There's a popular Thai saying that compares smartphones to a person's 33rd organ and I would like to make a case for smartphone cases as your 34th.
Cases as a way to express yourself and protect your smartphone are part and parcel of owning a handheld these days and Casetify has been a pioneer in this regard. The Hong Kong-based brand is well-known for designing and producing phone cases and electronic accessories with a global presence but what makes it stand out is its many memorable collab collections with big names in fashion, movies, music, and artists, ranging from Japanese mecha anime Evangelion, girl group Blackpink and Paris art museum Louvre.
Wesley Ng, Casetify's co-founder and CEO, recently visited Thailand and Guru By Bangkok Post sat down with him for an interview.
How did the idea for Casetify come about?
Casetify started out back in 2011 as an app [called Casetagram]. It was around a year after Apple launched their first iPhone, which I was inspired by. I thought it was going to change the world and I was right but when I dropped and cracked my first iPhone, I realised I needed a case but cases back then were black, dull and bulky. I wanted a case that was cooler than that. Something that represents who I am. That was when I thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if I could turn Instagram photos into a customised phone case?' and that was how Casetify was born. I thought if I made it I would solve a problem for lots of people who didn't want ugly cases and then maybe I have a business.
So how did the app evolve into Casetify?
In the first year, we were very successful through word of mouth and free online marketing because we were the first and only one who launch that kind of product. Customised phone cases and customised products have been around for a long time but they use one picture and it doesn't look so great because not everyone is a designer or an artist. We came up with a template or a grid so anyone can customise and, at the same time, get the end products that look fantastic, allowing people to turn their favourite Instagram pictures into a personalised case. That was 12 years ago. Celebrities like Jamie Oliver and Antonela Roccuzzo (Lionel Messi's wife) loved it. Our early success came from people who bought our products and shared them online. I didn't even know how to do influencer marketing back then.
The problem arose in the second year with copycats popping up in the States, Europe and Asia because anyone who can write an app can do the same thing. That's when I realised that we needed to invest in branding. If you're distinctive enough, you can separate yourself from the crowd. However, I didn't know how to build a brand and I learned from people I respect especially Sarah Andelman, the founder and creative director of the now-defunct concept store Colette in Paris, and we had our first collaboration with Colette.
I maintain a great friendship with her and from her, I learn the dos and don'ts of how to build a brand. It's like making friends. First, you meet someone online but you want to meet them in real life. You cannot just talk to your virtual friends forever. The same goes for brands. You're building your relationship with customers and they want to meet you in real life and that's why five years ago we decided to open our retail stores to nurture that relationship. With social media, our culture is more aligned globally. Our values become more universal. It's a good thing about building a brand because you no longer are restricted to where you are.
Tell us about your plan to open more stores.
We want to be where our customers are, basically, and people don't just shop online. Post-pandemic, people value travel and real-life gatherings a lot and a brand should naturally expand to align with people's mindset. At the end of the day, we're not about selling our products but building relationships with our customers and, most importantly, telling people who we really are. I think having a physical retail space is the best way to do it.
Tell us about the 'Re/Casetify' programme.
It is a lifelong campaign where we want to reduce virgin plastic. We collect used phone cases of any brands from customers [who receive discounts for Casetify products as an incentive] and give them a new life, even though it's very challenging and doesn't lower our cost. Not all phone cases we collect can be recycled and some are very used so they have to be disposed of properly instead, but for those that can be recycled, we chop them and turn them into pellets to give them a new life. If you look closer at our recycled cases, you'll see tiny particles of old phone cases in them. We launched 'Re/Casetify' in 2020 but the vision started earlier than that.
Tell us about your brand's collaboration journey.
Our first collaboration was with Colette and we made a collection of Apple watch bands. From that, I learned what collaboration really is from Sarah. It's more than just putting on a logo and it's done. It's how you can use your creativity and give people the unexpected. I'm very hands-on with our collaboration projects in the creative area. We have a trusted team but for collaborations that we're really serious about I also personally get involved.
Casetify has collaborated with many local artists. Why?
For artists, what we want to do with Casetify is to use it as a platform to launch great art from one side of the world to another. For example, our recent collab with the Thai film ‘Man Suang’ [which was created by noted Thai collagist Nakrob Moonmanas] and I feel like people outside Thailand should know about his work and, through our global distribution platform, they can. I come from a designer background [Ng studied communication design in Australia] and I think great art and great talent deserve to be discovered. Also, when we work with artists, we want to see if they have special points of view.
What do you think contributes to the success of Casetify?
Three things. The creatives behind the brand. When we look back creativity was there at the start of our very first day and to this day we use our creativity in our collabs. So creativity is definitely one of our traits. The second is quality. At our price point, quality has to be there and that's the promise we make to our supporters. Lastly, I think we are very focused on what we do. We're not rushing into making new products. I believe these three factors are what make Casetify as it is today.
Do you plan to open another store in Bangkok?
I haven't been back in Thailand for 10 years. A lot of things change and I feel the excitement of Thai people. In terms of retail, I'm really optimistic and I want to expand more retail stores in the Thai market, although we haven't confirmed a possible second location yet. Moreover, we now have 30 stores in 14 cities worldwide but our recent opening in Osaka is of a different standard. It's our first global flagship store and we plan to bring the concept to different parts of the world and they'll be brand-experience-focused retail.
Casetify store at CentralWorld.