Emily Maree discusses starting a brand from scratch, career-defining moments, the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, Wolf & Badger and celebrity clients with Olivia Martyn, the founder of new British luxury handbag brand Olive Cooper
When did you first decide you wanted to go into fashion design?
I’ve always loved selling – particularly fashion. During my early teens, I often travelled to London’s top charity shops to find designer and vintage gems I predicted I could sell for a profit on eBay. I would refresh them and style them, which was the best bit. Valentino scarves, Burberry jumpers, Stella McCartney dresses; you name it, I found it hiding. I then took a little detour and graduated from the University of Birmingham with a BSc in Psychology in 2013 (don’t ask – it was a ‘what the hell do I do with my life’ decision). I was then one of 40 out of approximately 1,000 applicants to join The New Entrepreneurs Foundation programme, which got me back on the right path. I joined with a view to learn the core skills necessary to start a business.
Did you study with any particular designers or institutions?
None – my route to Olive Cooper was a little atypical. I didn’t study design and still strongly insist that I’m not a ‘designer’.
When did you start Olive Cooper and why?
We officially ‘launched’ our Autumn/Winter Collection in September. My inspiration for the product started when I was a graduate working in Central London. London is such a fast-paced city. You always have to keep up with the speed and energy or you’re at risk of going unnoticed or missing out. Everyone is running back and forth and diving from desk to dinner at the speed of light. I used to run from the office at ridiculous o’clock to go for coffee with friends, for dinner or a drink. Yet, while I was sipping a glass of wine or twirling my fork around spaghetti, I always had work in the back of my mind. Those targets I had to meet tomorrow or that email I needed to send. Well, of course I did; my laptop was touching my feet under the table, in my workbag.
It was this realisation that inspired me to develop a product that would enable me to separate work and play, physically and mentally. When I would go out after work, I wanted to be able to switch off, at least to some extent. An aching shoulder reminding me that my laptop and office essentials are over my shoulder just didn’t help. I could never have a really good time. I was also fed up turning down spontaneous social events just because I’d be lugging a trunk with me. Olive Cooper reminds you how easy it is to be professional and sociable, flexible and spontaneous. We’re starting with handbags.
What was your first collection about and how have your designs evolved since then?
Our first collection was about practicality and style. Moving forward, we are being much more inventive and have some exciting new designs coming in a few months, which isn’t so much about practicality but more about possibility.
Who is the Olive Cooper woman?
She is a 20-something woman who loves coffee, red wine and spends most of her weekends shopping and enjoying time with friends.
How does it feel having your designs in shops like Wolf & Badger?
Brilliant! Every little hurdle we overcome like getting our designs in the shops we were after, just reminds us that people love what we are doing and encourages us to keep on going.
What has been your career-defining moment to date?
Well, an award-winning British actress walked into one of our stockists and bought a handbag. But i’m sworn to secrecy to say who! As well as that, before we launched I received an email on our very inactive Facebook page from a Spanish girl who wanted to know why there was a lady on the train with an Olive Cooper bag she couldn’t buy one because our website says ‘coming soon…‘
What does the future hold for you and the Olive Cooper brand? Where would you like to see the brand in five years?
I’d be telling too much if I went into details but hopefully in five years time, we will have our own outlets and I’ll be catching glimpses of Olive Cooper on plenty of people as I walk the streets of London.
What advice do you have for other young designers starting out?
Just do it. Amend your mistakes on the way.
To find your own Olive Cooper bag, check out the brand’s Facebook, Twitter or the website or in stores at Wolf & Badger and The Clerkenwell Collection. The online stockists includes Not Just A Label, Thoroughly British and Shop Chelsea.
Images c/o facebook.com