Established in 2017, Oliver Co. is a sustainable, vegan travel goods brand based in London. The company was started by Matt Oliver, a product designer who having studied sustainable design and previously worked in high-end watch design, wanted to apply both of his skills to create a sustainable brand with the same level of detail and craftsmanship. Our aim is to try and disrupt an industry and change people’s perceptions of sustainable products. Through using innovative new sustainable fabrics and working with high-end manufacturers, we want to create minimalistic, highly functional products for today’s world.
In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Matthew Oliver, Founder of Oliver Co. London about the story of how his DTC brand was started in 2017 after a career in watch design. With a focus on sustainability the business brings great product design to the vegan travel goods sector. Our host Peter Brooker and Matthew also talk about the benefits of apple leather, the process of getting the business off the ground, and developments in the sustainable industry.
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Hello, and welcome to another episode of The menswear style podcast. I'm your host, Peter Drucker. On this episode I'm going to talk to the founder of Oliver Coe, Matt Oliver. Established in 2017 Oliver Coe is a sustainable vegan travel goods brand based in London. The company was started by Matt Oliver, a product designer who having studied sustainable design and previously worked in high end watch design, wanted to apply both of his skills to create a sustainable brand with the same level of detail and craftsmanship. Their aim is to try and disrupt an industry and change people's perceptions of sustainable products for using innovative new sustainable fabrics. And working with high end manufacturers. They want to create minimalistic, highly functional products for today's world. And you can check Oliver Coe out online over Oliver company london.com. And here is Matt, in his own words, telling me how it all began. So so we'd call ourselves a sustainably progressive accessories brand. So we produce card holders, wallets, and various other products using some of the latest material innovations in the market. And, and through working with with high end manufacturers and creating products that are designed to last which were ultimately aiming to reduce our environmental impact impact as much as possible. But without compromising in the products design or looks. So as well as I know many of the brands, on your show our roster direct to consumer company. So this really allows us to cut out the middlemen associated with a more traditional retail approach. And such allows us to spend more money on the things that that matter for us, which is high quality materials and ethical craftsmanship, while still selling it at a competitive price. And how is the company? So So we started in 2017. So that's kind of when the initial idea first came about. And so I was working for a watch brand at the time. And while I was trying to shop more sustainably myself, specifically for a wallet, actually COVID desirability design and overall branding from from more sustainable companies I felt was really lacking in comparison to the company that I was working for. So I thought if, you know, we as product designers to kind of help solve the climate crisis, we really need to be creating products that are good in terms of design and longevity, if not better, but inherently have a lower impact and a better environment. So basically, from from my experience, I saw an opportunity to create all of the CCO and really focus on good design, good branding and desirability, whilst having sustainability and transparency built into the foundations from the outset. What transferable skills can you do? Or can you take, say, from what you did with a watch company into what you're doing now? Yeah, so I mean, I, I've done watch design in two capacities. I worked in house for brands, but we've been a design consultancy. So with the in house work, it was there was some aspects of design, but ultimately it was more. There's a lot of project management, liaising with factories, a lot of back and forth, you know, with design and design development. And kind of seeing the design from from start to finish. And I guess that's kind of what, what gave me the confidence and skills to feel like I could start all over CO and bring a product to market as well working in a small brand like that. He has a lot of exposure to different areas of the company. So from marketing, e commerce, operations, that marketing specifically, you know, the desirability that they were able to get, you know, that's kind of what I really wanted to encompass a lot of the code and kind of what sparked the idea at the time, but then sort of going on from there. That's so I had the initial idea that was 2017, I was working in house and then I started working in high end watch design in the design consultancy. And it's very different, actually, to the in house work because it was a lot more a lot more design focused. And it was, it was it was very high end high end design. So it's just an insane amount of detail. Often, some of the watches would take, you know, one or two years of design development before it kind of went to market. So I guess that was where I really learned what it takes to make premium products and The details that you can go to I mean, we literally went to sort of naught point naught five of the mail at times on some of these watches like the detail was was insane. So I've really tried to transfer those skills to to Oliver Coe and kind of really focus in on the details of the product's life. And what crazy things I'm going to kind of throw you under the bus with this one but with the designing of the watches, what kind of crazy things are you designing like the style of the watch and then getting right down to the minutia or other people kind of designing the watch and go right now how can I make this a reality? Let's get Matthew on the phone. So it's basically works by there's there's a team who create the movement inside the watch often so that's like all the engineers who are putting together yet how the how the watch is going to work inside and then essentially the what my job would be would be to design the the shallow round everything you can see. So yeah, pretty that's pretty much the way to explain everything you can see on the watches is pretty much the pretty much my job. Yeah. And you get to be flamboyant and go right. I want to kind of make this a Scully or looking watch where we can see the workings and the gubbins. Or do you have to be like fairly straight laced with what you're putting together? Yeah, very much depends on the brief. I mean, yes. Been all sorts of crazy watches that? Yeah, just look absolutely insane. And then there's other ones that are much more stripped back much more minimal. Yeah, kind of just depends on the customer base they're going for and yeah, it's, it's all very different. Yeah, there's been over the years of selection of different watches. Well, we'll only do another 30 minutes on watches Matthew, and then we'll get to Oliver a bit ever done any kind of like household or marquee name brands that we might have heard of, like the designs for amigo or anything like that, for example? Um, I'm actually not allowed to, I'm not allowed to say from last year, we might scare listeners out there. He's kind of given the one eyebrow, which is code for Yes, he has. But we're now Alright, let's switch gears. Let's get I want to I want to hear what about Oliver Coe. So maybe you can touch upon the sustainability and the types of levers and the materials because these are obviously very, very pertinent to the brand, right? Yeah, sure. So yes, one of the main materials we uses is called Apple leather. So it's, it's a type of bio based vegan leather that's made from Apple waste from the fruit juice and comfort industry in Italy. And it's a quite, it's quite cool story, how it came about which I'll try and keep it short. But essentially, it's traced by this guy called Alberto volcat. And, and he was an inventor in Italy. And back in 2004, at the time, he was trying to come up with a commercial glue that was made out of this apple waste, because the apple waste has quite a lot. So you know, sooner, it basically makes it possible to turn turn it into like a glue like substance. And anyway, for whatever reason, it didn't work. But as, as all great Italians would do in that situation, he decided to place it through a past machine, then I'll see how he came to that conclusion. But essentially, this thin material that he ended up making kind of sparked the idea of how it could potentially be used for a fabric. And today that kind of forms the basis of what Apple leather is. And from a sustainability standpoint, you know, the waste produced from the apple industry, it's, there's a huge amount of it. And it's completely renewable resource. So because the apple tree isn't cut down a single tree can keep producing apples for hundreds of years. But I guess, most importantly, as well as it's that natural waste stream in at the apples can't be grown, they're not growing specifically for the production of the leather fabric. So instead, the apple waste is produced as a byproduct to the industry. So we end up end up in landfill or be burnt in most cases, so the fact that it gets it utilises that natural restroom is is great. And so in comparison to a lot of letters and phone letters has a much lower impact in terms of global warming water use and and pollution. Right? Yeah, can you make like leather suits out of Apple level? Or is it just very kind of like accessory? I'm pretty sure you could make it Yeah, you could make a soup soup out of out of Apple leather. They've got lots of different types of, of Apple leather that the manufacturer produces so different sort of textures and thicknesses so sure. Yeah. We'll ever have to have an offline chat about making a bespoke Apple suit. Right? Yeah, let's Yeah, let's do it like app and we're also having a chat offline about all the I mean, the other sustainable and bio product levels that are out They like the cactus lever, for example, are there any other kind of products on the market that you've got half an eye on at the moment that you might introduce? Yeah. So, I mean, it's, it's the industry is constantly, constantly innovating in this area. Yes, it is an exciting time to be a part of it. And, you know, one of the things that, as it currently stands, the use of like, polyurethane, within within these bio materials is quite, quite a pivotal, pivotal part of it, because it adds the durability, which obviously, really important aspects of sustainability. But as technology is progressing, we're becoming less reliant on on the additional polyurethane. So, more recently, there's been some materials coming out that are, they're all made from entirely natural inputs. So yeah, we're, we're, we're right on that. And we're sampling with some of those fabrics as we speak. So, yes, constantly, it's moving so fast. But But luckily, we're in a position now that we're sort of right on the cusp of that and yeah, I'm curious that you keep mentioning waves so I'm curious how many people are now part of the company? Yeah, so I mean, it's predominantly predominately run by myself. So I mean, I we are a small company so I'll be I'll be working on any on everything from sort of marketing products, operations, customer service, basically everything but also I do work with, with agencies, I've got friends, the industry that work for large and freelancers that very much help with digital marketing PR, and also within sustainability. So just make sure that we're thinking in the right way in all parts of the business not just the product design. So yes, that's that kind of what is that encompasses the we but it's still very small and it's predominantly run by myself for now. This must be not just a nine to five for you but a way of life right? I mean, I remember working in a pub once and the landlord said like you're not just going to be working nine to five here this is going to be working down a positive way of life he told me right as he gave me like four hours overtime unpaid every night okay. I digress but it must be something similar to you where it just feels like you're kind of living the brand This is your baby. Yeah, no, exactly. I mean, it's Yeah, it's pretty all encompassing. Yeah, did like especially like the customer service side of things like it doesn't really ever ever stop you got to keep on top of it and make sure that you know constant and regular contact with customers and yeah, I mean, living in in a in a studio flat with with my partner with sort of accessories kind of falling out of every every crevice really as samples everywhere like it's Yeah, it's certainly all encompassing. So thing and talk to me about how that part works, please mapping so when you had the stock I mean, this isn't like a book that someone can put on Amazon and just have print on demand. I imagine that you have to well raise the capital produce a product and then like you say you'll have it in wait for people when they come in order it right. Yeah, yeah, exactly. So so we order the stock in advance and then we have a fulfilment fulfilment partner that we work with so I'll send the stock to them. And when an order comes through, they can package it up and send it on. And essentially that that's how it works and it connects directly to the website. And yeah, so it's all fairly very streamlined and efficient. And how do you raise the capital for the brand did you think about doing Kickstarter campaigns or anything like that? Or did you just kind of front it Oh, no, I I've really started it's been it's been quite a slow slow progression. So back in 2017 when I first had the idea I had designed a wallet initially and found a found a manufacturer that would produce only 30 so that I mean that is the good thing about accessories was that there was this low minimum order quantity. So I bought 30 and I sold 30 and I bought 50 and sold 50 and yeah just grew grew it from that really so yeah, no initial capital I think the only real kind of initial expense was for the apple letter itself because at the time it was right it literally just come out and for them the small the small orders for for small businesses wasn't really their interest. So I had to I had to upfront order a lot of Apple labour but but I really believed in it so it seemed like a good idea. And yeah, kind of built it built from there really interesting. Oh, congrats man. I mean the website looks great. People can check that out Oliver company London calm and your Instagram looks looks pretty neat or the professional photography Are you hands on with that as well? Do you kind of do the posts and the photography or is that outsource? Yeah. It's a bit of a bit of a mixture, but I try and do a lot of it myself. I've also got friends who are very good at photography and content production. So I work with them. But also been working in studio more recently. Yeah, it's a bit bit of a mixture, really that content. But yeah, I do like to get hands on, but I enjoy that side of that quite a lot. And what's next for you? And are you looking to kind of branch out with different product categories? Or you're going to get that? Yeah. Yeah. So, so this year, yeah, this is gonna be exciting for us. Thanks. So we've got a lot of new products coming out. So some new small accessories, as well as some larger ones, we got backpack, shopper bag, clutch bag, say a definitely a busy time for product development at the moment. But what I'm also really excited about developing, so we've got more time Frank, more experimental side of the business. So one of the things I really wanted to do when I started off co was be part of innovation and sustainable design and try and come up with new ways to tackle the huge issue of waste in the industry, from a manufacturing standpoint, but also what happens to the products after their useful life after the customers finished using them. So we've been working on a project for the last six months now we're trying to create a one of our card holders, but from a single renewable material, so no glues, and basically has the ability to be fully recycled after it's after its useful life. So yeah, we've had some great develops, that I'm really looking forward to sharing more, but I really hope it's gonna be a big step in in circuit design and, and sustainability with the industry. Nice. Sounds exciting. Yeah. How would you stay on top of these kind of news and trends with sustainability? Like for someone that's listening now that are looking to get a bit more greener in their lives? How would they kind of coordinate their news feeds? What sort of people should we be following? What sort of brands should we be looking out for it? You know, I mean, how do we keep on top of what to do? And what is right with a client? Yeah, sure. I mean, in terms of looking for brands, there's a few that so retailer that we work, work for guys called public fibre, so shout outs about fibre, they're really creating an awesome, sort of curated online platform where you can shop sustainable brands. Another good one out there was a market vegan. And also, one that we recently started working with as a promo, who really support small independent brands and kind of real really cool encompasses the ethos of what we're trying to do, which is, you know, really, like good, unique designs. That, yeah, put craftsmanship, kind of at the forefront. So there's some there's some good, yeah, that's good online retailers out there. And yeah, I guess, the Instagram algorithm is getting a bit clever. So I guess if you start kind of following some of these brands, then hopefully, it'll start pushing more sustainable brands at you. And then yeah, that's, I guess, the the, the really positive sides of the algorithm for people that want to get more orientated with sustainability, then following other brands, like yourself, can actually only be a good thing for you, right? Because it's, you know, it's boosting your platform simultaneously. Yeah, definitely. Yeah. Yeah, I think it's, it's been quite refreshing, actually, within within the sustainability industries that it's, there's seems to be that we're rooting in rooting for each other in a way a lot of the brands, you're on a whatsapp group. Where there is some there are WhatsApp groups for circuit design in particular that we're a part of. So from all different kinds of industries, we've we joined that. And that's been great to kind of learn what's going on in industry outside of outside of fashion. And yeah, so yeah, no, no, it is it's very, there is a bit of a community going on. And that's great. Have you got any plans to do any bricks and mortar, any pop ups now the exhibition, opening up etc. I think in time, I think for now, the focus is still very much online. But yeah, I really hope in the future, not so distant future. Yeah, we'll we'll be able to do some pop ups around London. And yeah, that'd be great. Right? Well, in the meantime, people can still check out the website, and we'll leave a link over on the show notes. But yeah, thanks a lot, Matthew. Thank you. So no worries. Thanks a lot, Peter. Thank you, Matt. Once more, you can check out the collections we mentioned over at Oliver company London calm. We'll leave all the details and links on the show notes over at menswear. style.co.uk and we're on the social at men's wear style. Give us a follow. Let us know you're listening. share with a friend Don't you are the master of your own fate, as Henry once said? Or was it Sarah Connor? Doesn't matter. If you were to be a guest on the show, tell us about your brand. Tell us about your journey. You can email us here at info at menswear style.co uk and until next time