The engineers that disrupted the luxury design market - An interview with Charles Tremblay, cofounder and president of Charles Simon
“When we started this project, we knew that it would be difficult to break into the luxury market. But our backgrounds in engineering allow us to find innovative ways of augmenting the design of our products. Charles Simon interrelates the concepts of design and engineering and it is this unique combination that really sets us apart.”
– Charles Tremblay
We sat down with the cofounder and president of Charles Simon, Charles Tremblay, to talk about the origin of the company, the joys and challenges of founding a startup and the future of the luxury industry.
Every great company starts with a great idea. How did you get the initial inspiration for Charles Simon?
I actually remember the distinctive moment very well. It was 2013, I was managing a team of consultants and traveling around Europe at the time. I was at a train station, getting ready to board the train when a question suddenly popped into my mind. I asked myself whether there is something about luggage that could be done differently, a way to make it comply with the elevated quality standards of other industries. Take sports for instance, the amount of superb materials and avant garde technology that goes into the production of top notch athletic gear is so advanced and yet, while I was looking around train stations and airports, none of the suitcases I saw could live up to those expectations. Even luggage made by legacy luxury brands is fairly primitive, at least when it comes to materials and the engineering process behind it. That is because the luggage industry has not changed much over the last decades and no proper innovation has been put into it. So, I started thinking about how to bridge the gap between what was possible and what was represented in the luggage industry at the time. This question stuck with me and finally made me conduct exploratory market research and reach out to my good university friend Simon to talk over my ideas.
Speaking of your cofounder Simon, what are your backgrounds and how did they impact the development of Charles Simon?
Simon and I are both engineers and met during university. My area of expertise lies in aeronautics and management, while Simon pursued a career in aerospace engineering. Both fields are centered around developing inventive solutions and this goal-driven, industrious approach greatly influences the way we run Charles Simon. When we first started this project, we knew that it would be difficult to break into the luxury market. So, we really went above and beyond to develop products that take the industry standard to a greater level. Our backgrounds in engineering allow us to find innovative ways of augmenting design. In that manner, engineering methodologies and technology are utilized to elevate the design of Charles Simon products. So, Charles Simon interrelates the concepts of design and engineering and it is this unique combination that really sets us apart.
What are the key values that drive Charles Simon?
At our core, Charles Simon is driven by a strive for high quality and excellence and everything we do is in pursuit of upholding this purpose. In addition, Charles Simon is of course also influenced by our personalities. After all, the company has our names in it so it only makes sense that our personal values align with our business practices. Sustainability is one of those causes that is really important to me and this mindset is reflected in Charles Simon’s transparent sourcing and our prioritization of working with suppliers who we have long standing relationships with.
What further distinguishes Charles Simon and makes it different from other luxury accessories companies?
I think because Simon and I did not come out of the fashion design industry, our way of thinking was different from the get go. Many companies start out with a marketing plan and investigate what people need, but that was not our approach. Instead, we saw an opportunity to disturb the market and develop a product that would fill an opening in the industry and cater to a refined, specific niche. So, we went on to develop the most advanced product as possible that would meet the needs of that niche. Accordingly, our products are made for the clients that value the unique combination Charles Simon embodies. The main characteristic that sets us apart is the way in which our products offer a unique blend of advanced engineering and handmade craftsmanship. This fusion is common in other industries such as luxury watches, cars and planes but it is unprecedented in the high end accessories market. Therefore, our focus on advanced technology and innovation as well as the integration of traditional craftsmanship and refined materials really sets Charles Simon apart.
How did you go about building a team to realize this vision and what were the main traits and skills you looked for?
For me, motivation is the most important factor. It is essential to find the right people that will be excited and driven to work towards the main goals alongside you. Apart from this ideological concept it is of course imperative to recruit people with the right practical skill set. At first, it was just Simon and I who partnered with a friend who is an industrial designer to work on the first Charles Simon product. From there, we started hiring additional energized, ambitious people to slowly build our team that now consists of engineers, designers and craftsmen as well as marketing and branding specialists. We have also partnered with luxury retailers such as Mr Porter from the Net A Porter Group to work on exclusive collaborations. To make a new brand known and bring on talented people in spite of all the difficulties and limited budget a startup has to deal with is really not easy.
What undertaking are you most passionate about at the moment?
Charles Simon currently has a lot of momentum. We are expanding globally and partnering with retailers around the world, ranging from Perpetuel in Dubai to Mr Porter in London and Leopold & Co in Berlin. It is highly rewarding to see our products represented in these major luxury capitals and we definitely want to continue developing these collaborations and growing our international clientele.
What are your goals for Charles Simon?
I aim for Charles Simon to become the major established name in the luxury accessories space. In order to get there, I envision the growth of our product categories to offer extensive accessories and leather goods collections. I am also interested in further developing our network of retailers in order to set up a strong presence in major cities throughout the world. Another endeavor is the operation of Charles Simon flagship stores in the leading global luxury capitals. We are working hard to accomplish these goals and become the leading producer of luxury accessories in the course of the next 10 years.
How do you see Charles Simon and the luxury industry changing over the next few years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?
The luxury industry is undergoing some major changes. Contemporary clients are more critical, more involved. They care about how products are made, are environmentally-conscious and do more research to acquire information before investing in a product. That is why it is vital for luxury brands to become more transparent in terms of their sourcing and manufacturing processes and be more invested when it comes to sustainability. Since these values of transparency and high quality also align with my personal beliefs and are reflected in the way Charles Simon operates, I am happy to see the luxury industry grow in that direction.
What can we look forward to from Charles Simon in the near future?
Watch accessories are currently our most successful product category and diving into the watch market has been an incredibly enriching experience so far. So, Charles Simon is pursuing that path further and I am very excited about several developments in relation to our watch accessories that are taking place at the moment. I cannot wait to share more details with our clients very soon.