Laura Orchant: Luxury Scarf Designer
Laura Orchant is one of those women you immediately warm to.
Supremely talented yet exceptionally modest, as she sits opposite me sipping a coffee and talking about her forthcoming AW15 collection, one thing is very evident: this girl is going places.
Now into her second year as the lead designer behind her own luxury scarf range, Laura’s story starts twenty years ago when, aged six, she discovered her grandmother’s scarf drawer.
“My grandmother is a strong and stylish lady who is never without a scarf around her neck. As a child I think, subconsciously, I came to associate scarves as pieces worn by amazing, independent women.”
This personal touch seems to filter into Laura’s whole approach to business and design. Indeed, after meeting me she was heading to Tunbridge Wells to host ‘An Evening With’ at one of her stockists, Hoopers. This is something she travels all over the country to do, believing it is important to meet and build a lasting relationship with her clients and consumers. She’s not one for the hard sell – after all, her scarves speak for themselves – but she does want to make sure her brand has a face.
“Ultimately design is my passion and I never really saw myself as a ‘businesswoman’, but I’ve come to love talking to buyers and customers too. They are the beating heart of my brand.”
The design sector is notoriously tough and, six months before graduating from Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, Laura was forced to assess her options: she knew she didn’t want to work for any of the big names who had approached her, as they buy your patterns for pittance and then reap the ongoing rewards themselves, and so the only course of action, she felt, was to go it alone.
Most graduates spend several years finding their feet in the working world, but not Laura, who spent her final months as a student burning the candle at both ends. She believed in herself, and rightly so. Just before graduating, Laura secured investment from a “Business Angel”, Rebecca Lewis – who to this day remains her business partner and mentor – whilst only weeks after she was approached by Fenwick of Bond Street, who have become one of her major suppliers.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned to date is that perseverance pays off. After feeling directionless for so long, I graduated on the Thursday and started my business the following Monday.
“Work hard at getting your step one right and who knows what step two might be.”
Although she may only be coming to believe it herself, Laura is a formidable businesswoman with an intelligent head on her young shoulders. One of the best decisions she made was teaming up with Rebecca, an experienced entrepreneur who advises on the day-to-day running of the business. Sometimes, says Laura, people don’t expect young brands to know what they’re doing, but with her design ability and Rebecca’s commercial nous, they have taken the business from zero to hero in just two years.
“Rebecca teaches, advises and challenges me. Without her knowledge and foresight, I would have faced many more challenges in starting up. She is my mentor and role model – and has also become a very dear friend.”
Whilst Rebecca helps support and guide Laura on everything from accounts to suppliers, it is Laura’s designs which remain central to her success. Vivid, vibrant and unashamedly feminine, Laura starts by hand-drawing sketches which she then digitally manipulates into explosions of colour and fractal patterns. Every individual piece has its own story, often inspired by nature and the world around her. The scarf she was wearing when I met her, for example, was a design she played with for months – until out walking her dog and noticing a leaf on the path in front of her. She returned home and completed the pattern in an hour.
Whilst we’re browsing through Laura’s AW15 range, she mentions that she’s currently finishing her SS16 collection, laughing that fashion’s tendency towards the future often leaves her body feeling out of sync. With colour playing such a huge part in her designs, I ask how she knows what will be popular so far in advance, and she confesses that though she reads trade magazines and consults the colour counsel (yes, such a thing exists) she’s not really influenced by seasonal fads and pop colours. She doesn’t want to be held to account by specific, trend-driven design but, instead, produces pieces which transcend time and generations.
It’s easy to understand why Laura has been so successful in such a short period. By remaining true to herself whilst also driving the commercial viability of her scarves, she has built a brand that customers want without compromising her own integrity. Given her growing fan base – which includes fashion royalty such as Kate Moss and Sienna Miller – and her overwhelming passion and determination, it’s safe to say this is just the start of the Laura Orchant empire.
30 Second CV
Name: Laura Orchant
Current Title/Company: Lead Designer, Laura Orchant Designs
Educational Background: Started a Politics degree at Birmingham University. Left after six months to take up a place at Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication.
Tea or coffee? Coffee
Wine or cocktails? A deep red wine!
Morning or night? Evenings
Favourite book? I recently enjoyed The Picture of Dorian Gray.
I wish I knew how to______? Speak another language properly, play an instrument, pull a pint!
Best advice you’ve ever received? Don’t try to please everybody.
Woman you would most like to have lunch with (and what you’d order)? Coco Chanel