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Inside the Apparel Team at On with Tim Coppens

On’s apparel designer discusses how collaboration, product innovation and sustainability plays into the design approach at the Roger Federer-backed Swiss sportswear brand.
A designer dresses a model in a storage space
On apparel designer Tim Coppens with an employee, testing out a new product. (On )
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On was founded in 2010 by three Swiss friends, David Allemann, Olivier Bernhard and Caspar Coppetti, motivated by Bernhard’s inability to find the right running shoe for triathlons. Today, with a focus on Swiss-engineered technologies, including its distinctive, trademarked CloudTec cushioning sole, On has integrated technical innovation, performance and sustainability as the basis of its design process across its product range.

Over 13 years, the company has grown to more than 2,000 employees with 24 retail stores and offices in 8 countries. On raised over $700 million in its New York Stock Exchange debut in September 2021, with a valuation of $7.0 billion. By the time of the IPO, On had sold more than 17 million products globally. It has also caught the attention of luxury fashion, with a capsule launching with LVMH luxury house Loewe in 2022.

More recently, the company has extended into apparel and accessories lines alongside footwear, evolving into a premium brand that blends sportswear and everyday fashion. To grow the team and product offering in apparel, On hired Belgian designer Tim Coppens in 2022. An ANDAM and LVMH Prize finalist, Coppens worked for the likes of Adidas, Ralph Lauren and Under Armour before launching his namesake brand in 2011.

Now, BoF sits down with Coppens to better understand how the apparel team approaches its design practice, and how collaboration, product innovation and sustainability plays into On’s creative approach.

Tim Coppens, Head of Design at On.

What attracted you to the apparel designer role at On?

The Swiss engineering that you see in the shoes, this meticulously thought through design that makes our product feel so functional, is reflective of On’s DNA. That’s what attracted me to working at On in the first place. There’s an element of Swiss perfectionism and the location, the Alps, Swiss design — it inspires people here.

There is also something passionate about how we look at design, which is translated subtly through the colours and design lines. It feels premium and it’s something that really attracted me to what the brand is about. As we grow, the colour palette expands and the design language expands, but those roots remain.

How has On’s approach to footwear translated into the newly established apparel lines?

Functionality was already there in the footwear, so the interesting part is how we create that from the bottom up. After all, when you look at a person, you’re looking at a full silhouette. It’s thinking about how we can create these full looks that can then eventually propel themselves into a sportswear brand.

We look at what we’re doing for the athletes across our different categories and consider if there are things we can collaborate on, such as if there are techniques or materials that we can apply from the shoe design to apparel, taking visual cues that we can translate into graphics or even the way we work.

How do you work collaboratively across creative teams?

I work super hands-on with everybody and everything. As we grow the collections, there is exposure to numerous creative aspects and there needs to be, because the different collections and products need to link. On a weekly basis, we connect with other design teams to see how the colour palette develops, look at materials, and how we can create that full look and visual for the season that feels cohesive so that you and your footwear connect together.

For example, shooting a lookbook for a season, we all collaborate on that vision — the shoot for Winter 2024 was a team effort. We all look at how to translate our vision for the brand and for the season into something commercial. So you’re never designing in a little bubble — you see the entire vision.

I try to really engage everybody in my team as much as possible, not just in the designing of clothes, but also once a product is out, to see how it could look in a campaign, how it could come into the market. It’s important for me that you’re not continually designing a t-shirt or shorts or a jacket, but thinking about how this comes to market, which in turn gives me ideas and lets them be part of more of the creative process.

What role does sustainability play in the team’s creative process?

The innovation team is where sustainability really comes to life — they start with prototypes and look at commercialising and industrialising these on a larger scale to make sure that the sustainable approach is feasible. We are always looking to make our products better in that respect and what’s great about On is that we have the resources to do that internally — the people here have the resources and knowledge to create that particular recycled or special, sustainable material and upscale it.

I work super hands-on with everybody and everything. As we grow the collections, there is exposure to numerous creative aspects and there needs to be, because the different collections and products need to link.

When we start the season, we start with a concept and build these ideas around sustainability. When Olivier Bernhard, On’s co-founder, wanted to create the next level of running shoe intelligence, sustainability became a big part of that. We also have a Lightning Team, as we call it, who look at how we can improve performance through our products. They study what innovations are needed and how to translate these into a product that we’re bringing to the market.

How would you describe the culture and atmosphere of On as a workplace?

There is such focus at On — thinking about what’s next for us, creating a new and unique vision for the company. It’s also an international environment, with quite a few different cultures and people from different countries making up a growing team.

We are evolving On into a sportswear company, so we are not only known for footwear, but for a full look. We are creating a vision where products that started in one culture can also reflect a lifestyle for people who are active. For example, now, we produce activewear for tennis, which can be a lifestyle both on and off the court. It’s not solely about sports anymore.

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