“People make brands, I’d like to inject free non-conformist thinking…” Stephen Wembacher, Côte&Ciel
In 1995 aged 19, after spending one year in the military, Stephan took his first steps into the world of creative design, by founding his own skate boarding t‐shirt label with a local print shop. Stephan’s range became an instant success and after one year he loaned 40,000 Deutsche Mark from his uncle to become a partner in the shop. By 1997 he was its sole owner, producing a range of t‐shirts and accessories for both foreign and domestic markets. Throughout 2000 Stephan also took on two additional business partners, employing over 50 staff to design and manufacture product for brand giants; BMW, Omega, Porsche, and Red Bull. This success led to Stephan forming his long standing partnership with global mobile device brand Apple, developing its accessories line.
In 2008, after opening offices and factories in Hong Kong and the US with today over 5000 staff, Stephan decided to focus on producing high‐end accessories and Côte&Ciel was born. The first products to be developed by the fledgling brand included the first neoprene laptop skin for an Apple Mac. A concept that was conceived from Stephan’s constant travelling, as he came to realize that he had no protection for his lap‐top.
THC: What inspires you and why?
Stephan: Interesting people mostly inspire me; they could be artists, entrepreneurs, people in sports or those from a more cultural background – creators that have the ability to broaden our horizons, by utilising their vision, talent, or sheer determination.
THC: How did you get into your business?
Stephan: I was never really good in school, I have always set my own agenda from a early age, I guess I have a very entrepreneurial spirit. I started my first line of skateboard t-shirts and hoodies in Bavaria when I was 17, which then morphed into a company that designed and manufactured clothing for larger brands such as BMW, Porsche, Audi, Red Bull, to name a few. This success then enabled me to then grow and operate in the US and Hong Kong, which subsequently became my main business for 10 years, allowing me to work very closely with one of the greatest of all companies Apple. It has been a great journey so far.
THC: What are you working on right now?
Stephan: Right now I am still working closely with DAMIR DOMA, another brand I co-founded in 2007 with the designer and my business partner, which now shows during mens and women’s Paris Fashion Week. Even though I am less involved now in some areas, I stick around as partner and support where it is needed. Currently we are preparing the presentations for the SS15 season. A large part of my time is spent on Côte&Ciel, a Parisian accessory brand I started in 2008. I am very proud to be part of this, it represents a place where I get to work with some really amazing talent. To me it feels like one of the most original accessory brands on the market. We have so many ideas for new products we are always trying to do something innovative in order to create products that we really believe in. We are not a corporate company but rather a collective of creative’s who love to do great accessories.
THC: How do you see your space evolving?
Stephan: This is a difficult question, as I do not spend a great deal of time looking around at what everybody else is doing, this is the same approach we take with all of our companies. I believe if you are very honest with the product and stay true to your concept, it will evolve into the direction it belongs, which will naturally be the right one.
THC: Who’s your hero or icon?
Stephan: Steve Jobs, no doubt. I was fortunate enough to meet him a bunch a times. But if you look at his life story its kind of incredible. An adopted child and a school dropout, he became the greatest businessman of our times. He helped to reinvent the way we use computers, saved the music industry, he was a major factor in the movie world, but mostly he was able to inform billions of people on what is cool, creating an entirely new generation of tech savvy consumers. He was a hero. He is at the top of my list for sure.
THC: Where’s your favourite spot around the world?
Stephan: That is a tough one. I love California – the food, the people, the landscape, the mindset. But lets be honest, there are so many great spots around the world, a few I want to mention including: My birth place in Upper Bavaria, its amazing – the Greek Islands, and of course Paris is the most beautiful city in the world.
THC: What’s your favourite injection of culture into a brand?
Stephan: People make brands, I’d like to inject free non-conformist thinking, and I think an honest teamwork but with clear leadership.