In The Studio With Orseund Iris: Spontaneous Fashion At Its Finest
You’ll surely recognize Orseund Iris’ coveted designs on the feeds of all your Instagram crushes: @emrata, @nicolaannepeltz, @patriciamanfield, @double3xposure, and @juliacumming all sport the brand, and the list goes on. Alana Johnson, 26-year-old NYC based designer and founder, clearly has a knack for paving her way through the fashion industry. After a slight nudge from her mom and pulling apart Scandinavian encyclopedias, Orseund Iris has now grown from a small boutique label to a brand with a cult following. And, amazingly, none of its initial authenticity has been lost. Following a much-needed move to a larger studio, we sat down with Johnson to talk more about starting her own brand and the best parts of her creative process.
Orseund Iris began because your mom told you to stop talking about it and to actually do it—what was the first step you took in creating your label?
Designing. Really thinking hard about must-have pieces, that I felt needed to be made. The could not live without it feeling. It has always been important to me that each piece was made out of an inner necessity. I love designing with a feeling, an emotion in mind.
Commitment to crafting special and rare styles that don’t exist anywhere else (think, vintage holy grail pieces). That was the first step. Next, was getting people to give a damn. Days and days spent building a social media following.
Business-owners and creatives can often get stumped when trying to figure out a name for their brand—were there other contenders? Why did Orseund Iris stick?
I pulled inspiration from the unassuming. A Norwegian encyclopedia of words. I paired two old world names “oresund” and “iris” because I liked the way it rolled off the tongue. Altered the spelling to Orseund to stand out on search engines. It was like the process of naming a child. And voila, my baby Orseund Iris was born.
You’re predominantly self-taught, what have been some of your best resources?
Google. Instagram. Social media. Influencers. Collaborations. A mother who’s incredibly resourceful and motivated. A father whose wildly eccentric. Three relentless sisters with an unequaled drive. A family whose supportive of risk taking and the alternative path of freelancing. An intuition for knowing what people want. A willingness to pivot when something is not working. I think people underestimate the power of perception and opportunities that are readily available to them at hand.
What’s your favorite part of the creative process?
When a new design hits me. I get a feeling in my stomach that its going to make waves. Like the best thing, I’ve made yet. When not even a doubt crosses my mind that it’s not something I want for myself. The vintage process, sifting through old clothing and taking aspects, a sleeve, a cuff here, a 70s stripe, a flare. The birth of a new design!
How do you balance business and art?
Navigating as we speak ;) On one hand, designing can be the most liberating in the world and it’s easy to get lost in that creative and dream space. However, its no longer a hobby. This is a business. I take it very seriously. It’s my life! I’ve been getting a bit carried away on the business side and definitely need to carve out time each day to create and get inspired. Let’s just say, finding balance is a work in progress!
Tell us about your studio: how did you end up here?
In August 2017, it was clear I was outgrowing a very tiny 10 x 10, 100 square foot office in a co-working space in Soho. Then, Nicole and I, my beloved intern, hustling and bustling in this crowded office overflowing into the hallway. We drove our neighbors nuts.
My parents were hanging out in Brooklyn one day and my mom found this insane warehouse style office building. She curiously said aloud, “I wonder what this place is about?” And an artist who worked in the building offered her a tour. It was synchronistic. Yes, gritty, but with so much potential. It took some convincing to have me give it a look after being so hell-bent about staying in Manhattan. I looked at some units in the building and it instantly felt like home. Knowing me and the amount of time I would be spending there, it couldn’t feel any other way. The new space was in need of renovation, but the natural light with an 11′ ft wall encompassing large airy windows felt like being on a sailboat.
What is your ideal environment to create in?
I like creating while I’m walking. On the go. On the subway. Thinking out loud. It’s always been a challenge, designating time to sit down with pen and paper. Feels too structured. I like the spontaneousness of designing on the go.
How would you describe your company culture?
Relaxed, fun, silly, lighthearted. My main goal is to surround myself with down to earth, hardworking individuals. You’re only as good as your team. It’s small and intimate. We currently have two employees and several rare and special gems of interns. Its collaborative, supportive, youthful. We’re not performing brain surgery. We’re making and selling beautiful clothing. Serious yes, but so much fun to be had. I love the balance of getting the job done and having a good laugh while doing it.
You cite customer feedback as a big inspiration to your designing process—how do you engage with your audience?
I love interacting with our customers like we’re really good friends. Keep it casual and authentic. At the end of the day, I want our customer to feel that they can trust us and are ultimately happy with their purchase and how it makes them feel. I hope that each and every Orseund Iris piece makes the most beautiful memories for our gals.
Do you remember the first time you sold a piece? What was it? What did it feel like?
In the earlier days of the brand at times felt like a very individualistic journey. Anything that happened felt very personal to me. When I sold my first piece (not an accessory but clothing) it brought me to immediate tears.
A special moment in time that was completely my own. It reassured me that this was all meant to be and to keep focused and keep at it, to stick with it.
What’s been your favorite moment of your career so far?
One of my favorite moments was seeing Orseund in the wild. I was headed to work on the subway and spotted a customer in our Le Funk blouse. It was in real life, not online, on the subway, she was headed to work, the daily grind.
I’m dreaming of more moments like that. It’s one thing to have your friends and family support. It’s another to see a stranger enjoying all the effort you put in and wearing it because it makes them feel a certain way. So rewarding, and yes I did run up to her and ask where she purchased her blouse!
What are some of the toughest lessons you’ve learned?
Don’t be so emotionally affected by every little thing that comes your way. Enjoy yourself. It’s about the journey. Pivot, always. If something isn’t working don’t be too proud to make changes. You don’t know everything. A big one I’m learning is to let people in. Give people your trust.
What’s one thing you would go back and tell yourself in the early days of Orseund Iris?
The journey may feel a bit lonely at times, don’t let it discourage you. Yes, this is your baby but don’t be so emotionally intertwined with it. Problems will always occur, it’s how you deal with them that makes you different. Be confident in your ability.
What’s your favorite medium to work with and why?
It was heavily encouraged in college to have a notebook and sketch. I’ve always fantasized about a beautiful book with fabric swatches, incredible sketches pouring out of it. Envious of the students who could draw so meticulously.
This has never been my way. For me, the main objective is to get your point across as best as you can so your pattern maker can make it come to life. I confirm the sketch in my head, draw a quick rough sketch on paper, confirm the design and then draw a flat on Illustrator and add some specs.
Fashion aside—what inspires you?
Music, legendary icons. Mick Jagger, Robert Plant, Neil Young, David Bowie. Electric and bold people. Individuals with grit who move me with their authenticity of who they are. I love when a person looks deeply in your soul, that confidence could kill you!!
Creating the most incredible cinematic e-commerce experience for our gals. We love video so incorporating that heavily into our website. Eventually one of a kind, in-person events, with live music. Continuing to make very rare, coveted pieces. Scaling the brand in the most beautiful and organic way!
Images courtesy of Lyn Hersh
Stay tuned to Milk for more studio visits.