Meet Helen Rice
The co-founder and creative director of full-service agency Fuzzco offers a glimpse inside her curiosity-driven company—from sunup to sundown
Interview by Suze Myers
Original photographs by Helen Rice
Helen Rice, the co-founder and creative director of Fuzzco, runs a playful and prolific creative agency—specializing in branding, web design, strategy, and illustration, to name just a few—with branches in Charleston, South Carolina, and Portland, Oregon. With a client list including companies ranging from Etsy and Mailchimp to small local businesses, Fuzzco produces consistently refreshing work—and, under Rice’s leadership alongside fellow co-founder and partner Josh Nissenboim, has established itself as a breath of fresh air beyond the narrow New York design bubble. Constellation art director Suze Myers caught up with Helen this spring as she and her cohort prepare to move into a new Charleston studio space.
Suze Myers: Hi, Helen! Let’s start with an average day at Fuzzco. What does that look like?
Helen Rice: Every day is a little different, but they’re always full of meetings and ongoing project work. An average day looks something like this:
- Wake up to the morning news broadcast, check email, get up, get dressed, go downstairs to the office. The Charleston office is also our house (I’m married to my business partner, Josh) while we wait for our new office nearby to be completed. The commute is amazing.
- I normally work a 10-14 hour day, getting to bed around 12 or 1. My brain is mush at the end of the day.
- Once everyone leaves at 6, I normally keep working, sometimes for another hour but often more. Sometimes Josh cooks while I work, or I cook while Josh works. Sometimes we go out to meet friends or clients if they’re in town.
- More emails, chatting with the team, meeting with clients, working on Serious Buildings projects, Fuzzco client projects, Pretend Store products, internal projects. I can stay busy a number of different ways...
- Get home, shower, eat lunch, look at emails.
- I’ve started taking Pure Barre classes and it’s the best thing ever. I go three times a week—normally at lunchtime. I love having a reason to leave the house and a way to break up the day.
- I get back to email land and probably have a meeting of some kind, either with a client or my team, work on Fuzzco projects, Pretend Store projects, Serious Buildings projects.
- Depending on what’s happening, everyone either gets right to work or we check in on projects that need to be discussed or reviewed.
- Check in with the Charleston team as they arrive.
- Make toast.
- Respond to emails and any Slack messages
- Feed the cats. Make matcha or coffee depending on how tired I am.
SM: Fuzzco has two studios, one in Charleston, South Carolina and one in Portland, Oregon. You’re incredibly prolific in terms of both quantity and quality of projects, so I imagine collaboration is one critical key to your success. What does the collaborative process look like at Fuzzco?
HR: Our collaborative process is very organic and informal. It’s like a long conversation where the team (and client) discusses and works through ideas quickly in order to get to a place that everyone is excited about. Once we feel resolved in an idea or direction, the project team puts their heads down to make it real. People can decide how collaborative they want to be in that moment—do they want to own their work or share it? Or maybe they’re struggling and they want to reach out for help. Once everyone is done we get together and look at everything. Maybe we continue to evolve things, maybe we love what we’re seeing. The discussion and collaboration continues until it’s complete.
SM: Your new studio is currently under construction. What can you tell us about the new space?
HR: Our new space is one mile south from our current office in Charleston in a big masonry building built in the early 1800s (some say 1790!).
Our 7th Serious Building will contain the Fuzzco office, our residence, and a small café. The workroom has high ceilings and two huge archways that break up the space. The office will feel more formal than our former spaces and will have working fireplaces.
SM: You’ve worked with some big platforms—Etsy, MailChimp, Google, among others—but your portfolio also includes local and regional institutions, like the Charleston County School District and the North Carolina-based East Fork. What is it that draws you back to these smaller, Southern-based clients?
HR: We love solving problems and meeting new people. We can’t pass up the opportunity to do work that benefits the community we live in or to work for companies we love. The thing I like most about what I do is really getting to know so many people on so many levels and feeling personally invested in the work we do together.
SM: In that same vein, tell us a little bit more about why you choose to work and live in Charleston, a small-yet-mighty city that might fly under the radar of those who call N.Y. or L.A. their professional base. What’s the one thing you want people to know about Charleston’s creative community?
HR: I grew up in Charleston, and after college, I convinced Josh to move back with me. We started Fuzzco a year later.
Charleston has a small but hungry creative community. There are a lot of talented people hustling and doing great work. When you live in a small place like this, you see people you know all the time, which I love. The only problem is there just isn’t much here—there’s not many big companies like those that drive so much of the work and opportunities in bigger cities. Most people I know have had to make their own way, like we did with Fuzzco.
SM: Alongside Fuzzco, you run Serious Buildings, a design-driven real estate investment company, and Pretend Store, an online shop that sells beautiful, irreverent objects. Why did you decide to branch out from traditional agency work into these design-adjacent initiatives?
HR: Serious Buildings and Pretend Store evolved from our personal interests. Our internal motto is “Fuzzco figures it out,” which basically means when we want to do something that we’ve never done before—we just start doing it and figure it out as we go. We’re all fascinated by so many things, and these projects give us a way to extend our design experience into other spaces. There is no doubt in my mind that Fuzzco will continue to evolve.
SM: There's still a glaring dearth of female creative directors in the agency world. What advice would you give to an aspiring young woman designer at the start of her career? (Full disclosure: that aspiring young woman designer is very much me.)
HR: Work hard, constantly worry, be responsible, and don’t take anyone for granted.
SM: Okay, finally—where does the name Fuzzco come from? I’ve got to know!
HR: We wanted a short word that we could own. Without much ado, we came up with Fuzzco. ★
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.