British resort wear and lifestyle brand Orlebar Brown has quite the story. Its founder Adam Brown, while on holiday in Rajasthan lounging by the pool in his swim shorts and slightly peeved having to change for lunch, thought to develop a “transitional item”, if you will, which one can swim in but also wear to places that require a dress code.
He went on to design a tailored swim short based on the traditional pattern of a pair of men’s trousers, which you can just as well wear frolicking on the beaches of Saint-Tropez, or at one of New York’s swankiest establishments. Brown chats with us about his lightbulb moment, his design philosophy, his recent collaboration with IWC, and what excites him most about running a business. And to hopeful entrepreneurs out there, he offers his pearls of wisdom.
The lightbulb moment for Orlebar Brown came while I was on holiday and I had to change for lunch. I was wearing swim shorts and was asked to go and change to get into the restaurant, and that’s where the idea of a tailored swim shorts came from. All of our products, although instinctively about holidays, can also be worn on many other functions around a holiday.
It was really fun. It started with an email and as an introduction and went on as a ‘get to know you’ phase with CEO Chris Granger and Christian Knoop at IWC. I think the important part of any collaboration is that it’s fun and obviously having a shared DNA and values, the two brands come from the same place. The creative process involved meetings, phone calls, emails and a lot of throwing ideas around; it was really a true collaboration. It was very important to me that we both contributed to the watch and the design of the collection. It was very much a collaborative process.
It’s very different from any capsule collection we’ve done before because it’s high resort, the watch is called the Portugieser Yacht Club Chronograph Edition “Orlebar Brown” so it gave us a clear direction as to what the product would look like. That elegance, that refinement, the approach to tailoring, the attention to detail, many of the key factors Orlebar Brown has had in its collection for quite a while. So just putting the towelling fabric into a blazer, for instance, the trim details, the weight of the jerseys and using the finest of linen, things like the gold side fasteners on the trousers and other touches like that. It is different because of the lifestyle it was epitomising. When you do collaborations, the idea is to take Orlebar Brown into a place where it doesn’t traditionally exist.
I always ask myself – where are people wearing Orlebar Brown on their holidays? What are the things they might be doing, what is the type of lifestyle they’re experiencing? The philosophy really is to have a personality, it has to have a real relationship with the user, thinking about how the customer wants to wear it and not just producing a rail of clothes. This whole idea of versatility is important, looking at things from different angles and really thinking about it rather than it being about one specific place or activity. It also has to be about quality and integrity, building trust with the customer. Once you lose that trust with the customer, it is very difficult to get it back. There’s also the thing about use, function and quality. All those things come together to form a design philosophy.
When I launched the brand, swim or holiday wear for men wasn’t a category. With Orlebar Brown, we design swim shorts and build clothes around it, and I’m really proud that Orlebar Brown has helped create a totally new category within men’s wear. There’s always been tailoring, there’s always been work wear, sports wear and weekend wear, but this whole concept of holiday clothes – those you wear to go to these fabulous places and do wonderful things – is completely new. The landscape has changed so much from that time. When we started, I felt like we were very much the only players in that field and now it’s an established men’s category.
Focus and know what you want to do. Do one thing really well, and not to try and do too many things and too early. Become the hero of one thing. If I was starting a business again, I would always think about what I wanted the business to grow into, what I wanted to personally get from the business, what was the lifestyle I wanted and how I wanted it to work. Don’t just produce a rail of clothes and think the customer is going to understand it.
Another advice I would give is learn to say ‘no’ to things. When you have a blank piece of paper and starting a new business, everything is an opportunity but sometimes they can distract you and take you away from what you actually set out to do. If you have mapped out what you want the business to be in 5-10 years’ time, then everything you say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to should contribute to that end goal. Stay focused on what you’re good at.
I’m not a business person, I think the bit that I love is the story-telling. It’s anything the customer sees, touches or smells, reads and listens to. For me, the product is obviously central but the bit that is really fun is bringing that emotional thing about a brand alive.
I’m not a numbers person. I’m not someone you can put into a finance or logistics meeting or a warehousing meeting. Those are things I don’t really understand but I think having someone in the business where they are always thinking about what the customer wants to listen to, hear about, see, and experience is the bit I really enjoy. If you’re trying to build a brand, it has to start from that.
Continue growing. Orlebar Brown has barely started. There’s so much opportunities and categories to explore like skincare, luggages, travel accessories? I’m starting to think about those. Also geographically, new territories. America is increasingly important to us, as is the Middle East. We haven’t started South America, or the Far East.
There’s just so much more to bringing Orlebar Brown alive through the product, through different categories and different lifestyles and geographically. Obviously, post-COVID and what we have been going through recently, and really thinking about how, as a brand, we engage with people, how they want to shop, that’s the big on-going challenge, as well excitement and avenues for opportunity.