Orla Kiely studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin and qualified in textile design. She moved to New York to work for a wallpaper and fabric designer before returning to England to work for Esprit.
Whilst working at Esprit she undertook a Masters in Knitwear at the Royal College of Art in London. It was in her exit show at the RCA that she displayed a collection of hats which were purchased by Harrods. This enabled her to do design work for Marks & Spencer and Habitat.