Tech accessories don't have to be boring. At least that's the thinking behind Native Union, a brand that was founded by Igor Duc and John Brunner in 2009 with the goal of revolutionising the way we use our gadgets. It offers everything from iPhone cases and MacBook sleeves to wireless chargers and belt cables, all designed to empower the modern lifestyle through optimal functionality and sleek, stylish aesthetics.
We caught up with Igor to learn more about the impetus behind Native Union, what inspires him and his goal to enhance the way we live with technology.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and your career trajectory so far?
Since I was a teenager, I’ve always had very defined interests: design, technology, and surfing. So, after graduating from business school, it only seemed natural that I pursue one of these passions. Always knowing that I wanted to create something of my own, my first venture was creating a designer furniture brand. That ended up being more difficult than I anticipated because of the logistics of shipping large pieces all around the world.
Thankfully, that timed nicely with the launch of the first iPhone. As soon as I got one in my hands, it became obvious that this device would revolutionise everything we know about tech. I also realised this was the perfect chance to combine both of my long-time interests and create something really different.
That thought eventually became Native Union, and I’m still here today pursuing the same passions.
How did Native Union come to be and why the focus on tech accessories?
The same year that the iPhone came out, I met my soon-to-be business partner John Brunner in a co-working space in Hong Kong. We shared a real passion for good design and quality products, and also realized that there was a lack of functional yet still beautiful accessories for this unprecedented device.
That’s when we decided to take it on ourselves to challenge this perception that anything related to tech has to be dull. The market is more saturated now, but back then no one thought there was much value in creating tech accessories that didn’t just work, but were designed to last with premium materials and a unique aesthetic.
John and I got straight to work from the ground up, and together, we created Native Union.
How would you characterise Native Union’s approach to design?
The core of our design philosophy has always remained the same: balancing elegance and performance to enhance how we all live with our tech. Compared to other brands in the tech accessories market, I think we have quite a unique point of view because of our furniture design background.
With each product, we take into account our four brand design pillars: refined, clever, crafted, and bold. Combining minimal forms with unique and premium materials, we always aim to craft simple solutions to everyday frustrations.
Do you have any design heroes that you look up to?
I’ve always been impressed by the wizards of minimalism as I find their work truly ‘timeless’. Among them are obviously Dieter Rams on the product side, and John Pawson on the architecture side. I always keep their works and principles in mind when considering our own designs.
What keeps you inspired?
We’ve always believed that the future is digital. Already, all our days are centered around our different devices. With the COVID-19 pandemic that’s overwhelmed the world this year, this has become more obvious than ever.
What drives me (and Native Union as a whole) is the reminder that life is a constant evolution, and that our role in this is to support our community through all these changes by translating modern needs into contemporary solutions.
What are some of your tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with technology?
To be honest, I’m not certain I can claim to have a healthy relationship with technology. I do spend more time than I’d like to on my devices, but I’m also fully aware of that. To address this, I’m actually currently working on ideating some products to help us self-proclaimed ‘digital addicts’ to switch off – I will definitely be my first customer!
If I had to give a tip, I’d say it’s very important to give yourself at least 10-15 minutes before sleeping to be completely tech-free. For me, I try to have all my electronics off by around 11:30pm each night and give myself some down time with dim lights and no noise.
How do you switch off?
The best way I’ve found to fully take my mind to another place is surfing / swimming / paddling. Although my iPhone is now waterproof, water has always been the only element to which I don’t bring my tech. I live in the more countryside of Hong Kong, so I’m quite fortunate to have easier access to this escape when I need it.
What does the future of Native Union look like to you?
Our job is to translate modern needs into elevated solutions. The tsunami of COVID-19 has really catalysed the transition to what we call the ‘Modern Working Lifestyle’, where our lives are intertwined with tech and we’re able to utilise all the benefits of this to have more freedom, flexibility, and control over how we choose to live our day-to-day lives.
So at Native Union, we’re taking this very unique situation as a signal. Despite the many difficulties of the year, many of the changes emerging from this are an inspiration for us to keep fulfilling our mission to enhance the way we live with our tech.
We’ll keep creating solutions with intentional design and considered details to empower our community.