People in design: Dan Cooper, seasonal buyer at John Lewis

The seasonal buyer at John Lewis talks about what it’s like working on Christmas all year, finding time to blog about his love of gardening and how he comes up with new ideas

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Describe a typical day?

In the summer I get up just after six so I have time to water and do a few jobs in the garden before work. I also reply to comments and questions on my blog, The Frustrated Gardener. I am in the office in Victoria, London, before 8am and most days I have meetings back to back with my team, suppliers, the design studio and marketing teams.

That said, no day is ever alike. My favourite days are when I can really get stuck into developing product. I’ll get home around 7.30pm, so if I am lucky I’ll get an hour in the garden with a gin and tonic to wind down. In the in the winter I rarely see daylight!

What do you love most about your job?

The freedom and the people I work with. Within a big organisation like John Lewis, buying is a very liberated job and buyers are encouraged to be innovative, adventurous and entrepreneurial, I think that’s how we stay ahead of the game.

I started out at Heelas (now John Lewis Reading) in 1996, working in the dress fabrics department. My job was to sell paper patterns, about which I knew nothing! My big break came when I was promoted to a trainee in the Christmas Shop and then to manager of food gifts. Little did I know that almost 20 years later I’d be buying across both areas.


Dan’s dream gift is the John Lewis Christmas Treasure Chest, £1,000

What’s been your best achievement so far in your career?

Getting this job! I’d always hankered after it. I never believed I would land it one day.

Do you travel with work?

This year, I have travelled around Eastern Europe and Asia. I don’t generally get to go sight-seeing or take time out on buying trips, but Vietnam, India and Hong Kong are my favourite places to work, for the people and the food. I eat whatever I am presented, so have encountered some fairly unusual dishes!

What inspires you to come up with new design ideas?

When I have time, I push myself to read new books and visit new places and I follow a lot of design blogs. These often give me the seeds, which grow into new ideas.

For John Lewis’ Christmas collections, my team and I start working on trends with the design team about 18 months before the season launches in shops. Some trends are inspired by what we are doing with the rest of the home design teams and their latest collections, as fundamentally, the Christmas decorations need to layer on top of what’s going on in our customers’ homes. Other trends might be inspired by fashion and some are pure whimsy — looks we’d like to explore as a team to see if they could work.

The best part is that there are very few rules with Christmas, and because we develop our own products with suppliers, we can achieve almost anything.

Why did you start your blog, The Frustrated Gardener?

As I get older I have a real fear of getting left behind technologically, so I started the blog simply to see what blogging was all about. Now it’s like another full time job and has over a thousand followers.

What’s your top tip for keeping the garden looking great through winter?

I have a home in Highgate, North London, and another by the sea in Broadstairs, Kent. I am lucky in Broadstairs as the garden doesn’t suffer a great deal of frost, so most plants sail through the winter unscathed. For winter, a good backbone of evergreen planting is essential to combat that empty look that some gardens take on — but too many can look melancholic, so getting the balance and mix right is key. I always plant thousands of bulbs each autumn which start flowering from December onwards, to welcome the new year in, and to bring some colour through the cold, dark months.

Do you go for Christmas décor, such as lights, in the garden?

I only allow soft white pea lights. No brash cold white, multi-coloured or flashing lights are allowed in my garden! I do plant lots of bowls and pots with white cyclamen, but prefer to keep the garden looking quite restrained.


How do you like to relax?

My Partner would tell you that I don’t really do relaxation! I like a good walk and working in the garden to unwind, but can’t sit down for five minutes, especially if I can see a job that needs doing. The only time I truly relax is when I am on holiday, away from home and then only after a good 10 days.