I recently sat down to a scheduled phone call to have a chat with Kieran Joyce. Kieran and his brother Conor are the masterminds behind the brand, Noggin Sport. For those of you who do not know, Noggin Sport are a brand that create hats and more recently t-shirts and target mostly sports clubs of all kinds, making them bespoke for each club sporting their logo and colours. In fact, when I seen a friend of mine with some merchandise I got in touch with Conor about getting some lids for the University rugby team. What is special about these lids however, is that some of the money made from the sale of them goes to a mental health organisation called Kaleidoscope Plus who are working to promote and support positive mental health. The organisation are based in the Midlands, where the boys were born.
After dealing with the team lids, I spoke to the guys and said I would like to ask them a few questions about their motivations and how they have come to do what they do, amongst being professional rugby players at the same time! A few days later, I sat down with my notebook and called Kieran, here is what I learned.
Who is Kieran Joyce, and how did things get started with Noggin Sport?
As a second year university student in Queens Belfast and being part of the Ulster Sub Academy meant he had a very busy schedule including early gym sessions, late pitch sessions, weekend sessions and university in between. This started to take its toll on Kieran and for around 7/8 months from September 2016 to April/May 2017 he had began to struggle. Being brutally honest with me, he said he was suffering from depression. This had began to leak from his head into the things he was doing. Uni work was falling behind, and he wasn’t as committed as he would have liked to have been with Ulster. He made a decision that he wanted to flip that depression and use it as a motivator to help people in similar situations.
3 things that mattered to Kieran and that he wanted to combine in order to help people. Sport, Mental Health, and Business (What he was studying at Uni).
Entering his third year of uni, on his business course there was a group project. The usual brainstorming period came where Kieran had come up with a brand that designs hats for people who want to raise awareness about mental health, and anyone with one, who seen another person with one would feel comfortable knowing they could speak to them. Sounds like a no-brainer right? Well Kierans group passed on this idea and went with something else. I wonder if that something else ever became a fully fledged business? Anyway, holding onto this idea, Kieran took this home to his brother Conor, pitched him the idea, and he loved it. Conor is credited with coming up with the name, Noggin Sport.
How does Noggin Sport help with Mental Health?
The boys weren’t sure how to approach this at the beginning. The first thing for them was to develop a reputable brand and align themselves with an established charity who are doing incredible work themselves. Enter Kaleidoscope Plus. Kaleidoscope Plus offer mental health services and facilities and work a lot with sports clubs. You can find out more about them here: Kaleidoscope Plus.
While it is important to be linked with a charitable organisation, it was important for the boys to have something inclusive in their brand that symbolises positive mental health. The Wolfpack was developed as their method to empower people who use and follow their brand. Working with the idea that people and their environment will be empowered together and be able to talk about mental health was very important. “If buying a product makes a customer feel better, it makes us feel better. Then we know we are doing something right.”
What are the kind of things can you identify that need to improve when we talk about the stigma of mental health?
“I see lots of things on social media when a celebrity commits suicide or suffers from a mental health problem, which is good because at least its being talked about, for me, I would like to see it spoke about more frequently.”
We spent a good bit of time talking about how important the people around the person with mental health issues can be, which perhaps they don’t realise. Education needs to improve at a younger age where people will have a better understanding of mental health. I speak for myself here but I remember a sex ed class in school when I was like 11. This and that is going to change physically. But what they didn’t point out was that more things will change mentally, how you deal with those physical changes and so on, as an example of an appropriate time when education into mental health needs to be deployed.
Companies like Heads Together, and now The James Burke Foundation run educational classes on mental health and well-being, important signs to look out for and where to look for help. Very important to see these classes being developed and of course, there can never be enough education.
As we are both university graduates, I asked Kieran on his thoughts about students. It was easy to agree that the university environment is a complete minefield for mental health problems. Living alone for the first time, lots of new faces, trying to fit in, walking through campus thinking everyone is judging you, to name a few.
How has Noggin Sport grown and developed since it began?
“We never anticipated the amount of support we would receive.” Friends and family have been doing as much as they can to support these guys, from sharing on social media to liking the gear and buying some of it, myself included. It is a really likeable brand, with a strong, positive message to be shared far and wide. Kieran and Conor are geographically in different places with Conor plying his trade in Jersey and Kieran in Galway. In saying that, it is easy for them both to stay connected and engage with their followers via social media. They are on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter daily, sharing posts and replying to messages.
“We haven’t really stopped to look how much it has grown so far, because we just want to keep the momentum going.” Both young lads, it makes it easier for them to connect with their followers, as most of them are younger people, particularly in sport. They make things that they would want to wear, which is another reason I love the brand. It’s authentic to the creators behind it, they are being themselves and they know their audience.
What does the future hold?
Noggin Sport wants to strengthen and grow their relationship with Kaleidoscope Plus, continue to spread and cultivate their positive message, and bring out more products for their customers.
And bucket hats.
“We are generally learning as we go. Working with rugby clubs, GAA clubs, pro clubs etc. We want to create a Wolfpack community where people feel comfortable to talk about mental health.”
Massive thank you to Kieran and Conor Joyce for supplying the boys with some lids, and for letting me pick their brains for a few hours. Keep an eye on these guys, and for god sake go and get some sick merch.
Check them out here: https://www.nogginsport.org