SUCCESS STORY: Once upon a time, there was Orla Kiely

Orla Kiely - Presentation - LFW FW15

Source: Getty Images EntertainmentTristan Fewings

From mugs to handbags and wallpapers to dresses, print pro, Orla Kiely has developed a brand that seems to have no bounds.  Her use of pattern, colour and 60s influences has taken the design world by storm, and she’s become an iconic figure for a period we all still all love to remember.

Beginning her fashion journey, with a Textiles Degree, Kiely’s first taste of fashion industry was in no other than the Big Apple – New-York, where she used her unique talents for pattern creation whilst working for a wallpaper and fabric designer.  Returning to England, she worked for Esprit while studying for her Masters, primarily in knitwear.  It was her exit show at the Royal College of Art in London that gave her her first break, seeing her collection of hats purchased by Luxury London Fashion giant, Harrods.  She went on to design for various other companies, including both Marks & Spencers and Habitat.

Kiely had so far done so well off the back of her hat designs, but during her first Fashion Week show, her father noted that whilst no one was wearing a hat, nearly everyone carried a handbag.  It was this that sparked the inspiration for her next step in fashion design.  Staying loyal to her love of the 60s era, she had the idea to laminate cloth for handbags – something that had never been done before.  These retro creations took off immediately and with the help and support from her husband, things fell into place and she formed The Orla Kiely Partnership in 1997.

Not just a Fashion Designer, but a brand in her own right, she has since been named ‘The Queen of Prints’, designing patterns for kitchenware, stationary, furniture, wallpaper, a range of Citroën DS3 Cars.  Kiely has also had several collaboration collections with English shoe giant, Clarks.  Alongside this, her own fashion brand has continued to grow year on year, having now branched out to include an accessories collection.

So now we’ve heard her Success Story, let’s put it into practise and analyse how she flourished in an industry that can be so challenging to break into.

Iconic Design

From day one, Kiely’s products – whether sheets, mugs or shoes – have been instantly recognisable.  Rather than jumping on the next new trend, she has stayed true to her own influences and inspirations, allowing her designs to be cohesive and stand out in a world of similar styles.  Whilst trend-following and having changing influences may work for certain designers, creating a timeless brand such of that as Chanel requires links between collections and distinguishable features, such as the gold, link binding, or in Orla Kiely’s case, her bold, 60s leaf prints.

Appropriate Product Placement

Whilst connecting and gaining buyers as a new designer can be extremely difficult, it doesn’t mean you should lower your standards or agree to product placement you think is a bad fit.  The Orla Kiely brand is quintessentially 60s, which, although being an era fashionable amongst young people, is mostly recognisable to those who lived through the time.  By breaking into places like Marks & Spencers and John Lewis, her products were displayed in front of the people most likely to make a connection with them, and therefore buy them.

Market Research

Perhaps the most pivotal point of Orla Kiely’s career came with her father’s evaluation of the Market. While Orla had success with her hats, the market was limited, and so were, therefore, her chances of growth.  By opting to design handbags – an accessory that was much more in demand – she opened up her opportunities of selling to a much wider audience.  While it’s key to have unique and eye-catching designs, as a new designer, it’s also important to compel people to try your products. By providing her customers with a product they were much more familiar and comfortable with, she was able to get people on board with her brand.

Attitude & Determination

“Be confident in yourself”; “Have your own opinion”; “Always finish what you started” are just some of the quotes written on the walls of Kiely’s office.  In a world where fashion is often interpreted as glitz and glam, Kiely’s understated and simple creations must have been, at times, hard to believe in.  However, it was arguably their uniqueness which set them out from the crowd.  By never faltering on her style or inspirations and staying true to herself, she was able to create a brand that not just herself, but other people believed in.

by Stephanie Cvetkovic for Fashion Cross Functional

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