Adam Brown: The man behind the “shorts you can swim in”

The Moodie Davitt Report brings you the latest instalment in our popular series Ten Easy Pieces*, in which we get up close and personal with travel retail personalities via ten snapshot questions.

In this edition, we meet Orlebar Brown Founder Adam Brown, a travel enthusiast who came up with the idea of developing a tailored swim shorts and holiday clothing brand while on vacation in Rajasthan.

1. Tell us about your upbringing. Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and when I was four we moved to Hong Kong and then on to Japan so the travel bug was caught early. My family moved back to the UK when I was about ten. I have some great pictures of my childhood there and have been back to Malaysia a couple of times but go more to Japan as my father is now married to a Japanese woman, and they still have a house between Hakone and Mount Fuji.

2. What prompted the decision to create Orlebar Brown and were you always interested in fashion?

I had no experience of fashion or clothing prior to Orlebar Brown. I originally worked in the voluntary sector as a fundraiser and then tried out portrait photography for a few years. In February 2005, I was invited to a friend’s 40th birthday in Rajasthan, India.

I remember we had to change to have lunch. This was the defining moment and the idea for Orlebar Brown became clear. I did not want a swim short but a short you can swim in. It was a tailored approach to swim shorts that enabled you to go from the beach to having drinks or lunch.

Tailored approach to swim shorts: The Bulldog Adventure Shorts feature in Orlebar Brown’s AW17 collection

3. Any start-up business takes serious time and dedication. Tell us about the early days and the challenges that you faced.

The idea was the easy bit and from there it was relatively simple to find the various elements to make the product come to life, fabric/zips etc. as well as getting a website built. Finding a suitable factory was a real challenge. It really took a long time to find good production but eventually having tried factories around the world, I found a small one in North London which was fabulous and really made it happen.

The most difficult bit really was bringing the brand to life. What were its emotional values? What would it mean to the customer? All brands have a ‘spirit’ around the product which is essential for the customer to engage. I think that although it was clear to me, the biggest challenge was putting all the communication together that enabled everyone else to understand what you were trying to do – what the lifestyle was they were buying into. It was also the most fun part.

Brown in Bhutan: Adam caught the travel bug early on in life

4. Who has inspired you the most in your career and why?

It really goes back to the previous point about how you can bring something to life. How something that starts as an idea around a pool becomes something that has values and a purpose – as well as being something that brings people together and enables them to progress their lives – pay salaries, get mortgages, buy cars, plan for the future etc. This is all really exciting.

I am one of those people who get inspiration from pretty much everything around me. But the great thing about having seasonal collections is that four times a year you have the opportunity of really focusing on a new subject.

Whether it is a holiday, film, song, place, photograph, painting or party it is wonderful to be able to think about colour, fabric, detail and experience in a totally new way every time.

“Plan, plan, plan. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”

Beautiful views in Chile: Adam is pictured with friends

5. Orlebar Brown is about to make its debut at TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes. What prompted the decision to exhibit?

Travel is an intrinsic part of Orlebar Brown. It’s in our DNA and TFWA is the ultimate travel retail show. It has been something we have wanted to be part of for several years now so are very excited to be there this year.

We now have 20 stores worldwide including the USA, Australia, France, Spain, Uruguay, Kuwait with more planned in the coming years.

“We have barely scratched the surface of what we could be doing yet in swim or menswear”

6. What do you think of the travel shopping channel as a whole? What would you change about it?

With all of us travelling so much for so many different reasons, travel shopping is becoming increasingly important. Whereas before it used to be just about picking up some alcohol or perfume, it is now somewhere you can buy pretty much everything before you travel – either for your holiday or something you have always wanted at home.

The thing I love about travel shopping is the variety it brings. Wherever you are there is always something different and I hope that will continue. And of course to see Orlebar Brown in more places…

A spot of yoga in Chile…

7. Favourite airport and destination to travel to?

I don’t have one favourite airport. I love travelling and an airport for me, especially the first time I go there, is always the first glimpse of somewhere new and exciting. I always like the unexpected such as Singapore for its swimming pool, Dubai just for its sheer size and the services in the lounges there. Zürich also has such a calm, peaceful environment, Doha has beautiful architecture and Heathrow (T2 and 5 especially) because I know it so well and just feels like home.

8. Orlebar Brown is best known for its menswear and swimwear ranges. Are there plans to develop womenswear lines?

There is so much we have yet to do with our menswear that for the next few years this is where our focus will be. We have barely scratched the surface of what we could be doing yet in swim or menswear – there are so many exciting opportunities we have yet to try or achieve.

On location in Greece: Adam (second from right) joins models on a campaign shoot for the SS17 collection

9. What does Adam Brown like to do in his (if any) spare time? Do you still dabble in photography?

Very occasionally I take the camera out. When in London, spare time normally revolves around doing the usual things such as seeing friends, walking the dogs, going to the cinema or doing exercise/yoga etc. If going away for the weekend, then I love to explore new cities or we might take a couple of days to go to Cornwall and spend time walking the cliff tops or body surfing in the freezing waves.

“Travel is an intrinsic part of Orlebar Brown. It’s in our DNA”

10. Lastly, what advice would you give to any entrepreneur looking to start their own business venture?

  1. Question everything. Everyone can justify their great new idea but be really honest and question why you are doing it, what you want out of it, why anyone would buy/subscribe to it, want it, what really makes it special etc. The questions are endless but all need considering, if not answering.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice – I have found people to be very generous with advice.
  3. Plan, plan, plan. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.


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