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Ramdane Touhami
When you know what it is to be homeless, you’re not scared.

Ramdane Touhami

BIRKENSTORY #21

Ramdane Touhami - from a problem child to a businessman with 100,000 ideas

“I was like the teachers were always saying: ‘He has a huge potential, but he does shit,’” laughs Ramdane Touhami. He was banned from school, was kicked out by his parents, and became homeless. He found being an adolescent incredibly boring – until he sold his first T-shirt. But this all-rounder is now, among other things, the owner of the unique and global beauty empire Officine Universelle Buly. He has a special relationship with Birkenstocks, as he explains in our interview.

Boredom as a driving force

His childhood left a lasting impression on Ramdane Touhami, the son of Moroccan immigrants. Life in the countryside was monotonous – long distances, few friends, a great deal of boredom. Ramdane had no interest in going to school. He was seen as being difficult and he got up to a lot of mischief. “I was not adapted for school,” he relates succinctly. And when, one day, he was caught on the school grounds with an unloaded pistol, he was expelled.

The “Teuchiland” idea

Eventually, Ramdane had been barred from attending all the schools in the region, so boarding school was the only option left. “They sent me to a 400 girls and 15 guys school. It was very funny,” reminisces Ramdane. Many of them smoked hash, or “teuchi” in French. This gave him his first business idea: he turned the Timberland logo into “Teuchiland” and printed it on T-shirts.

Ramdane Touhami in Paris

Success begets desirability

This idea proved to be an overwhelming success and he was soon flying all over France on weekends, selling up to 2,000 T-shirts a month. “It was very strange. I had a mobile phone very early – we’re talking about 1991, 1992. People were calling me on this phone and I was like between the classes,” he says, laughing. He earned a lot of money.

Ramdane tells the incredible story of how, as a young man, he was abducted one day by gangsters who robbed him of all his money. “They took 320,000 francs, which is about 50,000 euros.”

From school to the streets

But there was worse to come – his parents found out that he was no longer attending school, there was an argument, and he was kicked out. He became homeless and lived on the streets of Paris as a skateboarder.

“The only problems were where you are going to sleep tonight and what you are going to eat,” says Ramdane, talking about this period. And there was one rule that he learned very quickly: “When you are homeless, the most important thing is never sit on the floor. If you sit, you’re fucked!”

A view of the Eifel Tower

The charm of the golden age

Ramdane didn’t sit around, and within a year he was back in business. Together with a friend, he founded King Size, a highly successful skatewear and skateboard brand. This was followed by restaurants, concept stores, streetwear labels, and a whole host of other projects.

Ramdane has been brimming with bright ideas ever since – and they are constantly changing, too. His latest highlight appears to be his concept of a boutique for high-quality natural cosmetics in the style of a 19th century pharmacy. Officine Universelle Buly – the name of the concept – can now be found in Paris, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Kyoto, London, Tokyo, Seoul, Copenhagen, Taipei, and Osaka

Everything around you changes in an instant when you step into one of these boutiques – you find yourself immersed in a world long since forgotten, surrounded by the finest soaps, lotions, and pastes. Officine now offers a good 900 products which are typically characterized by their exceptional quality, beautiful packaging, and old-fashioned names like “Eau de la belle haleine.” All the lettering is created by the company’s own calligrapher, Bruno, who also adds elegant greetings to gifts.

Officine Universelle Buly
Officine Universelle Buly products
Officine Universelle Buly writing

No compromise

Be it the “Campagne d’Italie” scented candle, “Opiat dentaire” toothpaste, or handmade wooden combs from Japan, Ramdane makes the very highest demands of his products: “Why you compromise? To make who happy? I don’t know why compromise. I’m not this kind of guy. Compromise? I don’t understand this word actually. I do understand it, but it doesn’t work with me, no,” he declares resolutely. A prime example is the development of his “Eau triple” – the world’s first water-based perfume was created after months of experimentation.

100,000 ideas a second

Ramdane’s approach is not democratic – he decides everything from the logos and designs to the product packaging and store design, and even the sales staff’s uniforms and how they package the products. His employees don’t have it easy – they are familiar with his new ideas all the time, his impatience, and his demand for perfection. But they rise to these challenges because they appreciate his philosophy of making what’s good even better.

An employee preparing products at Officine Universelle Buly

Addicted to sandals?

Ramdane first came across Birkenstocks in New York in 1998. He didn’t like them at first. “The problem with Birkenstocks is you have to make them. When it goes comfortable, you’re addicted,” he says, laughing. He points to his 40 pairs and concludes with an explanation: “There’s a community of people who wear Birkenstocks in Paris. And we are recognizing ourselves. It’s very strange. We understand each other. It’s a kind of community who has the same values!”

Ramdane Touhami at home in Birkenstocks

More information: https://www.buly1803.com

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