Advice From CFDA Pitch-Day Winner Orley on How to Succeed in the Fashion Business

"Without a strong business, all you have is an art project."

Images courtesy of Orley.

Can you succeed in business without really trying? For the designers behind the menswear brand Orley, which recently won the CFDA's first Pitch Day, the answer is definitely no.

Orley (launched in 2012 by brothers Alex and Matthew Orley and Matthew's fiancé, Samantha Florence) went head to head with nine other up-and-coming labels on Pitch Day earlier this month. The competing brands, including shoemaker Isa Tapia and women's designer Kaelen Haworth, were asked to present their business models to a group of fashion-industry executives (like bigwigs from LVMH and Ralph Lauren and financiers who have invested in fashion houses in the past) as though they were seeking cash infusions. The competition, however, was just an exercise, and the prize was a packet of tickets to the annual CFDA Awards next month.

So while winning Pitch Day won't bring the Orley team immediate financial glory, it does mean they're headed in that direction. Read on for more of their thoughts on running a fashion-focused business, their advice for aspiring designers, and who they can't wait to see at the CFDA Awards.

Congratulations on winning this award. How does it feel to be recognized for your business prowess, given that you're still a relatively new brand?

It's extremely validating to be recognized for the hard work we've put into this business for the last two years. We really believe that we're offering something unique to the market, so for that to be recognized by such a distinguished panel means a lot to us.

Was it nerve-racking to present a business plan to all these CEOs and EVPs? How confident were you going into the room?

We practiced and rehearsed a hundred times beforehand, so we knew our pitch well. The key and most nerve-inducing aspect of the presentation was being able to do it articulately and eloquently in front of such esteemed judges, not to mention the large audience that was watching the entire thing.

Do you think there was one element of your pitch that nailed your presentation? Or was it a combination of everything you said?

We didn't get to watch the other brands pitch, so it's hard to say what we may have done differently. But what we really tried to do is give the brand a clear and defined voice and aesthetic. We know that what we're pitching is a fashion brand and that the most important aspect to convey is that the vision and product are strong and unique.

What do you think is more important: strong products or a strong business plan? Are you putting more of an emphasis on one or the other right now?

They are completely equal and go hand in hand. The product and design needs to be strong, but without a strong business, all you have is an art project.

What advice would you give to people who want to start their own fashion business?

We would first acknowledge that there are many other ways to succeed in fashion outside of what we're trying to do, but if you're building a brand, the most important thing is to have a defined perspective and a focused product offering. If you don't have the best product, you're just wasting your own time.

How do you see your business changing as it continues to grow? Will you branch out into other product categories or keep developing your current focus?

We definitely plan on expanding, but for now the most important thing we can do—and we believe this is why the panel believed in us—is to stay focused, grow slowly, and don't lose sight of the long-term goals.

Is there anyone you're excited to see at the CFDA Awards?

Our cousin Jennifer Fisher is nominated for the CFDA Swarovski Award for accessories, so it'll be exciting to cheer for her in person.

(Almost) more important, do you know what you're going to wear?


—Details associate online style editor Justin Fenner

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