Walking into Incase HQ in downtown San Francisco is like walking into an iPhone—it’s all clean lines and curved edges, with windows overlooking the hustle and bustle on Mission Street from a third-story view. The scene below is chaotic on this particular Tuesday afternoon, but inside the office, it’s organized and surprisingly low-key, with an undercurrent of intense productivity much like the signature smart phone itself.
This is fitting of course, since the company, which was founded in San Francisco in 1997 and has collaborated with everyone from fashion designer Mara Hoffman to pro skateboarder Paul Rodriguez, has designed accessories exclusively for Apple for more than ten years. If you’re an Apple addict like this writer, chances are you’ve run across one of the company’s cases, backpacks, or messenger bags designed to encase iPhones, iPods, iPads, or MacBooks.
At the helm of Incase’s creative arm is a Hawai‘i native, 32-year-old Moses Aipa. After growing up in Kailua, Aipa moved to the Bay Area in 1998 to attend the University of San Francisco, where he took classes in graphic design. “When I was a senior in high school, I applied to colleges in California to break out of Hawai‘i. Initially I was looking for a school that had a surf team,” he says. Despite the fact that it was one of the only colleges he applied to without a surf team and that he had never been to San Francisco before, Aipa decided to attend USF at his parents’ urging.
It proved to be a wise decision. In his senior year, he got freelance work for Incase through a friend as a graphic designer, creating a series of brochures. He continued to grow with the company, taking on various roles, gaining experience and getting his “hands on everything” along the way. Today, he’s the senior creative brand director for one of the world’s largest producers of cases for Apple products, managing several design teams and guiding the overall aesthetic for the company.
While his aesthetic has evolved from the surf-inspired designs he experimented with in his early days of school (his uncle Ben Aipa is an ex-pro surfer turned board shaper and his cousin Akila Aipa is currently a pro surfer) to something more universally inspired, he says he’s still influenced by growing up in Hawai‘i’s melting-pot culture and his own ethnically diverse background. When asked what constitutes his ethnic makeup, he answers without taking a breath, “I’m a quarter Hawaiian, quarter Portuguese, quarter Korean, and the rest is parts Irish, German, American Indian, and Chinese.” So what food does he love the most? “Japanese,” he says, then quickly corrects himself: “And Hawaiian.”
While he occasionally gets out to surf in nearby spots like Pacifica or Stinson Beach, he doesn’t have that much time, what with traveling to places like China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, and Germany for Incase. Which, other than meaning he has the most envious job on the planet, also inspires his aesthetic and means that he can “use and experience and live the products, and see how others are getting a piece of them too.”
Those products include upcoming designs for spring 2014, which will include cut-and-sew leather iPhone cases to match the premium nature of the iPhone 5s and distinguish Incase from other tech and lifestyle brands that manufacture plastic protective cases. “Zagging when everyone else is zigging,” as Aipa puts it. Also coming down the pipeline will be a series of accessories for the various iPads, meant to help people make use of the portability of the devices, which he says often get stuck at home.
Eventually, Aipa hopes to become more portable himself, establishing a bi-coastal lifestyle and splitting his time between California and Hawai‘i. Until then, he’ll continue making sure good design is just a phone call away.