An Interview With: Oliver Sweeney Cobbler-in-Chief, Tim Cooper

tim cooper Source: Oliver Sweeney/Tim Cooper

Get some insight from the very best in the homeware, fashion and lifestyle industries in our series, An Interview With. From Founders and Creatives to Buying Directors and Marketing Experts, we’ll be speaking to business insiders about their lifestyles, likes, dislikes, careers – and how they got to their resounding success.

This month, we’ve been fortunate enough to speak to the footwear aficionado, MD and Cobbler-in-Chief of Oliver Sweeney, Tim Cooper. With decades of experience and a wealth of knowledge in the footwear industry, Tim immerses himself in all matters of the business, dealing with an intimate-yet-knowledgeable team and partnering with suppliers across the globe. Somehow, he still has some time to sit back and relax…

First of all, it would be great to hear about your background?

I’m from four generations of the shoe industry, my Great Grandfather, Grandfather and my Father all came from the same background. I dove straight into this world around thirty-eight years ago, and Maurice Helfgott of Amery Capital and myself rescued the Oliver Sweeney brand in 2009 (The business was first founded in 1989 by Oliver Sweeney himself).

At the core of our business is craft, and we always use the best quality product. It’s like cooking – you can’t make great food without great ingredients, and it’s the same with shoe making. We work with small factories and small suppliers, and we have personal relationships with all our partners. Oliver Sweeney is a small business, and we love that – authenticity is part of our philosophy.

Talk me through an average day of the life as Cobbler-in-Chief?

One thing’s for sure – no two days are the same. There’s just twelve of us in-house, which means I take on a very hands-on approach. Over lockdown, I became a lot more involved in the physical design of our product – I’m not afraid to get out my sketch pad and draw a pair of shoes!

I think it’s really important to be involved at every level of working, it’s a sentiment I’ve kept for the past thirty-five years. To have an understanding of the product, it helps you to understand the business.

We run through sales and performance, planning, tasks. We’re a data driven and mathematical business, it’s important so we understand exactly where we are. Marketing is a constant battle of improving purchases, not harassing our customers too much(!), and providing good social content.

And before the workday begins, what’s your morning routine?

I am a bit of a dawdler in the morning and tend to take my time before setting off for work. I live less than a minute away from the office, so the commute is nice and simple! Once I arrive in the office, I immediately make a cup of coffee – however I have rubbish taste in it…

What is it about Oliver Sweeney footwear that makes it so special?

Our shoes begin with the last (a physical mould made in the shape of a foot). It’s important to build our footwear around this. We create our own lasts and only use these, meaning our shoes are always consistently made to the exact measurements listed – which keeps our returns rate really low.

As well as this, we are sure to use quality soles. We source many of our soles from the finest Italian manufacturers such as Margom and Vibram – we’re always keen to choose the best of the best. Of course, we take into consideration the purpose of each sole, so of course a hiking boot, a sneaker and a brogue are all different.

It’s the focus and attention to detail which sets us apart from other shoemakers, we do a vintage range which I selected around the shoes my grandfather made back in the 1930’s, where we searched all over Venice for the right leather. Timeless style is important to us, we are not a fashion brand, we don’t follow the catwalks or trends, we create footwear with longevity, that ages well over time.

tim cooper
Source: Oliver Sweeney/Tim Cooper

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a business over the last couple of years?

Like most, sourcing product and stock. The global logistical problems have affected us, similar to the supermarkets and petrol stations. However, we’re still growing quickly as a business, and closing our stores has given us more freedom to work faster.

How much travel does your job involve?

We recently started travelling again. I was in Portugal and Spain not too long ago, travelling to our factories and spending time with the people there. We took our whole team to Portugal to meet our colleagues in the factory, but also to reward them for their hard work. We spent the weekend together in a nice hotel in the north of Portugal going to vineyards, drinking wine and going to the beach – it was great fun.

I’m conscious of my footprint, and don’t like to travel unnecessarily, however it can be important to go on the occasional trip for work, especially after eighteen months of being unable to. I also just came back from Italy, I was so excited to be there, to see the new materials and reconnect with the team there. I’ve known them for over twenty years, I even know the football teams they support!

And what’s the one place you haven’t been yet that you’d like to go to?

In the past I’ve spent a lot of time in Asia – I’ve actually been to Japan three times. I went there not too long before the first lockdown and spent two weeks travelling around, I adore everything about Japan. The food, the culture, the art, the gardens. My son wants to do his Masters at university there, so I’m hoping, if he does, I can spend more time there.

Share the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

This was shared with me by an amazing chairman I used to work with. It was simply to ‘make sure you’re having fun’. This is particularly prevalent at work, we spent a lot of time in the workplace, and if it’s not fun – you shouldn’t be doing it.

How do you unwind after you come home from work?

I love to cook, especially Italian food. I make a mean lasagne for the office!

What are the three desert island products you can’t live without?

I think sensory things are really important, so I’d take a bottle of a Comme Des Garcons x Monocle Hinoki perfume, as a smell can take you to another place. From a practical point of view, I’d take a beautiful cooking knife, and finally a comfortable pair of slippers!

Words: As told to Maria Loizou