” Iwas one of those people who left college with absolutely no idea about what I wanted to do,” says Adam Brown, the founder of the rapidly expanding men’s summer-wear brand Orlebar Brown. Launched in 2007, and based in London, the brand has created a niche market for itself by being the first to offer a tailored approach to men’s swim shorts which can be worn on the beach or by the pool, and yet is smart enough to be worn to a lunch or for a drink. The brand has recently opened its first store in The Dubai Mall offering a wide range of selections as well as its signature customization options.
Adam, who shared some of his life experiences with Signé on his latest visit to Dubai, is a living proof that believing in clichés like ‘following your dreams’ can, on occasions, bear rich dividends. After graduation, “I worked in the voluntary sector fundraising for UK charities,” he told Signé. But his passion for photography beckoned and he “worked as a photographer for seven years doing portraits for magazines, corporate, and private clients.” However, “when I was around 40 years old, I realised that I was never going to get the high-paying advertising jobs, so I began to look for what’s next.”
“The idea for Orlebar came to me in 2005 when I was invited to a friend’s 40th birthday in Rajasthan and I had to change for lunch. I realized that I didn’t want swim shorts, I wanted shorts that I can swim in.” – Adam Brown, Orlebar Brown founder
“I had this idea for two or three years prior but had never resolved to doing anything until that particular moment,” said Adam. For the next 18 months, Adam set about bringing his dream into reality.
“I first did a three day ‘start your own fashion business’ course where I learned about the seasons, sourcing, basic cash flow and all those elements to put a business together. Then I did a course at St. Martins just so I could map out a garment from which someone could make a pattern. I had no experience and no contacts, but I knew I had to find the right suppliers of fabric, zips, cardboard boxes and so on, and a factory that could make us the right pair of shorts; of the quality, fit and size that I was happy with.” Finally, “I had to get a website built.” The finance required for this venture was “forty thousand pounds from my savings, and from a mortgage against my flat.”
While some may call Adam’s game plan a very risky gamble, he feels he had hedged his bet. “I took the view that if nobody bought the shorts, I’d go and sell them at cost on a market stall and I’d get my money back. So, the risk was actually not that great.” But people did buy into his concept, repeatedly. “Once you have customers come back to you for a second pair then you start feeling confident about your idea.” The next big leap came when Selfridges of London began stocking Orlebar Brown. “I used to go and stand on the shop floor every Saturday and Sunday to meet and talk to the customers, to get their feedback. And it’s still true today; I read every mail from our customers.”
With Adam’s increasing confidence, came an ever-increasing and enviable list of stockists, an expansion into ready-to-wear and the first flagship store in Notting Hill. The store, a template for all future stores, is the epitome of all things Orlebar Brown; from the five-metre-high palm tree to the wall of Hero shorts, and the holiday feeling that is intrinsic to the brand.
Given that Orlebar Brown started as an online store, the brand has embraced technology like few others. “We went online first because that was the only option open to us. But I think going online set a precedent for us, and it has definitely influenced how we’re going to go forward. The feedback, for example, is instant online and you can change a particular product or a story if it isn’t selling.” Adam has also tapped into his passion for Photography and combined it with technology to provide a genuinely signature service.
The brand pioneered the use of photographic prints from Getty Images’ on their hero swim shorts. This service was expanded to offer customisation, whereby customers can have their beloved pictures printed on their shorts. Adam explained the process: “When a customer brings a photograph to the store for printing, it is uploaded onto an iPad where we make some basic adjustments before sending it to our design team for additional adjustments such as brightness, colour, placement of the image and so on. Once it is approved by the customer, the image is printed onto any of the shorts on offer and delivered in about six weeks.”
While technology undoubtedly has its benefits, it has also given rise to a new class of consumers who are not particularly known for their brand loyalty. Orlebar Brown, however, is in an enviable position. “65 per cent of our customers come back every year. And that’s not specific to the U.K. or U.S., that’s across the board.” This is because “men shop in a way that is different from women. Once men find a style that works for them, they will come back time and time again, but they always want newness in fabric or some other detail. We have also shown that even though our typical customer, the 35 to 50-year-old man, is not traditionally thought to shop online, is definitely shopping online and is also repeatedly buying online.”
Thanks to these loyal customers, the brand has grown impressively. Growth always comes with expansion and diversification which can dilute or confuse a brand’s identity. “There are two ways of looking at our brand. You either look at us as a product-led brand that does marketing, or you can think of us as an experience type of brand that makes products. I think the second one gives us way more opportunities going forward.” These opportunities include “art, music, and photography events which fits our brand’s ethos while giving the customers an emotional attachment” to the brand.
“We are exploring the kinds of places where Orlebar Brown can interact with its customer. Given our brand identity, the beach or by a pool with music, cocktails, friends, family and laughter is an obvious choice. But we are not a big party central type of brand,” explains Adam.
Loyalists of the brand in the Middle-East region and Dubai, in particular, can look forward to not only a more engaging experience with Orlebar Brown but also improved services; given its importance to the brand. Dubai “is our biggest market in this area. We’ve just opened our first outlet, and so the potential for growth is huge. Web deliveries to Dubai are in the top 15, and that’s without a solid delivery proposition. Over the next 12 months, we’re looking at same-day delivery and other services that people are used to here. And of course, we’ve got a fantastic partner with Seddiqi & Sons’ Mizzen giving us a lot of support.“