It’s the 10th anniversary of resort wear brand Orlebar Brown and, to help celebrate, we take a look back, before looking forward, at some key pieces from the current collection
Ten years ago, gentleman seeking swimwear were limited to a choice of two styles. Regular square-cut board shorts, which were nearly always generously sized, with drawstring elasticated waist, which took ages to dry and made the wearer look like he’d just stepped away from the surf. You’d see the same men taking the beach to the street, wearing their board shorts around town, often combined with flip-flops. Other men wore tiny tight-fitting polyester swim briefs, where guys with all the wrong physiques tended to prefer the smallest trunks to maximise their exposure to the sun.
Either way, neither options looked flattering and were never suitable for anything more than the beach or pool. To eat lunch, you were expected to change. After lunch, you’d need to change back into your swimwear to hit the pool. Forget a bring a change of clothes and you’d often be refused entry to a resort restaurant with your wet inappropriate swimwear.
Nowadays, we’re somewhat spoilt for choice with a plethora of men’s swimwear. There are many different fit and styles to suit every individual and their body types. Although men’s swimwear, just like the rest of the fashion industry, undergoes cyclical changes, one of the main proprietors for the sea change in men’s swim design was Adam Brown, founder of Orlebar Brown.
The idea behind Orlebar Brown originated in 2005, with the first short hitting the market in 2007. Ten years on, they’re a globally recognised brand. At inception, the premise was simple. Produce a short you can swim in, rather than a swim short. This inspiration came to Adam Brown on holiday in India. He noticed that the women looked fabulous by the pool. When called to lunch, there was no need to change. The men, on the other hand, were wearing various differently patterned, baggy boxer short styles, briefs or board shorts and when called for lunch, they were either declined entry or had to scramble and change into something more appropriate.
This insight gave Adam the idea to create a tailored short, based on the foundation of a suit trouser, with a quick-drying fabric, which looked both fantastic on the eye but also enabled the wearer to keep the same piece of clothing from sunrise to sunset, without requiring a change.
The issue for Adam was how to take his idea to reality. A professional photographer by trade, Adam had no prior experience in fashion design. His answer is simple in hindsight, but ingenious at the time. In order to be able to discuss his idea with manufacturer’s, Adam subscribed to a one-week drawing course to understand the basics. With no business plan and little idea of what to expect, but armed with a fantastic idea and bags of enthusiasm, he set out to manufacture his first batch of shorts.
Armed with an initial 1000 shorts, in three styles, Adam was the ultimate one-man band (he initially partnered with friend Julia Simpson-Orlebar who decided to leave the brand after a year to focus on her family). In a hired lockup at Earl’s Court, Adam handled the orders, marketing, finances, customer queries and queuing at the Post Office at the end of the day to get orders posted. For the first two years, as is the case with any small business, it was tough to gain traction, but Adam remembers visiting Soho House in Miami and seeing men wearing the initial batch of shorts and realised that the initial idea was quickly becoming a reality.
The most interesting aspect of Orlebar Brown’s history is how they went from producing the initial batch of shorts in 2007 to the multi-store resort wear company you see in 2017. Looking back through the short history of Orlebar Brown, the impact would make ideal research for any budding entrepreneur or business student seeking to research a successful British company. Many small businesses fail. They fail as they either run out of funds or spend funds in all the wrong areas, making poor marketing decisions. Orlebar Brown has made some inspired decisions over the last ten years.
According to Adam Brown, picking the right team is important. Knowing your limitations is always wise for any new business – you need to bring in talented individuals who can help you do what you’re doing well, even better. One of the key decisions was to launch the “OB Concierge” service, a service which Short Motivation has utilised for years. The Concierge service was unique in the respect that all feedback from Orlebar Brown customers was fantastic, even if it was negative. Concierge customers were offered previews of forthcoming collections, unique pieces, invited to key events, encouraged to send photos of themselves in shorts (using hashtag #OBsAroundTheWorld) and made to feel part of the “Orlebar Brown club”. The Concierge service continues to this day.
Marketing was also important and handled in a very different way from most companies. When you launch a new brand, it’s very easy to think the answer is to bombard media with a collection of adverts promoting your brand new and unknown products. Problem is, this is an expensive exercise and most people are wary of new brands and won’t react to a printed advert unless it’s referenced elsewhere within the magazine or has a unique element to grab the readers attention. To succeed with the press, you need a different angle.
Instead, money was spent focussing on video. Video played an important role in early Orlebar Brown history. Short Motivation was inspired by the 2012 Spring Summer video, filmed in Ibiza. The location, styles and sense of fun encouraged us, like many others, to explore our Summer vibe. The Orlebar Brown seasonal videos are still produced in 2017, as you can see from the Summer 2017 launch video, below.
Looking back through old “OB Approved” magazines, you’re reminded of what Orlebar Brown did so differently from other brands. It’s hard to understand the work the OB team put in to promoting the brand in the early days. Does anyone remember the OB Truck, which took to the streets of London? This truck opened up into a mini showroom of products and, combined with an enthusiastic team, slowly converted people on the street to an OB way of life.
In addition to this marketing, Adam and the OB team realised early on that working with other successful individuals was the key to spreading your brand ethos. Money was invested wisely in networking. Key customer and press events enabled Orlebar Brown to bring individuals together to discuss the values of the brand, rather than through traditional advertising. New seasons were launched at hired venues and early customers would include David Gandy and Oliver Cheshire alongside other celebrities such as Sean Frank, Graham Norton, Petra Palumbo and Saffron Aldridge.
At one stage, every day customers were invited to tell their story and how Orlebar Brown products played a part in their daily lives. The “Day in the Life” videos are still available on Vimeo and are a recommended watch for any new customer to the brand.
Collaborations have played an important role in the success of Orlebar Brown. Through the years OB has partnered with Nick Wooster and Monocle magazine and existing fashion brands such as Gieves & Hawkes and Pucci, creating a range of men’s resort wear for both partners. With every season, Orlebar Brown will partner with designers to create an exclusive range of swimwear. With Summer 2017, Orlebar Brown has partnered with Sanda Anderlon, a Croatian-based artist, on a range of unique Summer scenes, exclusive to the Bulldog range of swimwear and OB-T prints.
A Memorable Ten Years
Ten years on, Orlebar Brown are celebrating their birthday and it’s a special year for the brand. Having successfully transitioned from the pool to the resort, with a range of tee’s, polo’s and cotton shorts, in 2010, the collection now includes a wider range of resort wear, including cold weather jackets through to the recent Jack sports shorts, which Short Motivation referenced recently as our recommended ‘universal’ short, suitable for the the pool, beach, sport and the resort.
Orlebar Brown is now a resort wear brand you can find across the globe. Multiple stores in London, two in the United States (New York and Miami), Europe (France, Turkey) and Australia. With a US online store served by an Atlanta warehouse, with the same service coming to Australia in the near future, with other stores and expansion plans in the pipeline.
It’s important to note that the ethos of Orlebar Brown hasn’t changed from the early days. Interestingly, Adam still regards the brand as a ‘startup’ company. The Concierge service is still in place, a new “OB Approved” magazine was released for Summer 2017 and, in essence, the Bulldog’s, Setter’s and other shorts you see today are based on the original idea from 2005 (albeit with a few tweaks and improvements along the way).
At Short Motivation, we’re passionate about explaining to our readers why we believe Orlebar Brown should be regarded as more than a ‘shorts company’. It might surprise you that our favourite pieces, those we’d wear regularly, at the office or the weekend, aren’t the traditional clothing you’d expect to buy from the brand.
With this in mind, we’ve picked out our five key recommended pieces and the reasons why we’ve selected them:
It was tough limiting the choice to five pieces and we’ve deliberately excluded shorts from the list, which we’ve featured elsewhere such as the Short Motivation Four Shorts for Sport article.
Have you bought or used any Orlebar Brown products? Bought a piece from the current High Summer 2017 collection? If so, what do you think of the range? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.