As you know, I spent Tuesday with the team at Hope Fashion taking part in their Autumn shoot in which they decided to use real, everyday women rather than models. As you can imagine, it was great fun. All of the clothes were hanging on rails and they quite simply let us loose to see what we would do with them and then they shot the outfits we had put together. I’m not going to show you those pictures now because it’s just frustrating when you can’t go to the website to see the products and the prices but I will do a post on them as soon as the collection is released in mid-September.
However, I want to tell you more about the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff because I find it really inspiring. Now that I’ve been to visit them I can see that Hope is a groundbreaking model of a business, run in the way that I believe businesses should be in the 21st century.
Based at the MD Nayna McIntosh’s home, it is run by a group of women whose average age is 52. They have worked together for various high street retailers for over 20 years (I should add that there is also one lone man on the team, Garry, who designs the clothes).
Their close relationship is clear as soon as you meet them. This of course means that they don’t all need to be in the office every day. Instead they are able to work collaboratively from their different bases and come together when they need to.
Nayna becomes quite emotional when she talks about how important this model is to her. She wants to run a business based on love, trust, friendship and family where people can enjoy their job and balance it with their lives. It really makes you want to work there.
Very few Managing Directors would open their homes to a group of midlife women as well as photographers, make-up artists, videographers, designers and the staff team. However Nayna was utterly relaxed and we all mucked in along with her mum and mum-in-law who were making lunch in the kitchen, her children who had broken up for the holidays, her husband who kept a low profile in the garden and Winston the black lab who thought all of his Christmases had come at once. Here he is, guarding the rails of clothes.
Here are some other shots from the day:
Some of my companions – we were briefed to arrive in Hope clothing so they are wearing pieces from the current range.
The team talked us through the new designs
(Photo c/o Timmy Vowles)
We then moved on to the hair and make up station.
If only I had this service every day.
Once we were let loose on the clothes it was hard to know just where to begin.
But we soon got the hang of it
(Photo c/o Timmy Vowles)
Each time we put together an outfit, a team of cameramen were ready to shoot us as we walked down the impromptu catwalk in Nayna’s living room
Like this (this top is one of the new entry price point pieces).
(Photo c/o Timmy Vowles)
A chat with Nayna about the issues we face as midlife women
As work life balance has been such a big topic for us at Midlifechic this year, culminating in me walking away from my Midlife career, I wanted to spend some time with Nayna and hear her story. You know I have huge affection and admiration for all midlife women who are making a change and chasing their dreams. So, we sat in the garden after lunch with a glass of Prosecco and she kindly allowed me to fire questions at her. By the way, we’re both wearing pieces from the Autumn collection – you saw it here first!
Midlifechic: Nayna, tell us about how you knew it was time to go it alone and follow your dream
Nayna: I had spent my career in retail, starting as a Marks & Spencer trainee after my A levels then working for Next and George at Asda before returning to M&S where I ended up on the management board. This appointment was one of the high points of my career and I loved my time there. However, as I approached my 50th birthday I started to feel that I had reached the point where rather than fulfilling my potential, my potential was being limited, as it sometimes can be if you work for someone else.
My 50th birthday passed with great celebration – I didn’t see it as a negative thing but once the big day was over, I found myself feeling thoughtful. I realised that I was probably more than halfway through my life and I asked myself “what now?”
I decided that it was time to walk away from my comfortable career with all of the luxury trappings that accompanied it and do something different. People were flabbergasted, particularly because at that point I didn’t know what the “something different” would be so I took a year off to find it.
I spent that year thinking about my lifelong passion for fashion and retail. At the same time I was going through the menopause, my body was changing and I was struggling to find the right clothes. Before too long the germ of an idea had grown and the more I researched it, the more I knew that I had to develop a range of clothing for women like me.
I uncovered mind blowing statistics such as the fact that the retail value of women over 45 in the UK is over 50% of the total market for fashion. With their partners, these women own 75% of the country’s wealth and yet they are blindly ignored by the fashion industry – only 5% of advertising is targeted at them. The more women I spoke to, the more I knew that something had to be done… and Hope was born.
Midlifechic: It was a big risk Nayna, you have two children aged 13 and 15, how do you balance what is undeniably a huge undertaking with your family life?
Nayna: Actually the work life balance was a huge factor in the whole decision to walk away from my career. As my children approached their teens, I felt they needed me more than when they were toddlers. I found it harder and harder to keep on leaving in the morning before they were awake and arriving home after they were in bed. I was consumed with guilt. Although I am now working harder than I have ever worked, I can balance it better. So, for example, I can get up at 5am, do two hours’ work, have breakfast with the children, drop them off at school and still be back at my desk for 8.30am.
We have all had to make sacrifices, I have to do things differently – no more designer handbags for me. We’ve had to cut our lifestyle but I am happy to compromise on everything except my kids.
Midlifechic: Women often say that they start to feel invisible at midlife. Do you see this changing and how?
Nayna: Definitely, I have even seen it change over the last two years. We are now seeing Helen Mirren embraced as the unretouched face of L’Oreal and JD Williams held the first fashion show for 50+ women during London fashion week. The emergence of over 40 bloggers has been powerful, older women who still want to look good no longer feel like a lone voice, they have an outlet that they can turn to. Before blogs there was really only Woman’s Hour as a public space for intelligent female conversation.
Midlifechic: when our generation of women hit ‘late life,’ do you think we will differ from the majority of women who are currently over 65?
Nayna: I do, there’s a different mindset that is focused on staying young at heart. Many of us have had children later and we want to stay fit and well to enjoy a relationship with our grandchildren. We’re probably going to continue working for longer too which will keep our minds active. This is why it’s important to be doing something we love.
Midlifechic: looking back at your younger self, what advice would you give yourself?
Nayna: Follow your instincts, they’re very rarely wrong.
Midlifechic: When I’ve talked about Hope Fashion on Midlifechic previously, readers commented that it was expensive. How do you respond?
Nayna: Well this season’s collection will show that we’ve listened. We’ve introduced some entry price point pieces. It hasn’t been easy to do because I am determined to keep as much of the range as possible produced in the UK and currently over 70% of it is made here. It really matters to me that we support other British businesses. The rest of the collection is sourced from Italy purely because we were determined to find the best quality. We intend to keep our range tight. Our clothes aren’t single season purchases because our research showed that women over 40 want to build a collection of great pieces. If our clothes are designed to last, they have to be high quality. We won’t compromise on that, there are enough brands offering fast fashion.
Midlifechic: Hope’s first collection was clearly developed to help midlife women conceal the problem area of their midriff. Is this always going to be the focus of the collection?
Nayna: Before we launched, we did extensive research and found that the part of the body women over 50 were most uncomfortable with was the stomach area. However we have now introduced pieces to help with other areas that are sometimes seen as a problem including elbow length sleeves, short and long versions of our dress lengths and different trouser cuts in our foundation ranges.
Although we work at helping women to disguise their least favourite areas, we are definitely not a plus size range. In fact we have discovered that our customer base does not match the national demographic whereby half of women are a size 16 or above. 65% of our customers are a dual slim which means they are between a size 8 to 14. We find that our customers are women who look after themselves, they eat well and they exercise. Despite this they still have parts of their body that they love and parts they like less which is why our clothes work so well for them.
Midlifechic: lots of Midlifechic readers take a close interest in the fabrics of their clothes because of their fluctuating body temperatures. Do you factor this into your ranges?
Nayna: absolutely – I completely understand that one! Our foundation pieces are designed to form the basis to our outfits. They have a smoothing effect on the outline of your figure. They are made from a carefully sourced fabric which is 28% lycra and 72% polyamide which is a breathable fabric. It works magically to keep you cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold. We try to develop the rest of our range in natural fabrics including silks, linen, cotton and cashmere.
Midlifechic: Do you have plans to expand into bricks and mortar retail?
Nayna: In terms of opening a range of shops, no. However it would be fabulous to see Hope stocked in the right places because we find that it is when women have the opportunity to play with the clothes that they fall in love with them – like you did Nikki. So, we would like to see it ranged in independent boutiques and of course John Lewis would be the dream because we know it is exactly where our customer likes to shop.
Midlifechic: If you could wake up one morning to be told that a public figure had been spotted wearing Hope, who would you really like it to be?
Nayna: I have to say I don’t have an answer to this, we’ve never really focussed on ‘celebrity endorsement,’ although I did get a a big buzz recently from seeing 3 of my local ‘Mum’ friends all wearing Hope at sports day recently!
The Hope Sale
A few of you have been in touch recently to ask if the Hope / Midlifechic event I mentioned a while ago is still going to happen. We’re still hoping that it will, we’re going to discuss the details next week and we will probably be looking at a date in early October now. In the meantime, if you’d like to try Hope Fashion for yourself now is a good time because the sale has just started with up to 75% off.
I’m thinking ahead to Autumn and my top picks would this blue black cardigan which I’ve seen in real life. It is a soft, silky weave and the combination of blue and black makes it great to wear with black, navy or grey. It is currently half price:
This silver grey linen knit is lovely for the cooler summer we’re having, again I’ve tried it and it’s lovely. The asymmetric hemline means that you don’t have a truncating horizontal line across the middle of your body. The gold lurex trim at the hem adds definition.
Now this pop on dress is an unusual one for me to recommend because as you know, I don’t usually like loose clothes. However, I tried it on on Tuesday over a black foundation top and black foundation trousers and it looked fab. It is a heavy Winter weight which means that it swings beautifully and the pleat at the back adds shape. It is a beautiful cherry red and an absolute bargain in the sale at 75% off. There are hardly any left and I am very close to ordering it despite the fact that I’m trying not to spend.
You may remember that I wore this asymmetric gold knit on Christmas day. Again there are only a few left at 75% off – another bargain.
I seem to have worn this poncho almost daily recently. The bright colour means it goes well with white, ecru, grey, blue and black jeans and helps you to still feel summery even when it rains. It’s currently half price.
The two way shrug that I have is also in the sale. It’s great for holidays, it means you can wear a camisole or vest top elegantly without worrying about the tops of your arms.
So, there you go, Hope Fashion offer free returns so the sale is a great time to give some of their products a try. They can also ship internationally if you contact them via firstname.lastname@example.org. There are lots of other styles to look at in the sale section of their website.
The school summer holidays have started here for all but the middle son so I’m going down to London for a couple of days with the youngest after the weekend. We’ll be staying with my brother and he will be having fun with his cousins whilst I go to a few meetings and pay my second visit to George Northwood to see what they will do with my hair next. I have also promised that we’ll spend a day playing ‘Pokemon Go’ in the centre of the city – I’ll be trying not to annoy the poor commuters! Have a lovely weekend everyone.