Andrew Cooper on The Fellowship
Andrew Cooper on The Fellowship, a new grooming brand which the top model, actor and entrepreneur is looking to change the game with.
Andrew Cooper is probably still best known in pop culture as that guy from the Diet Coke ad, but for this clear-minded Manchester-born model/actor/entrepreneur, it was clearly only another job. After over 20 years in the fashion game with the kind of internationally jet-setting life that comes with the demands of the luxury industry, he has the kind of perspective and hard-nosed professionalism that has set him in good stead for his parallel interest in business. He’s run a pet shop in Notting Hill since he was 21 called The Mutz Nutz, and been involved in various drinks and gym projects, all of which has led up to his most exciting business to date (in our humble opinion): The Fellowship. Five years in the making, it is a new men’s grooming brand that has community and communication at the heart of it. For us, it’s pitched perfectly: a brand that’s not over fussy, keeps it simple, and above all aims to be a valuable support to men. We caught up with Andrew to find out more about the brand and surviving in the fashion world…
How was last year for you?
I find ways to always make hay, and in lockdown I found ways to be productive. I embraced it, spending time with kids, renovating our house, and finding a healthy structure. It was quite good for me. For 22 years I was consistently running around. I originally moved to London as a teenager for music, and then ended up doing modelling and drama. But the modelling became so busy that at one point I just ran from plane to plane, and every time I came home I never felt I had time to see everyone and do what I wanted. So to have that consistent period where I didn’t have to travel was really interesting. I remember saying to my wife that every time we’ve moved house for the last 3 moves I was never there. Everything stayed in boxes.
The early days was difficult with all the uncertainty but you try to find ways to stay positive in terms of what you can get out of it. Also having kids helped me, living outside of London helped me, so I felt blessed and lucky in a lot of ways. We bonded and came together as a family. We managed to take over an office nearby to structure our days – we’d pack up our bags, get on the bikes and go and work collectively which was a massive thing for us, having a differential between home and schooling.
Did you take the time to reflect on your career, and refining what you wanted to do?
To be honest I was building up to it for a while. I turned 40 in February and just with that landmark, I always felt I was going to make some adjustments. I was peddling very hard in multiple directions; my personality is always to seize opportunities and not shirk away from a challenge, throughout my career. Then I felt at one point I had to stop spinning so many plates and focus, which is what I managed to do. And last was a welcome opportunity to sit back, evaluate and focus and I think a lot of people did the same.
Tell us about The Fellowship…
I’ve always been a keen entrepreneur: one thing I took from travelling around the world was the ability to look at other markets and search through trends and things going on in different cities, particularly in America and Asia. Which has led to all sorts of businesses around wellness, gyms, drinks.
Those businesses I previously had gave me a learning platform, the good parts and bad parts. When it came to coming to 40 I felt like I wanted to put my energy and time into a new setup. For a time I was playing around with men’s leisurewear and sportswear, but I really don’t like the idea of having to constantly redesign products every few months, I like the Heinz ketchup model of doing something really well over a long time.
From my place of being in the luxury and travel business for 20 years, I just had this fascination around grooming. When I owned a drinks business years ago we took the waste products and made them into these natural body scrubs.
Since then I’d had a conversation with the apothecary we worked with in Somerset. Playing around with what this grooming position would be. For me it was always going to be a natural product, and to be environmentally friendly. For me everything has to have a clever edge and the prospect to give back.
Grooming generationally is becoming progressive, especially with the younger generations who are far more in touch with it, but I still think there’s a struggle for most men of going to counters and buying something. So I wanted to find a way to communicate and make it easy, and that was where The Fellowship was born. It was always about trying to bring men together to support each other and provide tips and inspiration and create a safe area to feel it’s ok to care about what you look like.
Coming from my background. I’ve always had to feel like you had to keep your edge in terms of staying fit and healthy and looking my best in order to earn money and put food on the table. That becomes a habit. When I feel good, I feel strong, I feel capable. And I feel that’s important for most men and should be embraced throughout the years. When I saw my kids go to school I saw a weird situation where women got to an age where they had kids and spent their free time going to the gym and yoga, while the men got heavy into work and going to the pub. They were looking knackered and their wives were embracing healthy habits. I wanted to tap into that with the grooming brand.
Do you think there’s still that stigma about men being seen to care about themselves?
I used to do lots of trips with Virgin, on the red eye, and over the years you’d watch men change. It used to be men on trips suited up and drinking heavily, and then in time I’d watch as men started to get into pyjamas, have a wash bag, put things on their faces. Men started to take care of themselves and understand it. It feels like The Fellowship is not a strange proposition as it would have been when I first started thinking of it 5 years ago. But I still feel like we’re in a place where no-one talks with any authority. A lot of the time men’s grooming is a secondary brand behind a female beauty brand. My position on that was how can we find a community to communicate, as well as delivering something that is natural, performance driven and that delivers results.
Can you tell us about the importance of the community aspect?
That was the thing that excited a lot of people when I first spoke about it. The big picture is to develop the brand into something where we create conversation. We have podcasts on the horizon and also videos celebrating different men. Essentially that’s where we want to end up: having this conversation and saying its ok to talk about these things.
One of the things I’ve found over the years is that fitness is an interesting place for people to open up. When people have got the endorphins going, whether they’re exhausted or feeling good about themselves they’re happy to share. That’s an aspect of what we’re trying to evolve into as well.
How do you manage the pressures that come with your work?
For me the difficulty is being realistic with my ambition to be ground breaking – I’m constantly striving too hard. Nowadays I’m stripping thing back and being more simplistic.
When we launched The Fellowship we wanted to stick to recycled eco packaging but you’d be surprised how hard that is. It amazed me. There’s a reason people aren’t doing 100% recycled products.
But ultimately I have to be really passionate. When you’re building products, you have to understand it yourself. I’ve spent 20 years sat in make-up chairs, with the best make-up artists and hairdressers, and I always had my eyes and ears open at an early age, I listened to what people like and don’t like. Often a less is more, simplistic approach works. It keeps things simple and curated.
The fashion world appears hedonistic, but you were keeping your head on and staying alert?
Yeah that’s one of my strengths. I really like talking to people, I really like learning about what they do, that’s always been my thing. I have this funny habit of being in a new city I have to go for a run and find out what it’s about. I want to go and eat in local restaurants and see the culture.
I started a pet shop in Notting Hill when I was 21. After I did that, everywhere I went I’d check out a pet shop. With the grooming for the last five years I’ve tried to look at cultures around grooming, barber shops, and skincare.
I think its difficult for a lot of people in my industry because you’re on your own a lot. You get on a flight and then you could have a day off, a down day, before you go to the studio work. I’d want to go and have a look at what was going on and take pictures and try to find inspiration.
Your pet shop must doing well at the moment?
Yeah it’s doing great. It came from me working in America quite a lot with Ralph Lauren, and the pet shops over there were really fun. Chic, colourful, smelt nice, very premium. Then I’d come back to the UK and walk down Portobello Road and see a pet shop and it’d be all dusty and dark and an old guy behind a desk. I thought this is nuts so we started the pet shop on the back of that. It’s a really fun business. People with their dogs are very passionate – we get all sort of celeb clients who wouldn’t say a word if it were a clothes shop, but when they have their little dog they want to tell you everything about it. It’s amazing.
Did you experience pressure to fulfill certain body ideals in fashion?
I think there is loads of pressure. But for me personally what I took most seriously was how I approached the work. I always wanted to be professional, I always turned up on time – at one point I did 300 flights in one year, but I’ve never missed a flight in 20 years. I had many strange moments of people looking you up and down and then after getting a phone call from someone telling you the job’s cancelled. It was very cutthroat. I don’t necessarily feel like it’s that way anymore because what you find in this modern world is you don’t have to fit a certain size and build, you have to have personality, you have to have added value, you have to have a voice, but back then you were treated in the worst times like an object.
However I always looked at the cheque. I’d had crap jobs when I was younger so for me it was having an opportunity. I’d find a way to get through it.
You had that resilience?
Yeah I was quite hard headed, quite tough. I was like, ‘I am who I am, this is what I look like, if it’s not what you want what can I do about it?’
I have seen situations with vulnerable people who maybe don’t take it the same way I did which is potentially damaging. And it’s a lonely job.
I found a couple of good friends so when it came to travelling. You’d typically spend seasons in Milan and Paris, so I’d have two mates and we’d all travel together and stay in these nice apartments or hotel. We wouldn’t be having parties we’d just be treating it like a job.
What were you like as a kid? How did that inform your mindset?
I was pretty free, we travelled a lot when I was young, I was brought up in Manchester and then we was moved around a fair bit changing schools. I was really happy, creative, into drama, singing and art and played a lot of sport. I spent a lot of my time outside which is why we ended up living out in the countryside now.
I moved to London when I was 16 – my parents split up when I was about 14 so that created a bit of trauma and essentially led to me moving out when I was about 16. I came down to London to pursue a career in modelling and music. I had a record deal when I was 16, 17, which was the time of boy bands, when it was all about radio play. When you’re younger you rely upon people to take you on otherwise you don’t have a voice. Back then you really needed someone to put you in the window. I feel now that if you’re good and you work hard, you’ll get your moment. You’ll get your time to get in front of the right person and get some recognition.
What are your major leanings from the last year?
I’ve learnt to live in the moment. At one point we didn’t know what tomorrow was. Family and friends – I’ve never valued that more. Being with your kids is everything. Consciousness is everything too, like not wasting energy, not throwing things away and consuming so much – at one point we were going too fast and not thinking. I think that’s the difficult task now – just finding the balance.
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