A Reception for a Legend
On Friday, May 6, the TASIS community said goodbye to longtime teacher Horst Dürrschmidt with a service at the Sant’Abbondio church and a reception at Casa Fleming. A few dozen special guests gathered in the garden to remember Horst and his impact on our community.
We encourage you to take the time to read some of the heartfelt, emotional, and inspiring tributes collected since his passing. Please feel free to share your own tribute, too.
Work Fit for a Queen
Congratulations are in order to Roberto Castiglioni ’82,who has been named by H.M. Queen Elizabeth II an Honorary MBE for Services to Aviation Accessibility. Roberto is the Director of Reduced Mobility Rights and is a global expert on accessible air travel, advising a number of airports, airlines, and countries on disability access.
Roberto’s son has a serious condition that affects his development and mobility, and this spurred Roberto to create Reduced Mobility Rights, a website that brings together information from a number of contacts in the international travel space. The site also chronicles Roberto’s political work that has resulted in changes to EU regulations for disabled air passengers, a Scottish Parliament bill focusing on single-aisle planes, and a law allowing the UK Civil Aviation authority to enforce powers ensuring the rights of the disabled when traveling by air.
“Ranting against a broken system is not enough to change things for the better. I am a strong advocate of action over words,” says Roberto. His focused action has changed things for the better. Congratulations, Roberto, MBE!
World-renowned photographer Barry Iverson ’74 had a solo exhibition at Tintera in Cairo, Egypt, that ran through May 28. The Truth of the Desert is a collection of 35 images exploring Barry’s passion for the desert landscape, which began in 1985 when he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to research the history of Egyptian photography. Barry uses film and a large format camera, printing in a traditional wet darkroom, which influences the detail and tone in the images. “I seek to photograph the beauty of the desert to lay bare, or reveal, its truth and majesty,” he said in a statement. “Rather than eye the desert as a place to extract its mineral riches, it offers the soul a space for peace and solitude.”
Barry, who visited campus and addressed TASIS seniors in 2015, has been based in Egypt since 1985 and spent 25 years as a photographer for Time Magazine covering major events throughout the Middle East. His work explores the issues of memory and its historical context and is housed in several private and public collections, including Harvard University and the American University in Cairo.
A Celebration of Mexico
Say “Mexico” and a number of things might come to mind: beaches, food, tequila, music, dancing. Serge Bollag ’09 is on a mission to have his fledgling company, Casa 1910, synonymous with the country, too.
Originally from Switzerland, Serge did his undergraduate degree in marketing at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, England, followed by his M.Sc. in Agricultural Economics at SOAS University of London. After a few years in asset and fund management, Serge began to see the potential of Latin American investments in the agricultural space. For the second year of his master’s, he moved to Mexico City, and through a TASIS connection he began to work for the Ministry of Agriculture. “I fell in love with the country,” he recalls, though he wasn’t keen on the political agendas of the ministry so asked to be shifted elsewhere. He was given a role at FOCIR, a governmental fund that invested in agricultural projects, and spent a few years doing his part to improve the agricultural infrastructure in Mexico through loans and technology upgrades. But when the government changed, the money for these projects dried up.
Along the way Serge met a fellow Swiss man, Jamie Bär, the founder of the "Swiss Community Mexico," a monthly networking event targeting the 6000 Swiss expats living in Mexico. The event features specialists in various fields and one month featured a man named Manolo Santiago, who is the only master Habanos sommelier in Mexico and was at the time the brand ambassador for Cuban cigars. After many nights together (smoking cigars, of course), they came up with the idea to create Mexican cigars for the luxury market. They incorporated the company in August 2020 and at first were making boxes for family and friends. But as the costs increased, so did their ambition, and after an external fundraising round they were able to grow their idea further. Currently Casa 1910 employs 10 people.
The name is inspired by the year of the Mexican Revolution and the personalities who encapsulate that time period in Mexico. “The revolutionaries were always pictured smoking cigars,” Serge says, “and we want to revolutionize the Mexican cigar industry. The name pays homage to the rich history, heritage, and craftsmanship of Mexico. We wanted the design to appeal to anyone, from a biker to a banker.”
There’s a grand tradition of Mexican tobacco, but for decades it has been exported to places like Niceragua and the Dominican Republic to create award-winning blends. Mexican cigars currently account for less than 1% of US imports, and Casa 1910 is out to change that.
The company’s first offering, Cuchillo Parado, a robusto-size cigar, is made with Mexican tobacco aged for five years. The tobacco is rolled and the cigar is rested for an additional six months, which allows the oils and flavors to merge, resulting in a creamier taste and a medium-body smoke which isn’t overpowering.
The cigar, which has already won many awards, was launched in October 2021 in Mexico. “It’s important to have a domestic presence,” Serge says. “Mexico is buzzing right now. Many people relocated here during the pandemic and travel is booming. Since our launch, we’ve been available in the best cigar lounges and retailers, and we’re currently approaching larger retail chains.” Their third phase is to open their own hotspots at hotels, restaurants, and golf clubs in tourist areas like Cancun and Los Cabos where humidors are rare. They’ve already opened their own cigar lounge in the hip district of Roma Norte in Mexico City, and the Cuchillo Parado is available in 30 retailers around Mexico, more than 40 in the USA, and online. They have also closed a deal with duty-free shops, so keep an eye out in airports around the world!
The cigar industry is having a bit of a renaissance for a number of reasons. First, former smokers or vapers are swapping to premium cigars. Covid pushed customers outdoors, and cigars are a talking point. The growth in the premium cigar market has mirrored that of the premium spirits, craft beer, and coffee industries. “People might be indulging less frequently, but they are buying quality product offerings. Particularly the younger generation, which cares about the exclusivity of a product,” Serge says.
Currently, the average age of a cigar smoker is 35, with females as the fastest-growing demographic. The biggest market is the US, and 60% of sales are made online—perfect for an expanding company like Casa 1910. “There are few luxury consumer products that you can buy for a man that are between $10 and $20. Cigars are a lifestyle, an affordable status symbol.”
Partnering with cigar aficionado influencers has helped grow their business, too. The team is meticulous about their online video and social media content and publishes a magazine focused on popular cultural personalities in Mexico, sent with each box of cigars “so that people can not only experience the cigar, but also read about what is happening in Mexico,” says Serge. “We want to be not just a cigar company, but a lifestyle brand.”
Their innovative, bright orange packaging is eye-catching and memorable, and Casa 1910 has recently expanded its offerings to include hand-painted Talavera ashtrays and guayabera overshirts with a special pocket to hold a cigar. Their goal is to become an internationally recognized player in the luxury consumer segment while raising the profile of the places and faces of Mexico, involving the people of Mexico along the way. Serge’s background at TASIS, including his ability to speak many languages and get along with people from all over the world, has helped as Casa 1910 approaches investors for funding. His TASIS network has also helped the company find distributors around the world. “Our friends laugh that it took two Swiss guys to do this,” he says, but knowing Serge, this is only the tip of the cigar.
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We sometimes forget how special and important the historic buildings on the TASIS campus are to local Ticino culture. A group from the local chapter of Swiss historic preservation society Domus Antiqua Helvetica visited campus on April 30, taking a tour with Master Teacher Mark Aeschliman and Michelle Arslanian Naroyan from the Alumni Office. The group was particularly interested in the 16th-century Casa Fleming and 17th-century Villa De Nobili. Guests included Fabia Bonetti Labouret ’81 and former Swiss Ambassador to Costa Rica, Gianfederico Pedrotti.
For much of the year, the Alps are the perfect location for mountain bikers, and as the sport continues to grow so do queues on outdoor trails, safety hazards, and injuries. And if the weather turns or darkness falls, cyclists can find themselves in dangerous territory.
Robin Gilli ’08 saw this as an opportunity and turned an empty industrial hall in Sarnen, Obwalden, into Wheelpark, a 2500-square-meter indoor playground for BMX and mountain bikers. The space includes mountain bike trails, obstacles, jumps, and training rides for cyclists of all abilities, and even includes a mountain bike jump line and airbag for practicing dirt jumps. For those who would rather watch than participate, there’s an outdoor bar, cafe, and shop that includes bike equipment and rental. Sounds like a great day out when in central Switzerland!
A Better Hand Sanitizer
For business-minded young entrepreneurs like Kevin Sieber ’12, the pandemic has been an opportunity to put something new into the world—and perhaps make it a little more sustainable, too.
Kevin studied Economics, Management, and Finance at Bocconi University, eventually earning a Master in Management (CEMS) at Sydney University and the London School of Economics (LSE). After two years at Deloitte and time at an e-commerce startup, Kevin discovered he had an entrepreneurial spirit. The pandemic showcased a gap in the market he hadn’t known of before: a hand sanitizer that softens and cleans hands and is environmentally sustainable. Soon adrop was born.
“From day one, our goal has been to ensure adrop is a company on a mission,” Kevin says, noting the company’s dedication to sustainability reaches to every facet of their business, from product design to packaging and logistics.
“We're proud to say we designed our products in a way that they are reusable in order to contribute towards achieving a circular economy,” Kevin says. Their recyclable, reusable packaging won a Red Dot design award and the company stands by the user experience.
The company will launch refills for its hand sanitizer in June and plans to introduce new products such as hand creams, deodorants, and shampoo in the future—all created with design-centricity, functionality, and sustainability at the heart.
Eczema sufferers will know how challenging it is to find chemical-free soaps. During the pandemic, with hands torn to shreds from soaps and sanitizers, Metin Ali Ipek ’15 began looking for solutions in nature. Soon Ali founded Pure Soap London, featuring ten unique vegan skincare bars.
“Each soap is created using natural oils that have different qualities,” Metin says of the range, which includes a cinnamon bar with cell regeneration properties and an activated charcoal bar to tackle impurities and acne.
The packaging had to stand out in a crowded market. “This was one of the most challenging parts of the entire process,” he says. They worked with designer Tuana Meris Gürdal on the eye-catching, hand-drawn, and then digitized designs.
While not a vegan himself, he believes that sustainable, plant-derived ingredients are an excellent option when possible. “I am trying to cut out animal-based products,” Ali says, “though my fellow alumni may remember that I was not the biggest fan of Meat-Free Mondays during my time at TASIS!”
Ali, who holds a BSc from King's College London, has been working in London property, refurbishing auction properties. This is his first product-based entrepreneurial venture, but he is a third generation entrepreneur. “Maybe it’s in my genes,” he says. Metin is also currently studying for an MA in Law at the University of Law in London.
Welcome to Our Newest Alumni!
Congratulations to all the members of the incredible Class of 2022, who were inducted into our alumni community on May 26. Following the ceremony, the class unveiled its gift: a bench on the MCF Piazza.
After sharing their High School years with a global pandemic, we’re sure this special class will go on to do great things!