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Image / Style / Irish Design

Irish Design Spotlight: Orla Langan


By Sarah Finnan
08th Jun 2024
Irish Design Spotlight: Orla Langan

An Irish designer based in Dublin, Orla Langan launched her eponymous brand back in 2017 after years working in London. Endeavouring to create a conscientious, distinctive label that merges art with design and streetstyle, her creations are characterised by a futuristic and sporty aesthetic – many of which are genderless.

Tell us about you and your brand
I am an NCAD alumni – I studied fashion design, graduated and designed childrenswear for a few years and then created a brand called Optix which retailed in London and eclectic boutiques around Dublin. I wanted more experience in design and product development and had an interest in how technology was revolutionising the design process by way of CAD in the early 2000s, so I did a master’s in multi-media systems at Trinity College Dublin. This led me to make the move to London where I lived for eight years, designing womenswear and menswear athleisure for performance, workout, dance, yoga etc. for brands such as Fila, Sweaty Betty, Puma Swimwear and Lee Jeans. I also worked as a trend analyst at WGSN, where I was part of a team forecasting the next big thing in fashion, accessory and footwear trends. I think that really helped me to always try and be ahead of what hits the highstreet and to be able to predict what is coming next while staying true to my own aesthetic. I try not to follow catwalks or current macro trends as they are generally fleeting. 

I moved back to Dublin in 2012 and I launched my eponymous brand, Orla Langan, in 2017 with the vision to create a conscientious, distinctive label; merging art, design and street style. With a futuristic and sporty aesthetic, each garment is often deconstructed and easily transitions from day to post-work. The tailoring and attention to detail is a staple of the brand, and the structure and innovative cut of each garment enables you to creatively tailor your look to your own individual style. Garments can be custom-made and are hand-crafted in Dublin, thereby minimising waste and supporting a circular and ethical approach to fashion. However, I am currently researching production elsewhere as it is challenging to find suppliers to make small minimum order quantities.

I am driven by sustainability in my work. Each design incorporates varied combinations of fabrics-resulting in a unique graphic, colour-blocked design, and appeal. The jersey and woven fabrics are organic and Oeko-Tex certified* where possible. I also use deadstock materials or Tencel (also known as lyocell) and modal fibres as they are produced using recyclable, earth-friendly solvents. Blended with cotton, Tencel adds wrinkle resistance, with the lustrous feel of silk.

I still do some occasional freelance design and consultancy work and have worked with thecadlab.ie on textile research, prototyping and product development. 

What is your mission?
To always push myself and try something new and challenging each time I create a collection. I want to continue experimenting and collaborating with designers such as Arvydas Zapivalovas, who works in 3D digital fashion, AI and looks at the impact of these new digital tools to ascertain whether they can create more sustainable, inclusive, and diverse futures for fashion design. I love to envision and speculate on these possible new futures. 

I like to seek out and research new textiles. For example, hemp and seaweed combinations which can be used without compromising the inherent properties we build into the garments. I will continue to make sure that there is full transparency for every garment following a seed-to-sale process and develop more zero-waste garments along with bio-textile innovations. I want to bring the customer on this journey with me. 

I seek to find the perfect balance between trends and lifestyle – representing my customers’ values with the materials used, the garment’s functional design and my brand’s sustainability initiatives. I would like to be able to reach more customers in and outside of Ireland who appreciate quality over quantity and are always looking out for new and eclectic collaborations. I’d love to see more customers wearing my garments on the street and it’s a dream of mine to create a Met Gala gown in my distinctive style. It probably wouldn’t be a conventional gown. 

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Yes, from as young as 12. I remember being off school for over two weeks due to a bad flu. I was so bored as I had to stay in bed to rest, so my mum gave me some sketchpads and colouring pencils. I naturally started to draw and made a series of fashion collages and outfits. My mum organised for my cousin to teach. me how to sew and I started to upcycle and make a series of garments. There was no stopping me then!

What kind of items do you stock?
My latest collection comprises reversible jackets, trousers, sweaters and skirts but I also make jumpsuits and signature dresses with deconstructed processes. I often mix woven and stretchy materials into the same garment for ease of movement that suits a street and dance aesthetic and many garments in this collection are genderless. 

The inspiration for this collection started in NYC after visiting an exhibition celebrating 50 years of hip-hop. It goes back to my design routes and is also heavily influenced by the French romantic artist Delacroix. The pieces vary from sculptural to draped with tailored colour blocking techniques and details combining materials such as signature organic denim, sanded twills, canvas, jersey, lyocell and faux leather with pretty seer sucker baby blue stripes.

I collaborated with wildlife artist Raymond Farrelly as part of the collection. His illustrations feature puffins, barn owls, and curlews, and aim to highlight the plight of bird loss in Ireland by incorporating the traffic light system. This metric is used by BirdWatch Ireland to denote the conservation status of each of Ireland’s birds. Sadly, according to the charity Birdwatch Ireland, many Irish birds are ‘red-listed’; this means they are in danger of extinction as breeding birds in Ireland. The challenge of melding these contrasting themes was overcome by incorporating signature design elements of this era, such as badges and text. My distinctive urban hues combined with the traffic light colours to enable a cross-pollination of ideas without comprising the core values of either element. 

What new brands or items are on your radar?
It isn’t new but I really like the authenticity and craftsmanship of Japanese brand Kapital. It was founded in 1985 by Toshikiyo Hirata and the brand specialises in denim and clothing from traditional textiles and patchwork methods.

Was money/funding a concern when starting out?
Absolutely. I was lucky that I had some savings. I also worked part-time teaching/lecturing at NCAD and was awarded a start-up grant, all of which helped. 

Best business advice you’ve gotten
When it is too comfortable, it is time to upskill and push yourself in a new and more challenging direction. Don’t compare yourself to others. Be more confident and believe in yourself. Listen to and understand your customers so that you can continuously improve the brand by updating your products or services based on customer feedback, changing needs and developing new solutions that anticipate and solve emerging problems.

Favourite fashion/design accounts you follow
Junya Watanabe, Martin Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto, Schiaparelli, Pangaia and many more. I also love seeing the designers featured in dressx.com and www.thefabricant.com. These platforms push the boundaries of traditional fashion by leveraging digital technology to create innovative, sustainable, and highly customisable fashion experiences.

Best fashion purchase
A Katharine Hamnett London printed ‘clean up or die‘’ T-shirt that I bought in 2005 when I moved to London. It was the first designer piece I could afford. She is still making the same T-shirt today and I still have mine. Also, an All Saints beautifully tailored black tuxedo jacket 

Other Irish brands you love
Edge Only, Capulet & Montague, Brog.ie shoes, Electronic Sheep. There are so many fantastic Irish brands, I couldn’t possibly list them all!

Most useful learning since setting up a business
Staying curious and committed to learning new skills, forecasting skills and always being one step ahead as well as the importance of a good work-life balance.

Proudest moment so far
Participating in the O.N.E project at www.onehopecouture.com by Droga5, Dublin. I designed and constructed the outfits for veterans Martin, Brendan and Eddie, as part of the Hope Couture project to shine a light on the lack of support given to members of the Defence Forces when they leave a life of service. It was an honour to meet them all and be a part of such a worthy project. A new way of collecting donations was created by designing modern digital camouflage patterns around QR codes.

I want my brand to be remembered for… sustainability, innovative design and collaborations that make a difference in the world to help others and solve problems. There is still so much more to do. 

If I could have anyone wear my designs it would be… Billie Eilish, Barry Keoghan and Róisín Murphy.

Orla Langan is stocked in Om Diva on Dublin’s Drury Street and on her website. You can message her on Instagram for bespoke orders. 

Shoot credits – Photography: @annawphoto; Stylist: @adamwalshstyle @morgantheagency; Assisted by: @caaaaspar; Make Up & Hair: @aislingdoyledesign; Model: @freya.odwyer @morgantheagency; Videographer: @valeria_777_filmmaker; Studio space: @droga5dublin.