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Close-Up Preview: Q&A with Adam Brown, founder of Orlebar Brown

Drapers gives you an exclusive sneak-peek of our Close-Up interview Adam Brown, founder of premium swim and resort wear brand Orlebar Brown, ahead of the full interview in this weekend’s edition.

What was the inspiration behind the brand?  The key message is from beach to bar; so that transitional product. The brand is also inspired by tailoring. The shorts are based around a 17-piece traditional pattern for a pair of trousers. So you have a four-part waist-band, you have the suit side-fastener, the zip-back pocket, the front pocket, the darts at the back, the zip fly, not velcro, and we don’t have elasticated waists. So we’re a short you can swim in but also wear throughout the day. Whereas most polo shirts have a ribbed collar and sleeve details, our polo shirts have a two-part shirt collar like a traditional shirt and then have a collar reference on the sleeve with a button to reference the cuff. So whether it’s from beach to bar, work to play, home to hotel, sun lounger to sun downer, any Orlebar Brown product should be able to work and have a dual purpose.

You have an impressive list of wholesale accounts from Selfridges to Harrods. What sort of retailer are you looking to work with? I think wholesale, as well as being a source of revenue stream, is a brand building opportunity and because of that I looked at all the wholesale stockists as being partners. You need to be able to work together on all sorts of levels, not just building their business, but ours. It’s got to be mutually compatible. So we never approached it as just getting every order in that we can, and we’ve been quite strategic.

How are the brand’s sales split wholesale vs. retail?It’s about 45% wholesale. However, we started online and I think the website continues to be that really important place where when you’re a small company it enables you to communicate the visual and written tone of the brand. We’ve got five people who work on the ecommerce side of the business and it’s really about keeping it looking fresh through images and through content. Today, 30% of our sales are through the website. It’s a healthy balance which I think works well.

You have three London stores too. Are you looking for more locations?I think bricks and mortar has to be part of the bigger plan. Like the website, retail is another place where customers can come in and understand what the brand is about. They can come in and try it, feel it, touch it, talk to the staff, learn about what the brand is about. It’s a great place to acquire future customers, not just purely as an income stream.

What have been the key challenges? I think operational side and putting a structure in place to ensure that the logistics and production run smoothly, getting product to the customer, all that sort of thing. The actual selling and development of the product isn’t too difficult, the operations bit of the business and actually getting it structured in the way that it works, and working to a critical path to meet seasons, to meet drops, to plan, to forecast, to merchandise, to build the range, all those steps are needed to get the product ready is definitely a challenge organisationally.

Where is the product manufactured? We originally had a factory in North London which we still work with, but we mainly produce in Portugal now. Everything is European sourced and manufactured and the only thing that is manufactured in the Far East is the draw-string bags. So the fabrics are French, and the hardware is Italian, for example.

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