Orla’s advice for business success:
1.“In addition to passion and belief, to be a do-er is a really good thing. Not to be someone who is a thinker but to actually do it. You also need to be a finisher. So many people start things but they don’t know how to follow through and finish it and I think that’s really important. Teach your children the process where to start and how to finish.”
2. “As a designer you make what you like. I designed products with prints and fabrics that I thought were nice. You have to absolutely be yourself to have integrity.”
3. Attending trade fairs was vital when they started up. ‘Invite as many people as you can to see your stand.’
4. “We thought big but acted small. Keeping fixed costs under control was paramount. Also who you form your partnerships with is vital. Our first partner was with a factory who were making a line for Burberry but eventually we persuaded them to work with us. From that we could draw on their 30/40 years in the business. Your relationship with suppliers, manufacturers and bankers is key. We’ve got through 4 banks to get to where we are now.
Describing herself as ‘a very creative child’, Orla got her first sewing machine at the age of 12 and she knew then that she wanted to do fashion. She discovered textiles when attending art college in Dublin she discovered textiles. She left Ireland in late eighties and worked at Esprit in Germany as a print designer for 4 years. She then completed an MA at the Royal College of Art.
Her business life began in Canada where she started a ‘tiny’ business with her husband Dermot Rowan. She made hats and bags. Not many people wore hats so bags ‘proved the way to go.’
They moved back to London and decided to commit to the business but to keep the money coming in she freelanced at Marks & Spencer doing the design work at weekends. Their first office was their flat. Their stairwell was the warehouse. They eventually got a room in a business centre. The moment she did her first prints, everything started to ‘move and fly. That was the way we could differentiate ourselves from everybody else.”
From that small start, Orla Kiely products are now in 34 countries and in China they are discussing 7 outlets in one city.