Menswear Style Podcast

Niklas Oppermann, Co-Founder of Carl Friedrik / Luxury Leather Travel Goods

August 10, 2022 Menswear Style Episode 184
Niklas Oppermann, Co-Founder of Carl Friedrik / Luxury Leather Travel Goods
Menswear Style Podcast
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Menswear Style Podcast
Niklas Oppermann, Co-Founder of Carl Friedrik / Luxury Leather Travel Goods
Aug 10, 2022 Episode 184
Menswear Style

Founded in London in 2012 by Swedish brothers, Niklas & Mattis Oppermann, Carl Friedrik launched their leather goods business after seeing a gap in the market for competitively priced but high-quality accessories. Today the brand merges its Bauhaus and Scandinavian design inspirations, with smart functionality using traditional techniques and craftsmanship. The core of the brand’s business has been built on always putting their community first; through a personalised approach, product lifetime guarantee and designing what their customers want for their changing lifestyles. Carl Friedrik’s recently launched Creator’s Club (an exclusive innovative beta-style programme to test and try new products) is their newest extension of this ethos. Originally starting as a brand focusing on wholesale, the brothers quickly pivoted to a DTC business model and have seen huge success. In 10 years the brand has had an entirely organic growth from a £4,000 initial investment and is on track to double its revenue from last year by the end of 2022. The launch of Carl Friedrik’s luggage collection in 2019 has accelerated and expanded the brand’s business further, with revenue growth for their luggage at 261% in just 2 years.   

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Niklas Oppermann, Co-Founder of Carl Friedrik about the founding story of his leather and travel goods brand which he launched 10 years ago after successfully making a leather laptop sleeve as a present for his brother's birthday.  Our host Peter Brooker and Niklas talk about life in London, how they first funded the brand with a small budget,  wholesale vs direct-to-consumer sales channels, the inspiration behind the new The Rover Collection, how to join the Creators Club, and what it's like working alongside siblings.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Founded in London in 2012 by Swedish brothers, Niklas & Mattis Oppermann, Carl Friedrik launched their leather goods business after seeing a gap in the market for competitively priced but high-quality accessories. Today the brand merges its Bauhaus and Scandinavian design inspirations, with smart functionality using traditional techniques and craftsmanship. The core of the brand’s business has been built on always putting their community first; through a personalised approach, product lifetime guarantee and designing what their customers want for their changing lifestyles. Carl Friedrik’s recently launched Creator’s Club (an exclusive innovative beta-style programme to test and try new products) is their newest extension of this ethos. Originally starting as a brand focusing on wholesale, the brothers quickly pivoted to a DTC business model and have seen huge success. In 10 years the brand has had an entirely organic growth from a £4,000 initial investment and is on track to double its revenue from last year by the end of 2022. The launch of Carl Friedrik’s luggage collection in 2019 has accelerated and expanded the brand’s business further, with revenue growth for their luggage at 261% in just 2 years.   

In this episode of the MenswearStyle Podcast we interview Niklas Oppermann, Co-Founder of Carl Friedrik about the founding story of his leather and travel goods brand which he launched 10 years ago after successfully making a leather laptop sleeve as a present for his brother's birthday.  Our host Peter Brooker and Niklas talk about life in London, how they first funded the brand with a small budget,  wholesale vs direct-to-consumer sales channels, the inspiration behind the new The Rover Collection, how to join the Creators Club, and what it's like working alongside siblings.

Whilst we have your attention, be sure to sign up to our daily MenswearStyle newsletter here. We promise to only send you the good stuff.

SKIN TO IT Podcast
Welcome to Skin to It.
Your guide to healthy skin.

Join us on our journey as...

Listen on: Apple Podcasts   Spotify

Unknown:

Hello and welcome to another episode of the menswear style podcast. I'm

PB:

your host Pete Brooker. Today I'm talking to Nicholas Altman. He is the co founder and CEO of Cole Friedrich Nicholas and his brother mattes. Opperman launched their leather goods business after seeing a gap in the market for competitively priced but high quality accessories. Today, the brand coming into its 10 year wow merges its Bauhaus and Scandinavian design inspirations with smart functionality using traditional techniques and craftsmanship. And you can check out all the goods over at Carl friedrich.com. We'll leave all the links over on the show notes at Menswear. style.co.uk. But here in the meantime to tell us about the brand is Nicholas Opperman.

Unknown:

Yeah, I mean, short story is I am a German Swede grew up in Sweden and found my way a little bit across the world. So I was spending one and a half years in Shanghai before I moved to London to study and then starting called Friedrich.

PB:

And what about London? Do you study?

Unknown:

It's a business school used to be called Cass Business School and renamed to something else. It's City University of London is the easy way to say it.

PB:

Okay. And so what age are you and you're coming to London?

Unknown:

I think there must have been 2020 20.

PB:

So the worlds that your feet, something like that. Yeah. And was this a was this a good time for you? 20 in London, was this like where you really wanted to be at that time? Was this a dream come true?

Unknown:

I think so. It I mean, I came from a small place, basically in the forest in Sweden. And then I took one small step after another and yeah, Shanghai was quite a big step. And since then, I've been in bigger cities. And yeah, I'm in London was. Yeah, quite overwhelming at the beginning. But yeah, it's been great.

PB:

But you have so we were just talking offline. You have offices here and one in Barcelona room?

Unknown:

That's right. Yeah.

PB:

And how often are you in London?

Unknown:

I'm based in London. So most of my time, is there and a lot of time in Barcelona and some other places every now and then.

PB:

Okay. And are you enjoying your time here in London? Netflix, I'm curious. Because I know Sweden is probably where your hearts out. But then Barcelona is where the sunset most of the year? How do you how do you find yourself between these places? And how does your mood swing between these places?

Unknown:

I mean, it's a great question. I think London has so much to offer that. You know, I think after 12 or 13 years here, or they're not there at the moment. You still have new things that you get surprised by and living in different neighbourhoods are they are all completely different. The Yeah, I mean, you haven't been in many places. There's very few places where in one hand, you have a newness, a lot of a lot of energy in different directions. And a place that kind of feels like you're home basically.

PB:

Yeah. Yeah, I had a an interesting experience when I moved to London probably about six years ago, because I was in a band in my 20s and East London was where I wanted to go I was in East London all the time up Brick Lane playing with venues it's got it had so much vibrancy and opportunity for people like me and the creatives of the world. And when I came to London finally in my 40s I realised I was 20 years too late to really enjoy it because I'm ready for my my slippers and my cocoa by half 10 I'm not really interested in going out on a Monday night and enjoying the free volleys. But yeah,

Unknown:

come that a good time, I think.

PB:

Yeah. You did the peak. Maybe. Well, perhaps we can talk a little bit about the brand. So Carl Friedrich, how do you explain cold Friedrich to your friends?

Unknown:

Yeah, I mean, I think the simplest way is that called Friedrich is a letter and travel goods brand and making basically everything from small leather goods, wallets, and tech accessories to briefcases we can bags and now since two years luggage as well. And what we're trying to do, I think is to build a big, global luxury brand. And we are trying to do that in We're trying to reimagine a little bit what a luxury brand can and should be. And the main thing with that is that we have, I guess, in a way, quite an opinionated and strong focus on intelligent design. Very, very high quality. And, and basically, a an idea that that we want basically quality, an idea that we want to be close to customers, and we want to serve them in a, that's a very, we want to basically obsess about serving our customers in the best way. Yeah, and so the, you know, I think all luxury brands would say that they do good quality and nice design. And maybe our design is maybe simpler, more pared back, but we focus a lot on doing the right products for the right customers. So we think a lot about, you know, what is the use case of this type of bag? How can we, you know, improve on that. And then we ask customers over and over again, what can we do better? What can we do better? Until we hopefully make things as good as they can be?

PB:

That's nice. I like the idea of being obsessed over as a customer on a continuum. Yeah.

Unknown:

I mean, it's, it's, it's a fun thing,

PB:

actually. Yeah. Well, you so I mean, the brand is coming into I think its 10th. year now the 10th anniversary next year.

Unknown:

Yeah, it will be roughly at the, towards what around the year end, let's say. And so yeah, it's it's been quiet for quite a while now. Quite a journey.

PB:

And when we talk about we it was founded with your brother, is that right? as well?

Unknown:

Exactly. So yeah, Matt is the other co founder, my brother? And yeah, we started in a very, very small place together. So we've been, yeah, through thick and thin.

PB:

So what was the the germ of the idea like 10 years ago, you guys are sitting down? Are you? Are you kind of coming up with the same problems in life that there's not enough decent luxury goods to serve the consumer that travels? How is it written down on the napkin in the pub?

Unknown:

Well, sadly wasn't written down in a napkin in a pub. But I think it did not it started a little bit earlier, I would say so I guess going back really early, it is coming from from our parents basically had to clear directions, let's say we had a mom who was an art teacher, focusing a lot on, you know, we were drawing a lot with crayons as kids and you know, always doing creative projects. And we had an engineer, as our dad, who, you know, that we went into the garage with and build things. And so that idea of making things and also thinking about aesthetics was quite, you know, from from childhood days, then that turned into an interest in clothing and fashion. And in my time in Shanghai, I was quite a lot on the weekends going to these tailor markets where you know, as a student before going to university, it's almost like a goldmine that you can for, you know, very little money, create as much clothing as you want. And you can design everything yourself. So there was a lot of experimentation with different types of clothing, making jackets, making shirts making pants. And so that basically gave us or gave us, you know, a lot of confidence that you can make things yourself. But that was just for us. And then fast forward a couple of years, I was going to buy Mattis a laptop sleeve, as a Christmas present. He had just gotten a fancy new MacBook, and that needed to have some sort of nice cover I thought and then I looked through, you know, all the shops, both, you know, mid range and luxury, and couldn't really find some things I bought something from well, a brand new Charles mentioned at the moment, but it wasn't well received. And so it was basically the two embellished a little bit of a weird colour and it didn't feel like it was really working well. And so then we were thinking about okay, let's return this. Lets you know, weird because I did my best to look for something. So I was I was pretty sure we wouldn't find anything better to replace it. And then we started thinking, hey, this is maybe something we can be doing because you know, we have made some contacts. We've done things before. Maybe the step from here to launching that product isn't too big. And that was basically done throughout our university time. And then we contacted a factory, made some samples, then, you know, live life went on. But as, as we went through to, you know, lectures or places, people would ask us, where's this bag from? And you know, where can I buy it. And we just added something we made. And it wasn't too often that people would ask me or my brother, where this and that was coming from. So that felt like it's very strong indicator that maybe there is something here, maybe this is a pretty good product. And that basically was done, okay, let's pull the trigger. launch a brand. And that's, that's where we started.

PB:

That's amazing. That's really cool. And it's doing the soft market research yourself, because you're going out and getting the products, seeing what the quality is like. And then you're, you're getting just consumer feedback right on the spot where people complimenting you on the on the goods. So I heard that you had a. So around about 10 years ago, you had a modest investment of around 4k. If that's right, can you expand on that a little bit? And tell me what the secret is? What you think the secret is, from turning a 4k investment into a successful business over the last decade?

Unknown:

Um, maybe? Yeah, frugality. Well, for Galletti, a little bit of hustle. So I mean, yeah, I think it's started with 4000 of our own savings, and maybe another 2000, from our dad. And that was probably just about to order the first batch of products. So we did not have any funds to build a website or, you know, hire a photographer, or do marketing. So we basically, you know, and we were also that this was, at a minimum, what you could order is this out already, after a whole bunch of negotiations, so the money goes to ordering the products, we have to figure out the rest ourselves. And the rest is us putting together a website, it's had been an interest of mine to, to, you know, learn coding. So with a bit of help that that got done. We Mattis had a photography studio studio, it has university so we could borrow that take pictures ourselves. I think Mattis was also the first model. So really, it was it was doing almost everything yourself. And then, you know, once we had, let's say, products, and a website that has images, so basically, now you have everything that you need to, you know, to offer a product and a brand to the world. And from there, we basically contacted stores that we wanted to see if they could carry our products.

PB:

Wow. I do love the story of when I think it's, I was having this conversation with a girlfriend the other day when it's your money. So like, for example, when you save up money, and you go out and buy your first car, you really look after that car, right? You polish it, like every other week, you know, you you make sure that you don't reverse on the curbs. And it's, it's kind of a bit of a precious thing because you know, you put the money in and it's your baby, as opposed to maybe if you're someone that's had your Dad, buy your car or someone else has given you something, you know, you kind of treat it like a like a squat or in a flat. It's not something that you take enough pride over because you haven't rolled up your sleeves to actually achieve what you wanted to get. And a bit like when you start a business if you've got just such a minimum investment you can really have your own sovereignty over something like this. You know, it's it's a bootstrap company, you can find a studio photography studio, you can be your own model, you can learn coding, I mean, people can do it, it can you've proven it can be done. If you have like a crowd raiser of a fundraiser of like 50k then you might be a little bit more spendthrift and perhaps just pay for things happen normally do yourself right?

Unknown:

I mean, there's pros and cons with you know, all of the approaches you know, we would a let's say a larger starting capital you could you could potentially move faster that can lead you to faster success. It can also lead you to exactly like you say being thrifty the right word.

PB:

Yeah was 1050

Unknown:

I think Yeah. Yeah. So thriftiest opposite

PB:

Yeah. 50 is what you did.

Unknown:

Exactly. So, so Exactly. So, so you cannot you know, take things too liberally and spend, you know, a huge amount on a fashion campaign or a shoot and which in the And, you know, you might not know when you're starting out what the result and effect will be. So I think throughout time, that's been, you know, something that we've held on to to do a lot ourselves almost everything to do data we do is in house doesn't mean that Mattis and I are doing it anymore. But, but it means that we try to, you know, build the team that is super good at what they do, and can can create these projects. And, of course, that it really depends on what we're talking about. But many of the shoots are, you know, are directed and conceptualised by ourselves, and of course, then we work with partner to produce it. And but yeah, I mean, that's, that's the philosophy we have.

PB:

Yeah, love it. Can you you mentioned the factories that you first started working with, and getting some samples of these the same factories that you're working with now, with the ones that you started 10 years ago?

Unknown:

No, so we, yeah, we've changed a whole bunch of things throughout over the years. So. So the factories themselves are different. And, yeah, so we started out as a wholesale company selling to stores, then we got, we got to a point where we wanted to focus on one or the other, wholesale or direct to consumer. And we thought, you know, again, like I mentioned before, the closeness to customers was, or is something that's really important to us. But I guess that came naturally at a time. So we wanted to go direct to consumer. And we have been that for since 2014, until basically this year, where we are now launching with a few stores that we're partnering with, to offer our luggage range. And that I think comes from when you are two people, there is a need to focus and there is a need to think about, you know, where can we put our energy. And we, I think we did a good thing. And we were able to be laser focused for such a long time. And now that that the brand of products and our offering, we know who it resonates with, and now there is, you know, an opportunity to reach more customers at the right partners. And there is always the question of you know, do you serve customers directly online? And of course, also, many customers want to see touch and feel the product. So it is a little bit opposing forces that you have to manage?

PB:

Yeah, like a high wire act sometimes I guess.

Unknown:

Yeah, exactly. And I think our approach is that we are super selective with who we work with. And I think we are going to this, we're visiting our stores every week. So that to make sure that you know everyone, everyone that is presenting the brand, everyone who is you know, a spokesperson for the brand, you know, understands what we're about and can really help the customer the same way that we tried to do it directly.

PB:

That's nice. That's cool. Whereabouts so I'm in London, you're in London. Whereabouts can people in London, for example, find some of the products from coffee?

Unknown:

Yeah, so it's a case luggage, which is luggage store for premium luggage in Heathrow, several terminals, Piccadilly, and in Harrods in Knightsbridge, but I think that's normal to most people.

PB:

Heathrow tomorrow like I was flying, so I'll be scouting. Yeah, well, well, we have talking about new collections. We got the new rover collection that's just coming out or is that already? It's already it's out already. Talk to me a bit about this. What makes this collection so unique to you guys?

Unknown:

Yeah, I mean, it's a long time in the works. So that's unique in itself. So I know it's been refined quite a bit and we'll still be refined more. But yeah, it's it's a collection that I think in our design process it we think about, you know, who is our customer? How can we serve this customer better and also, who, you know, do we want to serve that we might not be serving well yet. And we are coming from a very elegant briefcases world that say And we wanted to see what we can, how we can serve a slightly more casual audience that is slightly more travel oriented or slightly more products that are more travel oriented. So a little bit more casual travelling a lot, still very, you know, minding are caring a lot about their appearance and wanting to have really nice things. So, you know, it felt like there is an area that you either go nylon backpack, or you know, you go something like a performance backpack, or you go something really luxury, the middle ground still felt a bit not addressed in in it well enough, in our view. So that's where we're coming from. And so that's what we're trying to address with it with this collect collection. And, yeah, that's the rover collection, it's five products to weaken bags, to backpacks, and a tote bag. And the way we've gone about to design it and what what it is, is basically sort of, yeah, travel oriented products more inspired partially by performance or sports products. So there is a roll top backpack, which almost comes from I think, traditionally, it's like a hiking or utility backpack. And so having that usability, but trying to bring that to our let's say luxury space and that's the way we've I think we've we've we've cracked it is to use really nice materials that both work as a soft and casual way and also are really elegant, nice to touch and look right and that's the main material rituals there is new book. And that is a it originally or in many ways when you say it's a new book, you think of something like hiking boots or something like that. But this is more like a suede like material so it on the surface it looks like suede, but it is a lot more durable and strong because it's it's not the backside of the leather. It's the front side it has been brushed a bit. So it's it's like a slightly more rigid suede. You can say,

PB:

oh, yeah, I'm looking at it now and people can i i had the products before but just making sure I've got the wrong one and people can have a look on the Instagram Cole Friedrich, you're on Instagram and obviously the website where you can shop is called freedom. But yeah, I was actually just saying to the missus the other day that my rucksack is some are more of a rucksack kind of guy when I when I walk around, it's, I think just easier to have laptops and a few other things. You mentioned hiking there, we were hiking the other day and I just felt like rucksack might just get they get beaten up a little bit. But there's not anything that's really that elegant out there as a rucksack. Not that not I've managed to find that. And I've not really seen it on other people on my commute either. So I'm always eyeing up what people are carrying.

Unknown:

Yeah, exactly. I mean, there is there is the, you know, the the range of really elegant backpacks, you know, with really, let's say, very blini hardware and very, let's say shiny or super, perfectly polished letter. And so those exist. I think those could be classed more as fashion backpacks, let's say. So they often lose a lot of their utilitarian function. And that's exactly what we're trying to address. So you know, both having the functionality of something inspired by, you know, performance or casual products, but really trying to make it super elegant. The materials is unique by itself. Then we have those details that are in this smood it's called bacchetta letter. I'm not sure if you're familiar with that, and no talk me through them. So yeah, so that's, that's a, I think it's an Italian letter. It's what you call a vegetable tanned letter, which means that it's been turned in a natural, basically not using natural tannins, like bark. And the surface is really natural. So basically it's almost a little bit translucent, very smooth, and, and a little bit oily to the touch almost. And then combining that smooth, very nice, elegant, leather together with a little bit more. Matt newbook creates a really nice combination.

PB:

Yeah. Oh, these are winners. I can't wait to check these out tomorrow. Yeah, it'd be nice to be good pricing freedom. Well, you Nicholas, I was going to ask you, just a couple more questions. I know you got a heart out. And I'd like to get on with we're recording this after hours during the day. But there's the the creators collection, I mean, you're talking about how you're really obsessive about your customer. But these, this is kind of that exclusive club where you get to interact with your, your customers, and they also get to give you the feedback, perhaps you can just talk a little bit about that, and and how consumers can get involved with the brand directly.

Unknown:

Yeah, so that's part of what I mentioned, with a long, long road to this collection. So the craters Club was us thinking, how can we, so we used to do a lot of, or we still do service? And let's say, call customers up and ask them what they think. And we were wondering, what can we do more to engage customers and to get more of their input. And so the idea that was the sort of the idea for the craters club. And what we then did is basically offer a small group of customers to beta test, essentially, the rover collection. So we will have samples of these products, and we would send them out to the customers and then ask for their feedback. And that then helped to develop the collection. Awesome, great. Well, it sounds like a real community, which I mean, it is. Yeah, yeah. In terms of you also asked about, how can people be a part of it? We're probably so there's, you have to apply? And, you know, there's has been, luckily, more applications than slots, which is, you know, we're super grateful for that. It's a waiting list. Waiting List. Yeah. And so yeah, so the applications open every now and then when we have new collections in the works. So there is a page where you can if you search coffee, Rick craters club, you can find it and register your interest.

PB:

Nicholas, I want to have I want to apply, but I also want to have a club tie. So that I know that I'm in the club, basically. But like, if you get all right, like,

Unknown:

as well, yeah, the next product in the indicators club,

PB:

we need one out of

Unknown:

all our customers, trying out the tie and, and perfecting it,

PB:

I'm telling you ties, the club ties are the way to go the way to go. How do you get on with? So I've got two older brothers, is Mattis younger or older than

Unknown:

me at this point? We're basically the same age. He's one and a half years younger?

PB:

And how is the dynamic now the working relationship?

Unknown:

It's really It's great. You know, I think as you get older, things get easier, and things get better, and you learn, you get to know each other better and better. So there's definitely been more intense periods than others. But you know, the last, I don't know, X number of years, it's been a blessing, basically, you know, we work very, very well, maybe maybe it's a little bit of the German side, like very efficiently together. Quick calls. We, yeah, work by consensus, or, you know, we try to work problems out. But we also we have our own, you know, domains that we're responsible for Mattis is responsible for everything product based product development, supply chain. And yeah, probably development includes design, and then basically getting the product to the customer and more responsible for the pixels, you can say.

PB:

Do you ever get to lock horns on anything? I mean, as as two of you who gets like the final say if there's a 5050 split?

Unknown:

I mean, it has it has been consensus, to be honest. So we, yeah, we try to hash it out. I don't think there's Yeah, I don't know. I mean, we have we have each our own area. So depending on what the question is, the person who is in charge of that area has the final say.

PB:

Well, we'll have to get his final say on the ties. Right. Yeah. And then get the get the creative club to also chip in with that boat as well. I digress. Nicholas, wonderful talking to you. And thanks for walking me through the products and the history of the brand. found it fascinating. Congratulations on getting to the 10 year landmark. I know that's on the horizon, and the collections look fantastic. I'll be eyeballing them at Heathrow and Tomorrow morning, so,

Unknown:

thank you so much. It's been really nice chatting. Yeah, speak soon

PB:

you've been listening to the menswear style podcast be sure to head over to menswear style.co.uk For more menswear content and email info at menswear style.co.uk If you'd like to be a future guest on the show. Finally, please help support the show by leaving a review on iTunes or wherever you're listening to this podcast. Until next time

(Cont.) Niklas Oppermann, Co-Founder of Carl Friedrik / Luxury Leather Travel Goods

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