URBAN BUSINESS SUCCESS
What happens when you mix passion, creativity, a huge dose of persistence, and a smudge of crazy? You get two young German entrepreneurs, Marvin Amberg and Klaus Wegener, the co-founders of ‘Caseable’. The young company gives people the ability to create their own cases for laptops, iPads, Kindles, smartphones, e-Readers, tablets, and more. With our electronics constantly in our hands it makes sense to have a case that offers protection and creative expression at the same time. Caseable wants consumers to create a case that has a personal value to them - just as its slogan says: products that matter to you.
Curiously enough, the idea of caseable was born in an environment not commonly associated to individual creativity and uniqueness: a Colombian military base. Klaus and Marvin were invited to pitch their idea of PatchPeople, a business venture selling anti-mosquito patches, which the two founded while still studying at university. As soldiers often have to march through jungle and subtropical areas, the military had to deal with the problem of mosquito-transmitted diseases. When Klaus met Marvin at Bógota, they thought about various possibilities on how to appear as experienced highly professional businessmen when facing the tough guys of the Ejercito Nácional de Colombia. Klaus argued that printing their corporate symbol on their laptop sleeve would help strengthen Pacth People’s reputation. After researching for solutions, the former roommates realised, there wasn’t a single company out there offering a service of selling personalised cases in relatively small amounts.
At 2,625 metres above sea level, Marvin was feeling a bit too dizzy and exhausted to realise this vague idea could become something big and life altering for the both of them. While heading back to Germany, they didn’t have a million-dollar-deal on board but a great idea to put an end to the dull, monotonous cases offered in stores worldwide. The fledgling co-founders realised that there was a real lack of emotions and personal creativity concerning such products. The idea of offering people to create their individual customised laptop sleeves was born. In the end, it all started with a simple anti-mosquito patch: a customisable one, of course.
Starting a new business venture is never easy. But it gets even more complicated, if you decide to leave the well-known structures of your home country. On the spur of the moment, Marvin and Klaus decided to move to New York and set up their company in the vibrant and urban neighbourhood, Brooklyn. Marvin and Klaus knew the difficulties and obstacles they would face. “We always wanted to make it in America and expand from there, although we noticed right from the beginning that it wouldn’t be easy at all”, said Wegener. Before the big move, there was a frenzy to send over hundreds of documents filled with contracts, letters of recommendations, and their business plan to the US embassy for their business visa.
As luck would have it, Marvin and Klaus soon found the right location for setting up their office: a chemical company that produces emulsions for the screen print industry. In tiny, narrow rooms they set up the initial production. It was anything but fancy, their first production site gave off the sweet scent of inspiration and a true garage start-up feeling. With sourcing and the overall development of the Caseable website, the search for perfection in every detail began. “The process lasted approximately 10 months until the product was finally perfect. Although there had been a lot of pressure, we didn’t want to start with anything we weren’t totally satisfied with”, Amberg states. After countless hours of work, in November 2010 caseable.com went live and officially launched its online shop. From the start, the founders aimed high. Aside from the US market, they also wanted to offer their products in Europe. Therefore, they had to speed up their production turn around time to just 1-3 days, knowing that an extensive delivery period will cause a downwards shift in sales. With things going well, Caseable was able to expand their assortment and is now the only company worldwide, which offers such a wide array of products in custom products for electronics.
Although the main objective of every successful business consists in being profitable, sustainability and offering green products was always a major concern to the founders. In order to provide eco-friendly products, Caseable has adopted the use of recycled materials in its manufacturing process. Thit means a laptop sleeve could have been a wetsuit in a past life or an iPhone case could be the reincarnation of a plastic bottle. “If everyday commodities also got Karma, our products must have a good one, I suppose”, says Marvin with a big grin on his face. As the increase in electronic devices that are improperly discarded is a growing issue, the company maintains a collaboration with the e-Steward program. In order to reduce toxic waste, this program allows customers to donate their old electronics, which will then be recycled properly. But Caseable’s commitment isn’t limited to environmental concerns but also takes into account the social aspects of modern entrepreneurship. Therefore, the co-founders decided to maintain their production in Brooklyn, instead of sourcing it out to low-wage labor markets. “The in-house production is part of our philosophy. Every sleeve is a one of a kind piece, exclusively printed and handcrafted in Brooklyn, New York”, Wegener emphasises. Not only is Brooklyn the geographical location of Caseable’s head office but it’s also a second home and has special meaning for the two young entrepreneurs. Both of them have lived and worked in New York before and fell in love with the Big Apple’s spirit. “Brooklyn has become a major part of Caseable and everything we do. We are proud to be here and to manufacture locally”, endorses Amberg.
As a huge melting pot of different cultures and ethnic groups, Brooklyn is formed by various communities and neighbourhoods, which are all different and special in their own way. Despite tendencies of gentrification and the influx of urban professionals, each one of the Brooklyn neighbourhoods has kept its own, very unique ethnic flavour. Being more than a simple place, each community stands for a certain kind of identity, philosophical background, and lifestyle. Due to its vast diversity, Brooklyn has become what The Village and Soho used to be in Manhattan. In every part from Williamsburg to Dumbo you can watch people perform, painters selling their art to pedestrians, writers, graffiti artists – the Brooklyn streets are bursting with creativity. For Marvin and Klaus art is an essential part of their surroundings, which is why they have started a collaboration with several local artists. Amberg states, “This project allows us to support their work while providing our customers with innovative and creative products.” Indeed, for many unknown artists, it’s hard to make a living out of their work. Due to the company’s art project called ‘‘csbl x’’, upcoming artists benefit from another source of income. Furthermore, and maybe even more important, their work is presented to a wider audience through Caseable’s website, social media, and partnerships.
The artist section has been in the making since the start of the company. Back in the late summer of 2009, Marvin was invited to an art exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany where he saw Tom Christopher’s paintings for the first time. “The idea of our custom cases just started and I knew that Tom’s art would look fantastic on them“, said Amberg. “So after we finally got our first cases in hand I just asked him, and luckily he said yes straight away”, he continues. Tom Christopher is an internationally renowned artist with frequent expositions in galleries from New York to Paris and Tokyo. The main theme of his paintings is capturing urban street sceneries in Manhattan. Armed with a camera he often strolls through the city and tries to picture the small characteristics, which are symptomatic of New York’s fast moving lifestyle. In contrast to his themes, Tom’s work mode on the streets consist in slowing down consciously, in order not to miss any single detail in front of his lens. Playing with perspectives and abstraction his subjects and colours create a vibrant energy very much like New York itself. Apparently a perfect match for Caseable products, which are made for the protagonists of Tom Christopher’s art – the urban and mobile society we live in.
Another featured artist in the framework of “csbl x” is Brian Ermanski, who has been titled “the Bad Boy of the Art World”. Provocative and charismatic at the same time, he seems the perfect contrast to Tom, the silent observer. Brian questions the immanent rules of the art world, which establishes the seemingly insuperable difference between fame and artistic insignificance. Ironically he confronts the art scene with its own rigidity and disability to think beyond the settled establishment. The self-acclaimed Prince of Elizabeth Street’s style can be best described as autobiographical. Everything he experiences, loves or hates, is likely to be captured in his paintings. But there’s got to be a reason that New York City just can’t get enough of Soho’s infant terrible and fellow citizen. Besides his collaboration with Caseable, who is currently working on a limited edition series with him, Ermanski’s work was recently published in the New York Times and Vogue. As Huffington Post concludes, “There is something so wrong about him, it’s right.”
Getting this section up and running took Marvin and Klaus months of preparation. “We are very happy to start and make true pieces of art available to our customers. It’s only the first step, but we hope there will be a lot more artistic collaborations in the future’’. Bringing together fashion and art obviously seems to be a huge trend nowadays. Even high fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Dior can’t resist the vanguard attraction of the art world and maintain creative partnerships with well-known artists, e.g. Yayoi Kusama or Anselm Reyle. There has always been a mutual fascination of both worlds. Art as an epitome of crossing frontiers and breaking taboos, whereas the fashion world is commonly associated with beautiful appearances and flawless superficiality. More and more, both worlds are mixing together, and benefit from the strengths and liberties of one another. Fashion’s volatility meets artistic expression while the art world gets access to the hasty world of everyday consumption.
We give collaborating artists the possibility to offer their work on our cases through many different channels including large e-commerce sites like Amazon’’, Klaus states specifying the economic dimensions of their latest coup. Besides Caseable is currently launching an exclusive partnership with one of Germany’s most important cell phone carriers. A clever step, considering that custom cell phone cases have been the latest addition to Caseable’s product line. And the guys still have to comply with a tough agenda. In 2011, they expanded to Berlin, in order to better cater for the needs of their European customers. A big objective of the two founders is to establish local production also on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. The decision where to open their European headquarters was a mutual and reasoned one. Berlin - like Brooklyn - is known as a gigantic artistic hub. It has been attracting a great deal of artists in the last few years not only for its inspirational energy and creative spirit, but also for its easy-going lifestyle and cheap living expenses. “Interestingly, artists used to live in Soho where rent was cheap. When the real estate investors saw the opportunity in this hip and artsy neighbourhood in the 70/80s, rent became too expensive and the artists moved east - to the cheaper Brooklyn. Same thing happened here and again, we are heading eastwards - to Berlin”, explains Amberg. Kreuzberg, which is also known as Berlin’s sizzling melting pot, seems just the perfect location for the two young founders to pursue their ambitious goals. Rebellious, fresh, and different it seemed to be the right place to experiment on new and groundbreaking concepts. Referring to Caseable’s near future, Klaus sums up, “We want to be more than a company with custom products. Brooklyn and Berlin compose just the right environment for us to figure out where the journey will lead us. Not only in the passion for design, the creative and diverse subcultures and the drive to do something right, but also in reaching out to local artists.” So, let´s see what happens next.