Interview With Niklas Oppermann, Co-Founder of Luxury Retailer Carl Friedrik

You’re born in Sweden but have made London your home — what drew you to the city?

My brother and I grew up in a small town in Sweden. Our parents were German, so we went there every year on holiday to visit family. As such, we always felt there was more to explore than what we had experienced in Sweden. This curiosity drove us to move abroad. Naturally, living in a small town made us want to go to cities — places with opportunities and energy. I first moved to Shanghai before settling in London.

Where did you work before founding Carl Friedrik?

After studying business at university, I took supply-chain and finance internships. International sourcing in Shanghai was a highlight. The issues and topics of the corporate world intrigued me, but I wanted to have a clear and tangible impact: to create something of my own.

What are your most proud moments?

Carl Friedrik’s first online order stands out. A moment of vindication for all the hard work. Hearing that customers prefer our bags to those of established competitor brands in the sector always makes me proud. Or, if they’ve been complimented by a passing stranger in the street.

But in all honesty — and at the risk of sounding pompous — I try not to dwell too much on achievements and always look forward.

What do you get up to in your spare time?

Adventure and endurance sports mainly. Whenever I’m in Sweden I try to spend as much time as possible cross-country skiing. In London, I cycle quite a lot — the ride to work in the morning is a highlight of my day. And then also some hiking and climbing when I’m in the countryside. Outside of sport, I’m trying to spend more time reading.

Favourite spots in London?

Hampstead Pergola — a secret garden — is one of London’s hidden treasures. It dates back to the turn of the 20th century when it was used for elaborate Edwardian garden parties. It’s essentially a secluded walkway that overlooks wild gardens. The antiquated architecture is overgrown with ivy, plants and exotic flowers.

I’m a big foodie and London has so many different cuisines to offer. The team often goes out for lunch together when we’re in the office, with Middle Eastern, Italian and anything else you could want just a short walk away. Ozone Shoreditch is a great little coffee shop-turned-eatery at night that sticks in my mind.

Read anything recently that you’d recommend?

Into the Woods by John Yorke. We read stories and watch films every day, and this book explores how they all follow a very clear-cut narrative. Read it if you want to understand how stories are built. Afterwards, you won’t be able to watch a film in the same way again — especially a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster — because the structure and plot developments will be so glaringly obvious to you.

Luxury leather goods is a somewhat niche industry — how and why did you get into it?

I’d planned on gifting my brother and co-founder, Mattis, a high-quality, well-constructed laptop case with a pared-back look. But there was nothing on the market. It was either cheap and low-quality, or expensive and gaudy. After returning the gift we started to realise there was a gap in the market. If it doesn’t exist, make it? So we started thinking and doing, and eventually, Carl Friedrik [formerly Oppermann London] was born.

Describe Carl Friedrik’s design ethos?

Modern design and functionality with a hint of heritage. This comes from the traditional, natural materials and time-honoured production methods we embrace.

Or think of a vintage briefcase brought into the modern world — fine-tuned for 21st-century living but without losing its timeless qualities.

Carl Friedrik’s aesthetic revolves around clean shapes and minimalist (modern) designs, paired with thick and durable materials that hark back to a time when a wallet or briefcase really did last a lifetime — and become a kind of family heirloom.

Do you have a favourite Carl Friedrik product?

We recently released The Carry-on pro, our second cabin suitcase. I think it’s the quintessential example of our design ethos in practice.

It takes inspiration from vintage suitcases and aviation, with an aluminium lock frame, aviation rivets and stripes. But the polycarbonate shell and portable battery charger make it distinctly modern in form and function, as well. And there’s also a unique integrated hard-shell front pocket, offering quick access to your laptop and travel essentials. Certainly a suitcase for the digital nomads out there.

What goals do you have for the brand?

To be the first choice accessories brand for modern professionals in the 25-45 bracket. So if somebody wakes up one day and decides they need a new briefcase, a Carl Friedrik briefcase is their ideal option.

What are you doing for sustainability?

We exclusively work with vegetable-tanned leather. Only natural, organic substances are used in the production of this type of leather. Meaning that vegetable-tanned leather goods will naturally biodegrade over time.

The alternative is chrome-tanned leather, which uses toxic chemicals in the production process. Chrome tanning poses a genuine risk to eco-sustainability, particularly from the dumping of chemical by-products that can toxify rivers with carcinogens, kill wildlife and render agricultural land unsuitable for farming.

We also try to promote sustainable fashion by shunning seasonal collections, instead choosing to continually refine our products based on customer feedback.

Global demand for vegan leather is growing — are you planning on getting in on the action?

It’s a development that we’re aware of, but in terms of quality, vegan leather doesn’t possess the durability and visual presence of vegetable-tanned leather yet. However, there are strides being made with vegan leather all the time and it’s certainly an area we’re considering moving into in the future.

What differentiates CF from other luxury leather brands?

The difference is that we’re a heritage leather goods brand founded in this century and tailored towards modern living.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs who are building their businesses?

Make sure you have the drive because you will need it. Perseverance is key. If you have that and always keep pushing, the long hours will always be worth it.

Do you have any business role models?

Definitely Scott Galloway [Professor of Marketing, public speaker, author]. He’s that rare package of success, intelligence, humour and humility.

This is quite a left-field choice — and he’s certainly not synonymous with business — but Isambard Kingdom Brunel has always been a big influence on me. A father figure of the Industrial Revolution who achieved many engineering firsts. At Carl Friedrik, we certainly try to adopt his solution-focused approach to design.