As Orn celebrates its 10th anniversary, Images talks to managing director Ivor Tunley about a decade of rapid growth, ethical and bespoke production, and a move into promowear

In India, often if a woman‘s husband dies they end up being an outcast from their families and society,“ explains Orn‘s marketing director, Jane Peters. “What this factory does is house these widows and give them jobs. Otherwise, they‘d be out on the street.“

For Orn Clothing, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, selecting factories such as the one described by Jane to manufacture its garments and that of its bespoke clients is a long and strict process where environmental and social considerations are placed first and foremost. “We will not compromise on our ethical standards,“ confirms managing director Ivor Tunley. “It doesn‘t matter how ‘glittery‘ it looks, if they can‘t prove they‘re ethical, then there‘s no point in us going there.“

The minimum requirement is that the factory is SA8000-certified, which confirms social accountability, and that there is no child labour. Wrap and Sedex are also preferred; Orn is a Sedex B member. The company opened an office in India in 2015, which now has 15 staff, and one in Bangladesh that opened this year and currently has one member of staff. “It‘s boots on the ground for us,“ says Ivor. 

“We‘re a lot more visible in factories than we ever have been before. We‘re overseeing factories, overseeing production and handling the day-to-day orders from approvals to the end product – the whole process.”

Orn adopts an equally rigorous approach with regard to the factories’ environmental impact. “We‘ve tried to take a lead in going beyond just what people regard as the factory; the typical understanding of the factory is actually just the stitching facility. But that‘s the final mile, so to speak. A lot of the damage happens before that. The polluting element can come from the dyehouse where the chemicals are used, it can come from the actual cotton plants. So we‘ve put a lot of effort into drilling down to the supply chain behind the factory, to actually find out what goes on and make sure that they‘re ethical as well. And that‘s not an easy task because the further back you go, the more murky it gets.”

Workwear items such as trousers form the basis of Orn‘s garment offering

Bespoke USPs

Orn is now keen to educate its customers about the garment-making process and the ethical and environmental issues involved, as it has found that current awareness is, on the whole, quite low. To this end, Jane visited a partner factory offshore last year to produce a video that shows what happens from the cotton field to the finished blank garment, documenting all the processes and stages in between. This attention to detail is particularly relevant for the large-end users such
as big corporates, explains Ivor, as “for them, it‘s a very hot issue”.

Orn‘s bespoke service isn’t the sole preserve of multinational corporations, however: Ivor reports that numerous small and medium-sized decorators are now using the service to take full advantage of what bespoke manufacturing has to offer. According to Ivor, one of the USPs of Orn‘s service is its use of triple stitching on the garment’s main seams. The company actively steers customers towards using this option and for two very good reasons. “Firstly, we know that it works,” explains Ivor, “and secondly, the stitching lines in our main facilities are set up for three-needle stitching.” He adds that some customers may question whether they really need the additional durability afforded by triple-needle stitching, which they assume will cost more than single-stitching. Ivor is happy to allay their concerns. He points out that because the factories are geared up for running three needles, it’s actually more cost-effective to specify triple-needle stitching, “and they get a product that will not fall apart”.

The minimum requirement is SA8000-c

Another USP is Orn’s typical minimum order quantity of 500 pieces. “Our minimums are some of the lowest in the industry,“ says Ivor, who adds that the company also oers a free design service: “We can create a complete corporate uniform on storyboards free of charge, which is a very valuable add- on. Also, we manage the whole process and keep the customer proactively updated throughout, rather than just disappearing into a black hole until 12 weeks later the order turns up.“

For many of Orn’s customers, colour accuracy is critical and this is another area where the company excels, Ivor suggests. Its in-house processes include a lightbox and a highly calibrated spectrometer, which help to ensure precise, repeatable colour control, giving it another edge over the competition.“We have the capability to deliver a complete bespoke programme, be it T-shirt, polo, sweatshirt, fleece, softshell, jacket or trouser, right across multiple fabrics and multiple styles, and deliver that all in one go. There are very few that have that capability,“ says Ivor.

Ten years of growth

Bespoke has accounted for a steady 40% of the company‘s business over the past three years, which, given Orn’s rapid growth, is impressive: its turnover leapt 60% in 2015 to £10 million, and the projected turnover for 2018 is £18 million. The number of staff employed has gone from just Ivor and his brother Cameron in 2008 when they began the business, to 65 full-time staff this year including the India office. Plus, of course, Weigle, the bald-headed eagle and ocial company mascot.

When they started out, Ivor and Cameron concentrated on a relatively narrow range of workwear. They have since expanded Orn’s offering to include healthcare, security garments and a complete shirt range. Not only has the workwear range expanded, the styles have changed. “If you go back 10, 15 years, it was function first, fashion second. Workwear has to be functional, but it‘s got to look the part now as well. It‘s about design, and it‘s about the fabrics that we‘re using. We‘re using
a lot more stretch fabrics and we‘re seeing fit as being far more critical to this market – slimmer fits, tailored fits…”

Orn insists on checking the ethical standards of every part of the production process

Promowear and Europe

The company is also supplying promotional garments now, which means oering the much wider colour range that is demanded by this sector of the market. It’s not yet at the same levels of production of some of the big brands out there, says Ivor – “We can‘t take a million T-shirt runs, not yet“ – but his ambition is clear. Alongside this, Orn is opening a European office next year to facilitate a proper launch on the continent. The team is likely to be based in Germany, he says, as it‘s the biggest workwear market in Europe “and they like to buy quality product, which is obviously what we‘re all about“.

Less than two years ago Orn opened a new 55,000 sq ft warehouse that was intended to hold all of its stock as part of a ten-year plan. “Eighteen months in and we are filling it fast“ Ivor says in mock-exasperation. “At the moment, we’re exploring being a bit cleverer in our supply chain to take some pressure othe UK operation.“

After a decade of rapid expansion, Orn has no intention of taking its foot off the accelerator. Ivor is clear that the main drivers of the company’s growth over the next few years will continue to be the design and manufacture of new products that promise quality and longevity and meet customers’ needs. “We haven‘t exhausted our market share, not by any means,“ he comments. “We are innovating and bringing on new products and new colours all the time.“