Barely two years old, accessories brand Oliver Cabell is on a mission to "disrupt," as they like to say in Start-Up Land, the footwear category with a two-pronged, on-the-pulse initiative: a gender-neutral shoe line launching with a drop-of-the-week model, starting with sneakers.
Founded in July 2016 by CEO Scott Gabrielson, the Minneapolis-based company originally started with handcrafted, luxury-level bags and small leather goods with a mission to show customers full transparency. Oliver Cabell shoppers can actually read a full price breakdown on every item description to see where and on what consumers will be spending their hard-earned money — for example, "$3.09 for lining" and "$6.08 for transit" on a $240 backpack. The company manufactures its products in the Veneto region of Italy, and that's where Gabrielson and company accidentally decided to pivot the brand to footwear.
"It happened quite unintentionally for us," Gabrielson tells Fashionista over the phone from Minneapolis. "We produce all of our accessories in this region of Italy called Marche, which happens to be a mecca of luxury accessories and footwear. We were at our factory a little over a year ago and we came across this old dusty sneaker molds called "lasts," which is essentially a mold of a foot. I was really intrigued by it and thought it was a real treasure and could make something really unique with them."
The company went through 22 iterations of sneakers to land upon the classic, old-school Low 1 shell-toe. The Rennes, a vintage running-style sneaker in contrasting smooth and perforated leather, came next. Oliver Cabell makes full use of the high-quality resources available in the region, including sourcing leather from tanneries that also supply to high-end design houses, like Prada and Saint Laurent, outsoles from industry-favored suppliers Margom and Dami and waxed cotton laces from an experienced 115-year-old factory.
Based on his experience and success with Oliver Cabell's classic, Americana-style and non-gendered canvas and leather duffels and backpacks — even though products are categorized on the site by "men" and "women" — Gabrielson realized the opportunity for footwear in the growing space, which apparel and beauty companies are also eyeing. "We're trying to keep everything classic and minimal and spending our energy creating these pieces that really stand test of time," he says. "And that sort of mentality is not really a gender-specific one."
Gabrielson and his team also worked with his factories to create a bespoke supply chain that allows Oliver Cabell to manufacture small-batch runs, hence the drop-of-the-week roll-out. "We're going to be dropping new styles and new color-ways every week, essentially in perpetuity," he says of the lofty goal. Every three to four weeks, the brand will offer a new silhouette, like low-top sneakers, high-tops or a "retro-runner" for sneakers and even Chelsea boots or cap-toe shoes for fall or slides for warmer weather. Then, each week, the brand will release a version of each silhouette, like "a low-top with a different outsole and material and color-ways." The company also recently closed $1.2 million in funding to help make the pivot happen.
The weekly introduction model allows for the brand to test out different styles, with more popular ones produced on larger runs and offered for longer times, plus, to offer those (hopefully) frenzy-inducing limited-edition collaborations. "We're focusing a lot of energy on collaborations, just because it allows us to really expand our design thesis and really branch outside of the usual design norm," Gabrielson says.
In 2016, Oliver Cabell collaborated with New York-based The Arrivals on a pop-up, so unsurprisingly, the company has already amassed a roster of interesting partnerships with an eclectic mix of artists, influencers and brands in the works. Already confirmed: "Kids" and Dior Homme short-film auteur Larry Clark; Australian musician, photographer and sneakerhead Takubeats; Image Director at Highsnobiety NIK; mysterious denim designer 69; and corporate sports entity, Wimbledon.
The non-gendered sizing is based on the European 36 to 42 charts — as in, a European 36 is an American women's 5.5 — but to make shopping easier for the stateside consumer, Oliver Cabell will convert to U.S. sizes and categorize by gender. The newly-redesigned website, which launches on Tuesday, will also provide a sizing chart for additional guidance. Oliver Cabell's transparent, straight-to-consumer model also helps keeps the shoe pricing accessible: The sneakers run from $178 and $188, and future styles, like slides and boots, will range from $160 to $190. Today's inaugural drop celebrates with more than one shoe and style: the Low 1 and the Rennes trainer in a range of color-ways.
Homepage photo: Oliver Cabell