We sat down with the grandson of one of Britain’s most iconic inventors of the 20th century – Charlie Cooper, grandson of the John Cooper, inventor of the Mini Cooper car. There are very few products that hold that level of design credential. So we wanted to know, how the hell do you live up to such a maverick heritage?
Instead of shying away from it, Charlie has decided to take that legacy and use it to create a new venture of his own with the already established brand, Cooper Bikes. Having quit his job to give 100% of his time to the new project, there are grand plans of how he’s going to take the Cooper brand and pioneer the way forward in urban transportation; whilst staying true to the family values–that “Cooper” is synonymous with creating something iconic.
What is an Iconic Brand?
John Cooper back in the 50s and 60s designed Formula 1 world championship winning cars, was the first to build his racing cars with rear engines and then created a car so beloved it has featured in many blockbuster films over the last 40 years, and is globally identifiable. Some brand legacy to live up to.
We begin by asking Charlie if he believes it’s still possible to create such an icon as the Mini Cooper? Especially in the modern world of bikes?
“It is difficult to have original ideas, because if you come up with an idea for, say, an app for example, the likelihood is that someone else has already come up with it. So the way you stand out is by executing it a bit better. It’s a really interesting time for design, and the ultimate design is something that works brilliantly but that is also beautiful”
When you look at the plethora of products that are available to us today, quite often consumers are bombarded and find it hard to make decisions. Just deciding which comparison website to use to navigate the waves of marketing jargon can be mind-numbingly dull. When did buying things become so complex and joyless?
We talk about products today compared to those made a few decades ago. Charlie harks about current design: “It’s not very often a car comes out that people start talking about and say “wow”. Whereas when you think about the Mini, when that first came out in the 60’s there was nothing like it at all. Even now in Formula 1 there are not many eureka moments like putting the engine in the back of a car. When my grandad did that people were like, bloody hell that’s crazy”.
The New Entrepreneurs
It’s the analogue versus digital era; the entrepreneurs of today versus yesteryear. How many twenty-somethings have the buzzwords: entrepreneur, startup, founder in their social media bios, grappling for followers to sell their “personal brand”?
“Entrepreneurs didn’t really exist as much back then as they do today. And nowadays many people like to claim they’re an entrepreneur, but you’re not an entrepreneur until you’ve actually made it” Charlie quips.
Charlie’s ambition is to reinvigorate the Cooper Bikes brand, with the aim of helping revolutionise urban transportation. Which he believes the bike is firmly the future of; but to do it with true British elegance and class: “In terms of beautiful design and actually pushing the boundaries, it’s almost like the very beauty of craft engineering is being lost, which you can keep and work on with bikes.”
The venture will mainly be focussed around e-bikes and how they can be a part of the ever complicated process of city planning. Anyone who commutes on a regular basis through urban metropolises will know there’s a lot going on. Striking a happy balance between everyone teeters on the line of impossible, so if by developing a new urban e-bike gives commuters a different option that’s surely a good thing. Although creating something that upholds and is sympathetic to elegant iconic design will be just as much a challenge, but Charlie is energized by the task ahead.
Travelling with a Style Icon
As we change scenery, it’s the moment we’ve been waiting for, we step out onto a Westminster street. The fire engine red, classic Mk 2 Mini draws your eye instantaneously, along with a smile. As we sit inside and start hurtling down the Mall the smile widens, it’s fun, so much fun. This charming little car tells you not to take life too seriously. Charlie recounts his journey up from Sussex that day: “If I had just driven up in my normal car I would have been thinking, god it’s rubbish driving into London, but every moment in the Mini Cooper Classic is really fun. It’s the look of it, it’s how it drives and I think there is a bit of that in bikes. Bike companies can be so serious, we need more fun”.
If there’s one heritage trait of Cooper that Charlie can take forward into his new bike venture, it’s to guarantee that along with classic design, the bike reminds people about having fun. Our previous generations of the 60s, 70s and 80s bought this little car to hit the road and explore. They didn’t need a comparison website to tell them that by buying this car they were going to have a good time, the design spoke loudly for itself.
Actions Speak Louder Than Words
When it comes to business and taking things forward what was some of the best advice your grandfather gave?
“One thing he used to say was that he hated talking about things too long, he used to say: “If you’ve got an idea just bloody go do it”.” Charlie smiles, it’s solid advice.
After working for many renowned brands, one being Rapha, it’s clear Charlie requires autonomy back in his business life, and taking Cooper Bikes into the next generation is fitting. He describes being tired of playing out someone else’s ultimate ideas, but at the same time is grateful for inspirational characters he’s met along the way.
Driving around in that little car, people watching, pointing and taking photos, even chatting to us about it in the pub afterwards, it shows what great design can mean to people. It conjures images of youth, of exhilaration and freedom. It gives us a nudge to the ribs reminding us not to take life too seriously; that to have class doesn’t require a hefty price tag.
And that a legacy such as the name Cooper shouldn’t cause intimidation, it should be used to breathe life into the new; inspiration to pioneer your own way and invent the next icon. And with a bit of luck, in 50 years time, whatever he has invented will stir the same feeling of connectivity over a pint in the pub as that fire engine red Mini. That he will have made something that gave people fun.
For more info about Cooper Bikes head to: cooperbikes.com