.
“Ever since I bought my first Air Force, about eight years ago, I’ve only worn it. Besides, it brings me peace because I can buy it at any time, there’s always restock. Despite the inflation of the Air Force, if I were to lose my sneakers today, I know that tomorrow I’d be able to buy the same one and everything would be fine.”
And what is your favorite Air Force colorway?
Ralph So the two I’ve been using the most are the white and the black. I even put the Shark sole from the Sole Hunter with a black AF1, because the sole was already opening up. I did it so it would last a bit longer, because I didn’t want to buy another one. Its lifespan has been increased.
The other members of the Polar team also showed us their favorite pairs of sneakers and the stories behind them. Check it out:
*Between the interview and the date of this publication, Matheus is no longer part of Polar’s team. Today, he and his Reebok Club C 85 are walking around the Netherlands.