Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do.
My name is Collin Thompson; I’m originally from Toronto, Canada—grew up in Los Angeles, as I was training for the Olympics (figure skating).
I went to York University and studied Film, and spent some time at the Harvard business school; before moving to Hong Kong. I came here on a whim because I really loved Wong Kar Wai films, and I was bored of my job financing films through the bank I was working at.
As soon as I got here I felt the impact of the world and all the geo-socio-economic-political changes that were happening right at the doorstep of Hong Kong.
Although, still passionate about making movies, I felt that a more immediate creative path would be a way to fully express my passion for images and ideas that touch people’s lives. So, while traveling around southern China, I discovered the massive industrial revolution that was going on, and all the products that were being made! So, I picked up my computer one morning while back in Canada after my trip and said: hell, I’ll design sneakers and build a lifestyle brand so that I can explore all my interests.
I’m currently the Managing Partner of the company and I oversee the strategic direction of the operations; from product design, marketing initiatives, and finance. On a daily basis, this involves working with the team we have, on the planning of new products, events, and promotional activities with key partners and companies. I spend a lot of time at our factory with the production team developing new styles as well as with my partner on the style and image of the brand and communications.
Tell us a little bit about CIPHER and the people involved.
It started off a few years back, while I was on my own, but then I met my partner, who really helped refine and communicate the brand visually, Danielle is a great graphic designer and visual communications professional, so she joined the company about 2 years ago and that’s when we were really able to broaden our audience through clearer and more professional images and communication. Since then our team has grown to about 6 people in total with a variety of backgrounds and cultures, we’re a very international group of individuals, with marketing or business backgrounds. Our promotions manager Henry, is a Kiwi who was educated in France, our Mark-ops manager is Chinese, but grew up in Texas and speaks Mandarin, Cantonese, Spanish, and English, our marketing director is half Thai, half Italian—we call her the Thai-talian, and the now world famous Livia is Chinese Canadian from Toronto, and our product manager is a local HK guy born and raised.
On a daily basis our company focuses on what we want to communicate to the world, through every touch point: product, web, visuals–everything. CIPHER is a international urban-contemporary lifestyle brand offering high concept lifestyle products for an emerging class of global lifestyle connoisseurs; a lifestyle brand that embodies elements of contemporary art, music, film, design, urban culture, and high fashion. Our vision is to bring the world unique designer-driven products that echo the fluidity of modern cosmopolitan living. A reflection of our own lives; embodied by the people in the company, CIPHER is the voice of the well-traveled, culturally aware, modern, urbane individual who seeks a fresh take on the inspiring cultures of our global village.
What does it take to design footwear? What’s your approach to a project or new design?
Designing footwear, like anything else, requires patience, restraint, the ability to communicate an idea, a philosophy about what it is you’re doing, and above all: people. Everything starts with an idea and then evolves into; how to express that idea. When we start a new project, as when I start a new design, it usually starts with something internal, based usually from my interests and for the company our interests. We then think about how we can share that idea, and the fun, with everyone outside the company. For instance, I really like books, film, food, and music. I like a lot of diversity in the things I choose to spend time on and with therefore I try to infuse that into the company and into the products that we create. Usually what manifests is something that other people are into as well, I always try to express or create things that have a shared understanding, no matter where you come from, and I think the cultural aspects that strike a cord among all of us are things like music, food, film, art, design. So we draw a lot of references from these paths—as they translate very well across boundaries and cultures. Lastly, we try to infuse these shared ideals into products, or events—using a narrative to express the concept and the meaning behind what we’re contributing. This may sound lofty, but at it’s core, this is what we do, as the technical aspects of footwear design, would be quite boring, and can be learned in a matter of months if you seek out the information.
Where can we find your brand?
CIPHER is universal… but physically, you can find us in fashion travel spots around the world like Harajuku Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, New York, Milan. The easiest place to find us is on the web at http://www.cipherism.com
What are some of your inspirations?
Our inspiration always stems from something cultural, people, places, artists, musicians, films, food, literature, travel destinations. This year we’re exploring Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, William Gibson, and Fritz Lang, with our models the “Vertigo” “Odyssey” “Sentient”, “Metropolis”. Film and literature stems deep, but we reference political figures, artists, musicians throughout different parts of our brand, you just have to dig in and find out. Chanel has always been one of my favourite fashion inspirations, as well as Hedi Slimane, and Yves Saint Laurent—Hip Hop, British Indie pop rock, as well as the current Electro-rock-disco stuff that’s going on, all the way back to literary icons, and especially film Noir, and French new wave cinema. CIPHER is a synthesis of our time absorbed by everyone involved in the creative process within the company, taking bits and pieces from global popular culture and fusing it into our own language translated through products.
What’s life like up in Hong Kong, as far as music, fashion, nightlife, and popular culture?
Hong Kong is really just like any other global city, it has its local flavour, and it’s international flavour, but more and more it’s becoming an international destination full of diversity, history, and culture. It’s the gateway and the precipice of the brave new world, so to speak. The music scene is sporadic, but if we continue to grow, we hope to help enhance this by sharing some of the great music from around the world here in the form of live performances and exclusive remixes and songs to add to the already diverse exchange of ideas and beliefs. The nightlife here is by far, one of the most interesting in the world from the perspective of food, wine, and convenience. I would say it’s a top global destination for any gastronome out there looking to have the ability to always try something different
What new upcoming events, projects, or releases are you currently working on?
We have an online mixtape releasing in late march, we’re planning some pop-up shops in key international locations throughout the year, as well as some local events with restaurants and bars involving special drinks and menus. Primarily, our company is planning online launches of new product every 6 weeks, so you’ll have to stay tuned to our website, mailing lists, and / or Facebook / Twitter pages.
What would you say is the most difficult aspects of your line of work?
Coordinating all the ideas into one cohesive voice, as well as working with a group of people to achieve a goal. Whether it is a design goal, production, or visual communication, sometimes there are a lot of great ideas and opportunities that do not fit into the context of what we’re trying to achieve. The beautiful thing about working in this type of a dynamic, is that you get to work with a lot of great people, but with that influx of energy—it requires a lot of patience and clarity in making something meaningful come out from it. It’s something that I try to balance everyday. Different interests, ideas, and paths—and how they can help us gel and grow as a brand and as people.
The fashion and music worlds are often tied together…What music artists out right now are really grabbing your attention?
We listen to a lot of different music, but I’ve been really caught up with Lykke Li, the Black Ghosts, Phoenix, JUSTICE and the Ed bangers record label, Michael Jackson, Lil’ Wayne, Santogold, M.I.A, Hot Chip, La Roux, anything that Hedi Slimane is promoting. I’m a huge fan, and I love coming across great new music, everything from the most mainstream pop music to those quirky indie bands from local scenes from around the world.
Thanks for taking the time to speak with us Collin. Do you have any last words or shout-outs?
I would just like to say, thank you to everyone who has supported CIPHER, and I hope everyone one that reads this is inspired to find their own way in the world and express themselves with honesty and integrity. One love.