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Orla Kiely – The Fall of a Fashion Empire

It’s the news that shocked the fashion world to the core and made other Irish retailers fear they may be next. On September the 17th 2018, Orla Kiely ceased trading for good. What caused this renowned brand to end its long reign and what’s next for the company? 


Orla Kiely started her career designing hats and then moved on to what she became most famous for – her handbags and kitchenware. She worked with several companies such as Esprit, Harrods and M&S before starting her own brand under her name. Pretty soon, her iconic designs were everywhere; buses, cars, wallpaper, stationery and furniture. You could find almost anything with Orla Kiely's colourful floral print on it. She was winning awards, releasing books and her designs were being worn by fashion moguls such as the Duchess of Cambridge and Alexa Chung.  


Orla Kiely was extremely popular among Irish women who wanted a quality bag for a price that wouldn’t break the bank. Walking through town a few years ago, it seemed that every woman was rocking their Orla Kiely handbag or purse. Irish children at the time could rely on the brand for gifts for their mums, grandmothers, aunts and piano teachers.  


Then, it seemed the once avid fans of Keily’s bags, got a bit tired of the retro patterns and wanted something new. Keily’s brand became somewhat “overexposed”. Keily’s brand never struck a chord with the teenagers or young people at the height of the brands fame. Soon, her target market of middle ages women got older and naturally moved on to other brands and styles.  


The story of Orla Kiely is a prime example of the transience of the fashion industry. Trends come and go. They may last a few months or even few years in Keily’s case. Trends may even come back such as skinny sunglasses or chunky sneakers, but nothing lasts forever. With online shopping becoming more accessible, people are finding their favourite clothes and accessories from international brands delivered straight to their door. Retailers are struggling as they can't compete with the low prices online. Both Keily’s stores in Dublin and Kildare were closed down as was her online site.  


Do I think Orla Kiely will make a major comeback? Maybe in the next 20 years. But for now, I think we should support new Irish designers and fashion graduates. It’s a tough climate for small businesses everywhere but if we make the conscious effort to buy from small Irish brands, we are fostering growth in the Irish fashion industry and industries attached to it. Orla Kiely's story is an inspirational one. How she went from drawing her patterns on a tablecloth to being called the “Queen of Prints” by the Guardian, is the success we would wish on all female business women. Her products are still for sale in the likes Debenhams, Kilkenny and Arnott’s.  Here’s hoping that her planned partnerships with other retailers works well, and keeps Orla Kiely prints on the shelves for years to come.  



Instagram: @caoimheforan Twitter: @caoimhe_foran
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