Monday, 2 August 2010

An interview with Adam Brown, Founder of Orlebar Brown

the first time i met adam was around august/september last year. i visited their offices in west london, not really knowing what to expect. it was a small corner in an office building, but the energy and vibe was very positive. adam saw a gap in the market for luxurious yet understated swim wear for men, and decided to give up his job as a photographer to pursue this opportunity. he started orlebar brown in march 2007, and the company is growing at an enviable rate. despite the shaky economic conditions for retailing, his sales have trebled this year. i am really drawn to individuals with that unique vision, that passion and believe in their product. it is with great pleasure that adam very kindly obliged to this interview, to let us know more about orlebar brown.
[00o00] for readers who are not familiar, can you give us a brief introduction to orlebar brown?
[ab] based in london, orlebar brown launched in march 2007 as a more tailored approach to mens beach and swim shorts. we are not so much a swim short but a ‘short you can swim in’ – if that makes sense? something you can wear on the beach, by the pool and then smart enough to go and have a drink or lunch.

orlebar brown campaign 2010 /

high end swimwear is quite a niche market, especially for men. how did you know this is the right business for you?
it really was one of those things that i stumbled across by accident. i was a photographer in london and went to a friend's 40th in rajasthan. most of my friends tend to work in design or certainly have a visual sense about them. although not a terribly vain bunch, they certainly care about how they look. it was a real mix of married, single, gay, straight, 25 - 55 years old and it was just one of those moments where (maybe with a slightly too critical photographers' eye), i thought the women looked great and the men looked pretty ghastly. they were all just wearing these horrid brightly patterned boxer shorts with elasticated waistbands, or baggy board shorts with their bums hanging out - which is fine on a 17 year old, but not so sure on a man over the age of 30/35.

after some initial market research, sourcing, getting the website made, the logo designed etc, i got 1,000 pairs of shorts made and just started selling them from my spare room. i was ready for a change, and essentially, it was the right idea for me at the right time.

orlebar brown shorts. from left: the setter, the shorter shorts which is a take on the 1950s style swim shorts, the bulldog which is a 'bridge' short, less baggy than traditional beach shorts, less revealing but no less stylish. the bulldog is my personal favourite, i have a pair in bright red. the dane, longer length surf shorts which allow us to feel great in the surf and look smart out of it.

orlebar brown
shorts are all named after dogs - setter, bulldog, dane. any story behind it?
rather sadly, i do love dogs and have 3 mutts myself. two affenpinschers (arthur and rudi) and a 15 year old jack russell called bunny. as a photographer, i used to do (people) portraits for a range of clients. one day i was asked to photograph someone’s dog and it just worked. i really felt the pictures captured the character of this animal. it was far easier than people - as they could not mask what they were thinking or feeling - whether they were loving it, bored or hating etc.
there are more and more entrants into the luxury/high end swim wear sector, which is a good thing as they agree on the potential in this area. with a lot more fashion houses developing sports and swimwear lines, how does orlebar brown sets itself apart from it's competitors?
it is true, so many more brands and fashion houses are focusing on swimshorts. however, what i find is that nearly all of them have a very particular customer in mind and only target them - whether it is the older man sailing in capri, the gay boy in mykonos or the surfer on bondi. one of our main criteria when thinking about styles, fit or colours is that they should not be age or place specific. all our shorts should look equally good either on a yacht in st tropez, surfing in cornwall or at the blue marlin in ibiza. so much of swimwear seems to either appeal to just the gay or straight man. none of it ever seems to try and bridge the two. it is either overtly gay or just a bit boring. i really want orlebar brown to appeal to all types of style aficionados.

orlebar brown shorts are largely associated with sun, sea and sand: summery in nature. besides updating of colours, how do you make the collections seasonal and fresh year on year?
you would think this is a real challenge but when you are involved in it day in day out the ideas just keep on coming. we have folders of ideas we are waiting to put into production. editing all the ideas is far more of a problem. we have just launched OB sport which is our slightly more relaxed fit shorts in a performance fabric which is ideal for the gym or running etc. that is just the tip of the iceberg - the possibilities are endless.

orlebar brown special edition for 2010: navy setter shorts with gold tone fastener and zip.

2009/2010 has been a tough year for most retailers. in passive economic times, how do you convince someone to spend upwards of £100 on a pair of swim shorts? what challenges did you face in this economic climate?
yes i would be the first to admit our shorts are not cheap, but i would argue that we offer value for money and we are also very comparable to most of our direct competitors. of course it has been difficult this year for nearly everyone on the economic front - but i think that as people cut back on their spending, they are becoming much more canny. quality really speaks when times are hard. our shorts are all european made, either in the UK or portugal. the fabric is french, all the zips etc are from italy. we really try to source the best and oversee all the manufacturing very closely.

also we are a tailored product - there are 20 parts to the pattern and as a result they are not a simple item to make. this is reflected in the price. the shorts are ‘a bridge’ item that can we worn on and off the beach. again they have a dual role, that is a key message for us.

orlebar brown products are now sold in some of the best stores in the world: harrods in london, barneys in new york, some of the amazing spas and resorts in europe. alongside them, some of the best online shopping sites, including how important is the availability of your products online? can you give us an indication of what percentage of revenue is driven by online sales?
the whole online movement has been absolutely vital to our business. not only with our own website but also through the support of other great sites such as i am rather embarrassed to admit that in my original business plan i estimated we would only sell 50 pairs of shorts online in our first year. i think we exceeded that in the first week and have really never looked back. the power of the net is incredible. the average order on our website is 2 pairs of shorts and our repeat customer count is very high. currently in monetary value, online is about 50% of our business.

orlebar brown is very active on the social media scene. there are constant updates and contests on your facebook and twitter pages, interaction with your customers by inviting them to submit their holiday snaps. how has that worked for you?
this is a difficult admission - i am not a natural on the social media front. i don’t really use facebook or twitter for my own personal use. but again, just like the internet/online business, i have been amazed at how useful and fun it has been for orlebar brown. sebastian, in the OB office loves all this sort of thing and is totally responsible for updating the pages and keeping it interesting. it is not just through social media that we have benefitted, the whole blog/blogger experience has been a steep learning curve. the move from just off-line PR to use both off-line and on-line formats has been extraordinary. it is now fundamental to the whole marketing mix.

orlebar brown adam long sleeve polo and orlebar brown x bill amberg duffel bag

the product range has expanded over the years, with the introduction of orlebar brown beach shirts and duffle bags. can you give us a hint of what is to come next?
when i launched orlebar brown, we very much focused on the classic range. the tailored approach to beach and swim shorts. for 2011 we are starting to expand on that story. the idea really is to build orlebar brown from just a swim short brand into a ‘resort wear’ brand of choice for men and women. we started this by launching OB Sport, OB women and the shirts. yes, lots more to come.

orlebar brown collaborations: 1. bill amberg 2. swami 3. eley kishimoto, launching in 2011 4. monocle magazine.

orlebar brown loves collaborations: with swami, monocle, bill amberg, eley kishimoto. what are your thoughts on collaborations? can you give us a hint of who you will be collaborating with next?
yes i think collaborations have a place but should never overtake your core message or product. we have had great success with the few we have done but are very aware not to let them detract from our main collection. the problem is how do you make collaborations interesting? i think it has to have a reason rather then just doing it for the sake of it. take the brand/product offering to a different place than it would otherwise have gone. enable you to see the product in another way. i thought the jimmy choo/hunter collaboration earlier this year was genius.

for next year, we have the eley kishimoto print which is great for us, and i think it gives a completely different take on how orlebar brown shorts can look. also we are just finalising an agreement to use a graphic designer/artists work from the 60/70’s on our shorts. not confirmed yet but think it is going to happen. watch this space!
on a lighter note, planned any holidays this year? which pair of orlebar brown shorts will you bring?
i am off to north cornwall to go surfing next month - then to mykonos for a week. was in st. tropez for a weekend last month which was fabulous in a way it only knows. for each holiday it will be the bulldog shorts. love them, so versatile. the only pair of shorts you need to pack for any holiday.
who would you like to see wearing a pair of orlebar brown shorts: james bond emerges from the beach in a pair of OB bulldog, or cristiano ronaldo lounging by the pool in a tinier pair of OB setters?
either. i think we most probably traditionally err towards the james bond ethos of classic beachwear - but i would be pretty happy if cristiano ronaldo was wearing the OB Setter as well. this is a great example of what i was talking about one style working for different groups of people. i definitely think james bond would have worn the setter shorts: short, classic and tailored.
is there a designer that you really admire?

thom browne - love his take on tailoring, fabrics and detail. shirts fit like a dream, not restricted by conventions and makes things i want to wear. it always make me think about stuff when i see what he does.
lastly, can you recommend a drink for the glorious summer by the beach?
huge glass of italian rose stuffed with ice, or belvedere vodka: ice, 2 parts soda and a slice of orange!

orlebar brown shorts /

on a concluding note, a big thank you to adam who took the time and effort to answer the questions. when i visited them last year, i really didn't know what to expect from the business. i asked myself if there is a limit to what they can do on swimwear. but my thinking is limited by the box, adam is growing the venture into a full fledge resort wear business. they've recently started the womenswear range, and plan on introducing more ancillary products. the possibilities are indeed endless, and the future does seem very exciting for them. i hope that through this interview, readers will also discover a different side to their business. perhaps more importantly, let's get rid of those unflattering baggy beach shorts or overly revealing skimpy lycras, and get ourselves into a pair of stylish orlebar brown shorts.

the shorts are available online at, or visit

thank you to orlebar brown, and for organising. and hope you guys enjoyed it as much as i do.

orlebar brown campaign 2010 /


  1. Excellent insight into a brand that's going places

  2. This is even better than the Barnabe interview - very English in context - dry wit, straight and direct answers and charmingly nice. I like how you pace your questions intelligently.BBC would have been proud of you. Once again, bravo - great post!

  3. I got my mitts on my first pair of Orley's last summer and I've acquired two more beauts since then - I say, Hip Hip hooray to a brand that enables a pasty looking man like my good ole self to look somewhat decent.

    Yours Truly


  4. I did know this brand and i'm surprise in the good sense.
    The interview is great, u make it in different views, from the beginning to the business, then to something lighter. That's great!

    Thank u Joe for this interview, hope there are more to come.

  5. Great interview and fantastic brand. The shorts are indeed a fantastic fit and brilliant colour range. One question I would have like to have asked though is why a pair of swim shorts aren't supposed to be worn in the pool. I have (before I read the care label) and they seemed okay - just seems like an obvious design flaw particularly for a £100 pair of shorts.

  6. thanks guys for the great and encouraging comments :)

    david: the shorts aren't supposed to be worn in the pool? why? i worn mine in the pool, it was fine. those are swim shorts!

  7. Excellent, as the interview gave great insight into the brand. And those are some pretty nice shorts. =)

  8. I bought the Bill Amberg shorts. Their great quality !

  9. nice! this article encourages me to work on my sewing skills and pursue my dream of becoming a fashion designer :)

  10. another seriously insightful interview

  11. Wonderful blog & good post.Its really helpful for me, awaiting for more new post. Keep Blogging!

    Neil Chandran

  12. I'm hoping to find the dog-print bulldogs in a US xxl or 38, I just found out about them in 2014. and what dogs! there are 6 prints supposedly cdaraghy on twitter


what's he wearing?