This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.

UK - Free next business day delivery via DPD on all orders.

EU - Free delivery via DPD on all orders over €200.

GLOBAL - Free shipping via DHL Express Worldwide on purchases over USD $500.


In Conversation with Ralph Thoma – Founder and CEO of Émigré

In Conversation with Ralph Thoma – Founder and CEO of Émigré

Lausanne to Morocco

Although it was probably more an escape than a quest at first, my drive to travel for work early on was always deeply rooted. Though beautiful, life in Switzerland can be a little monotonous. My father was constantly travelling, which motivated me to pack my suitcases early on. I attended university in the US, returned to Switzerland, and soon after was hired by an urban development and environmental protection consulting firm, which had me move to Morocco for almost three years. I drove from Lausanne to Rabat in a Fiat Panda packed with just my essential belongings. The money wasn’t great, but it was a dream job from day one. Immersed in a completely new and rich culture, I travelled to every corner of Morocco, sometimes staying in magnificent hotels, sometimes camping in the desert, taking photos and jotting down notes in my road book. My wardrobe then was high to low: suit and tie when meeting with government officials, to dirty jeans and t-shirt when gathering data on a rural site. It was by far one of the most enriching and incredible periods of my life.


Life on the Road

For thirty years, I’ve had the privilege to work and live across five continents. I absolutely love being in another place. In that perspective, the Covid period was challenging – not being able to travel anymore, not being able to meet people physically, and working virtually from home while creating a new business travel brand. As for so many, it made me feel I’d lost my fundamental freedom. Travelling has been at the core of my life for the last thirty years, something I hope to do until my last breath. A good friend of mine in Switzerland asked me the other day where I planned to retire. I replied that I had no idea. The only certainty I had was that it would be across many locations.


The Local Tongue

Being in so many places, languages have always played a big role in my life. I was always motivated and excited by the challenge to learn something new. Speaking the native language of a place makes such a huge difference and allows you to better grasp the culture. It’s always highly viewed by the locals, a mark of respect, a sign of interest and curiosity. And until you can crack a joke and make the locals laugh, you know you still have to improve your skills!

Employee to Entrepreneur

After Morocco, I lived and worked in Colombia for nearly fifteen years. I worked for a large multinational for sometime, and then founded and ran my own bag manufacturing company. As an employee I had great salary, benefits and holidays; being an entrepreneur is basically the complete opposite: no real salary or benefits, a 24/7 workload, and you do everything from packing boxes to attending high end meetings. There are pros and cons to both, and it really depends on your personality and aspirations. My corporate career taught me a lot of skills, but I certainly feel happier and more fulfilled as an entrepreneur. The uncertainty, the “fail-fear” factor are obviously higher, but the thrill and the excitement are the payoffs.


How much do you value in person connections and why?

Humans are social creatures, and we cannot live isolated from one another. Even if you have met and worked with a person via virtual tools for months, you will only be able to have a real sense of that person after you meet them physically. It goes without saying that I am a big advocate of personal connections and without them no successful business relationships can be established.

How does limited face-to-face interaction with others affect you and your work?

I am certainly more tired after multiple virtual meetings than having them face to face. It all comes down to have a good balance. Sometimes a quick Google meet is very productive and efficient depending on the objective of that call, but overall face to face will always be superior to virtual meetings.

How do you think work and travel have changed since Covid and with the advent of new ways of working and where do you think this is all going? For better or worse?

As an employee probably, everybody welcomed that new hybrid way of working. As an employer you want everybody to be in the office five days a week, unless you want to save on some fixed costs!

Why did you decide to start Émigré?

Back in 2018, I owned a bag brand called Crafted Goods that specialised in mid-priced military-inspired bags with a Japanese streetwear aesthetic. Recognising a gap in the market for premium bags targeting business travellers, I collaborated with my design partner, Thanh Trinh to create an elevated collection. The success of this ‘Ultimate’ line confirmed the potential for a new brand in that space, leading to the birth of Émigré. However, just as we were preparing to launch the brand, the pandemic struck, halting travel worldwide. Despite the immense challenges we faced, I remained steadfast in my belief in our brand, knowing that business and personal travel would eventually resume.

What have been the biggest challenges and rewards so far along the Émigré journey?

One of the biggest challenges I’ve been facing since working on this new brand was a dispersed and remote team, which can make it very difficult to keep a permanent internal drive. However, this has been largely compensated by the fact that I hired highly skilled and experienced people leading marketing, finance and design. Another challenge was supply chain and reliable third-party consultants and agencies. It was the first time we were making apparel and finding the right partners was very challenging. The same applies for creative, digital partners. As to the rewards, we built an amazing team, and a great brand supported by some very good products.

Where would you like to see Émigré in five years and what are the challenges and opportunities to get there?

I believe Émigré can be the reference brand in that business travel space with a very strong vision in place. Nevertheless, adequate funding will be essential to reach that goal in the next five years.



Favourite hotel? On holiday, The Peninsula in Hong Kong. When travelling for work I look for a hotel that is well located, quiet with a good gym and breakfast menu.

Favourite airline? Singapore

Best airport dining? Istanbul

Best meal you’ve ever had on a work trip? Local Izakayas in Fukuoka

Favourite city to visit on a work trip? New York

Go-to travel gear? Émigré Gilet

Approach to Jet Lag? Try to get right into the local time zone, but basically just deal with it and swallow the pain!

Train or plane? Train: less hassle, arriving right at the city centre.

Books, movies, or sleep on the plane? Usually the three of them, but certainly sleep.  

Formal or causal while travelling? Not travelling in my sweatpants, nor in my suit; somewhere in between. 

Carry-on or check in? Carry-on

In-flight meal or starve? Starve.