Orla Kiely’s prints are well-known and loved around the world; you can find them on anything from handbags to cars. I think I might have spotted one on a London bus once too. She trained at the Royal College of Art and together with her husband, Dermott Rowan, she formed the Orla Kiely Partnership in 1997. The Guardian once described her as “the Queen of Prints”.
On Monday evening, Orla came to speak at our ‘Inspiring Entrepreneurs: Question Time’ event at the British Library to give entrepreneurs tips on how to get started and grow their businesses. She was on a panel with Charlie Mullins (Pimlico Plumbers) Sam Hargreaves (Gadgets4Everyone) and Stephen Fear, our entrepreneur in residence.
Orla knew at the age of 12 that she wanted to study fashion, and that art was her favourite subject at school. Through her education, she realised that she was passionate about textiles. She also claims that in the design world, it would be hard to get started without a solid education.
Her designs started with hats, but moved into bags after during London Fashion Week when her father famously told her everyone was carrying a handbag, but no one was wearing a hat.
She worked with her husband Dermott to build up the business organically. Today she sells in 34 countries and explained about the licensing process for her products, which is a good way to expand without being responsible for stock. However, Orla makes sure that they are responsible for the design process and final sign-off is essential. Dermott mentioned that it is the quality of the products that makes them sell, not just the brand. He gave an example of selling their Uniqlo rangein Malaysia, where her brand was not previously known.