Meet Chris Greenhalgh, the Manchester graphic designer who became the architect for the city brand, I Love MCR
Chris Greenhalgh first designed the I Love MCR® symbol in 2009 after a trip to New York City. Yet, it was only after the Manchester riots in 2011 when the simple icon became a powerful symbol of civic pride. In May 2017, the now internationally recognised brand was needed again after the devastating Manchester Arena terror attack. During the harrowing days that followed, it was proudly emblazoned on the city streets as a statement for solidarity and defiance. Today, after positively resonating with residents and visitors and gaining an unprecedented reach on social media, I Love MCR® has become a trusted independent platform, championing culture and community with over 12 million visitors to the website per annum and over 400K subscribers.
What did you hope to achieve when you first set up I Love MCR®?
Following trips to several great cities, the most notable being New York in 2009, I was really taken with just how passionate the people felt about their city – the same feeling I have about Manchester. As a graphic designer, I’d always had an interest in symbolism and typography and wanted to create something to illustrate my love for my city using the skills I had gained throughout my early career knowing how impactful it can be to a speak a universal language. I didn’t expect it to gain so much attention and traction but once it did I knew I had to adapt and keep the momentum going.
What is it about Manchester that made you align yourself so closely with the city?
Manchester is the centre of the universe, isn’t it? It’s that incorruptible sense of civic pride that defines Manchester as such a special global city. People show their pride for the city’s culture and world-first innovations with a swag. It’s a collective community of people who come together at times of need. A trait that only a few cities in the world possess. I’m proud to say I’m from Manchester wherever I go.
Describe the moment you first realised/ acknowledged you were successful…
At school, I lacked concentration and direction but continually found myself expressing myself creatively which led to me attending Pendleton College (just like Tony Wilson and Sir Ben Kingsley) and going onto a degree at the University of Bolton. So, I was proper proud when I graduated from university and landed a job as a graphic designer in the publishing industry – even before my graduation ceremony. I first acknowledged the success of my brand when I Love MCR® mobilised a huge community of people and it was more important to me than money. I started I Love MCR® during the infancy of the social and digital economy and left my job to ensure I put 100% of my energy into containing the momentum and developing the brand further. Later signs of success were presented when we branded a plane. A literal sign that I Love MCR® was going global.
You have a gin brand too – what made you want to launch I Love MCR® gin?
Manchester merchandise has been important in developing the brand and appealing to tourism. Continuing demand for merch meant expanding our range further than just clothing, so we added products which suited the Manchester demographic such as travel and alcohol. I love strawberry jam and gin as much as the next Mancunian. So, working with a city centre distillery, we combined the much loved ingredients to make the world’s first marketed strawberry jam gin.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome in your career?
Launching a brand by accident and leaving my job to start a media company with no capital meant at one point, in the beginning, I was so brassic that I couldn’t even afford train fare or a Greggs sausage roll. Commercialising what began as a social movement while also suffering from anxiety was no walk in Heaton Park. I had to get the balance bang on and had to bring in the right people, often having to find a way to pay them before paying myself and causing further panic attacks.
But the most poignant challenge was 22 May 2017. A terribly tragic event that you can’t compare to anything else in Manchester history. I felt that I Love MCR® had a duty to react responsibly and communicate a sensitive balance of defiance, resilience and solidarity. That’s something humanity can’t teach and there’s no correct answer. I hope we positively contributed to the city returning to some normality with some security. Manchester is strong.
I’ve been busy scoring the Leading Bar of the Year and Leading Event Venue of the Year in my capacity as a judge at @thisismcrawards – all worthy winners and all contribute to the vibrant hospitality scene in our fair city. Good luck! pic.twitter.com/kwegqvyZbb
— Chris Greenhalgh (@ilovemcrchris) November 7, 2019
The future of I Love MCR® – where else would you like to take the brand and your career?
Realistically, I’d just like to get to 2.7 million subscribers and followers to match the population of Greater Manchester – something which I believe is achievable considering our current organic growth. Ideally, I’d like to start community and property ventures alongside I Love MCR® which helps young people who are living on the bread line which is something close to my heart.
For information, visit ilovemanchester.com