Built on timeless design, quality craftsmanship and honest pricing, Oliver Cabell came out of nowhere to disrupt the world of luxury footwear.
It wouldn’t be completely accurate to call Scott Gabrielson an underdog, but he was certainly an unusual suspect to become an entrepreneur in the fashion industry. Before he left everything behind to launch Oliver Cabell, the Minnesota native worked in wealth management and investment banking. “I was working for a hedge fund manager and he mentioned that active fund management was a waste of time, which was exactly what we were doing,” recalls Gabrielson. “I agreed and started to think about why I was building a career around beating the S&P 500 instead of just investing in it and doing what I truly loved.”
So in 2016, a then 27-year-old Gabrielson quit his job and moved to England to pursue his lifelong passion for design. With zero experience in fashion, retail or start-ups, the new entrepreneur relied on his love for quality products, strong moral principles and bold spirit to launch Oliver Cabell as an unlikely candidate to shake up the world of luxury footwear.
Timeless, refined and cool, it’s not hard to believe that Oliver Cabell takes its name after Steve McQueen and Oliver Reed. The inspiration struck Gabrielson one day after he came across a news story from the 1970s that highlighted a heavy night out for the two legendary actors. “I had long been inspired by the rebellious duo, who spurred an entire generation to take the road less travelled,” Gabrielson says. Oliver Cabell is a combination that comes from a couple of their adventure-seeking film characters from the 1950s and 1960s – Oliver Twist and Martin Cabell.
As for the night out? It turns out even the “King of Cool” proved no match for the Oliver Reed life force. “The story goes that McQueen flew to London to discuss a project,” Gabrielson recalls with a smirk. “Putting business aside for a bit, the duo went on a marathon pub crawl, which resulted in Reed spewing his lunch on McQueen. The project was never consummated.”
Channelling the charismatic actors and their larger-than-life approach to things, Gabrielson’s focus has always been on creating effortless wardrobe staples. Oliver Cabell continually harks back to simplicity, quality craftsmanship and timeless design, making some initial waves for their range of leather goods and accessories.
It wasn’t until they began creating sneakers, however, that they would stumble onto their identity and smash expectations that even Gabrielson himself didn’t see coming. As life would have it, the extension into footwear happened unintentionally at their factory in the Marche region of Italy, which just so happens to be the mecca for luxury footwear. “We came across a set of old, dusty sneaker molds and I thought it was a real treasure, and that we could make something really unique with them,” Gabrielson recalls swiftly. “We decided to make a pair with the molds, and after twenty-two samples, we ended up with our first sneaker, the Low 1.”
Building off the immediate popularity of the silhouette, Gabrielson became so obsessed with footwear that he decided to focus on them exclusively going forward. He was acting off his intuition and began applying the same less-is-more design approach in successful fashion. The Low 1 sneaker remains the label’s most popular commodity, and an essential in the commuter’s wardrobe, but Gabrielson isn’t surprised one bit by the demand – given everything behind it. “First, the pared-down, simple design,” he begins. “The construction and materials are all Italian, ensuring the best quality money can buy. Thirdly, it’s the most affordable Made in Italy sneaker on the market. Margom outsoles and priced below $200? No one else does it.”
It doesn’t stop there, however, as Gabrielson was determined to expand the product offerings beyond just the Low 1. From the Phoenix and GAT sneakers to Chelsea Boots, Oliver Cabell now produces a handful of footwear options that appeal to the minimalist in all of us. The common thread? Gabrielson wanted the range of styles to remain small, drawing exclusively on a catalogue of what they consider to be great and timeless – and adding a subtle Oliver Cabell twist to them.
While Oliver Cabell has taken serious strides as a premium men’s footwear brand, their very first women’s collection might be their biggest yet. “Design is the number one reason that people buy our footwear,” Gabrielson says. “We wanted to offer a women’s collection that leverages the same minimal design aesthetic that we currently include in our men’s styles.”
Combining tried-and-tested techniques with new-school technology, the craftsmanship is another driving factor behind the label’s continued popularity. The materials, Gabrielson assures, are top-notch, such as the full-grain leather from the Veneto region of Italy. The tannery, which also supplies the likes of Prada and Yves Saint Laurent, has been crafting leather since 1954 and it’s been highly sought-after its high-end finish and natural feel.
“Leather is the backbone of our footwear and we researched over seventy tanneries before finding the perfect partner for our sneakers,” Scott recalls. Producing exclusively full-grain calfskin leather, or the best available, the tannery has won international awards around quality, ethics and environmental practice. “We were happy to learn that the factory owners are big supporters of small, family farms as it allows them to track exactly where their hides come from,” he adds.
Finding that lasting partnership isn’t always easy, however. During the design process for a recent shoe model, Gabrielson and his team had been searching for tip-top waxed cotton laces, but they couldn’t find that right fit. “Unfortunately, there are just so many crappy laces out there,” he says candidly. After months of sifting through different suppliers, they encountered a factory that had been producing for generations the exact laces they had in mind. “We seek out companies that focus on making one thing really well and partner with them for the long-term,” adds Gabrielson.
Transparency is the final straw that Gabrielson credits in differentiating Oliver Cabell from others. Every product in the label’s catalogue provides a breakdown of the exact costs to produce, from the $26.04 leather on the Low 1 to the $3.96 packaging and $12.43 transit on the GAT sneaker. Oliver Cabell is one of the luxury brands that’s ushering in the concept of transparent pricing, citing the importance of being honest with consumers about the quality of their products and what exactly they’re paying for.
Gabrielson is a firm believer that every good idea begins with a problem – and his came in 2015 while visiting a high-end factory in Asia. “We saw cramped female workers earning $7 per day, gluing and sewing high-end leather goods and sneakers,” he recalls. “One of the bags, which the brand claimed to produce only in Italy, cost under $100 to make and sold for over $1,200 down the road. We knew there had to be a better way and set out with the lofty goal of creating an honest alternative.”
If you’re buying from high-end fashion houses and shelling out premium prices, you naturally assume that the products are five-star quality – but it’s often not. Most luxury brands mark up their products at least eight to ten times the actual cost of production. In order to make luxury more accessible, Gabrielson relies on these personal relationships with distinguished manufacturers and sells to customers directly. This model allows Oliver Cabell to minimize unnecessary costs while still offering superior quality. “We believe that everyone deserves to know the story behind the goods they buy, so we reveal it all,” Gabrielson says. “We partner with the best factories and visit them often. This hands-on approach is the most effective way to ensure a factory’s integrity.”
Gabrielson continues to build out the Oliver Cabell team with like-minded individuals, bringing together a shared passion for seeing things differently and challenging the status quo. “We believe good design is useful, innovative, honest, long-lasting and conscious of its environment,” he says. “Every product we create must live by these core values.” Applying this refreshing approach to the world of luxury goods, Oliver Cabell came out of nowhere to disrupt the premium footwear industry.
The story of Scott Gabrielson is about going against the grain. His road to the creation of Oliver Cabell may not have been orthodox, but he wouldn’t tell his younger self to change a thing. “Follow your gut,” he says firmly. “The dots may not connect at the time, but looking backwards they will.”