Editor’s note: I’ve been lucky enough to call the talented Em Cooper my friend for about 17 years. She’s fun, sophisticated and beautiful. While I was a teenage fatty and no girls would talk to me, Em always took the time; made my day. These days her focus is on ensuring men wear stylish footwear. I caught up with Em at B_SPACE to talk about her label Meandher, which she started in 2010, her recent time studying the craft in Milan, her shoe idols and her plans to wear her own designs in 2013.
Why did you start Meandher?
I have two brothers and they were on an endless quest for good men’s shoes, women were spoilt for choice [for shoes] and men were kind of battling. Everyone knows that men get judged by their footwear, you know, when you go on a date and a guy walks in and he’s wearing shit shoes and you’re like “Oh….yeah….good start…”
Where does the name come from?
It eludes to meandering, the pace of life that’s cruisy. It can be read as me-and-er and that interpretation is kind of cool. It also fits the natural progression to go into women’s shoes.
How did you get into designing shoes?
I travelled down to South America and I started my first company importing little espadrilles called Applegator. I put myself through university doing that, I got into law and did that for a year, but I didn’t like it. I then decided I wanted to do something more than just espadrilles so I got a job with a local designer and I did her handbags and accessories — which I didn’t [formally] know how to do, but I just did it anyway. I went to Hong Kong a couple of times and learnt on the job. Then I basically started designing shoes and managed to secure myself a factory in Vietnam. I went and did my first season and it went really well and so I quit my day job.
Have you ever studied the craft of shoe design?
In 2012 I went on a four month course in Milan at the and it was probably the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. It was from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. which turned into 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. just making patterns and learning the technical side of designing, understanding materials and prototyping; we visited the Chanel factory.
The best part about it was that the people that we were taught by had been in factories since they were born. They were second and third generation shoemakers. The one guy, our main tutor Richard, had been in the factory since he was 7-years-old. He lived and breathed shoes and was still learning himself; it’s one of those industries that you just keep learning.
What is your focus since Milan?
To increase the quality. My designs have evolved to increase and focus on the quality. We’ve moved all of our production out of Vietnam and into Portugal and Italy. I wanted to do something more high-end out of Italy, but I didn’t want to deny myself the market that I’d created with the smart-casual wear. All my smart-casuals will be done out of Portugal and then the higher-end will come out of Italy.
Any plans for women’s wear?
I’m starting women’s shoes next season which will also be made in Italy. It’s very exciting. I’ll get to wear my own shoes!
What’s your US launch strategy?
The plan for America is to secure a showroom and to not just rush in. I’d prefer to approach selected stores, like B_SPACE and slowly get a few stores under my belt.
What’s the signature of the Meander designs?
Our brand detail is the red heel cap and the xx stitch on the side. It’s just a slight detail that’s a little bit different. Men like something really subtle, but super cool. They’re like, ‘Well, that is cool!’; it’s an identifiable characteristic.
Who are your shoe designer idols?
I look up to old school shoemakers like Berluti or John Lobb or Grenson — he’s a bit newer. They’ve stuck to their guns with the classics and the quality and that’s their focus and they’ve been around for many years. I think the main thing that I try to do is keep it simple. Just work on construction, don’t go too far out.
Tell us about your time in New York and LA…
I actually like New York much better in the cold, it’s not as full-on, and it’s a full-on city. I really like it. Although, I’m such a wuss in the cold, I’ve got like 19 layers on right now and it’s only 60°F (15°C).
I love LA for how active I am there. You can go to a canyon, ride bikes, surf or go to the snow within hours.
Interview by Pete Maiden