It’s a bit of a different post today, it includes clothes (of course) but it’s also about growing older contentedly. When I was down in London a couple of weeks ago I met up with Nayna McIntosh from Hope and after we’d looked through the glorious new season pieces that I’ll show you in a few minutes, we got chatting about things like the true markers of success as we approach the end of this phase we call midlife. You see Nayna’s just celebrated her 60th birthday and so she’s been thinking hard about such things and I want to share some of her reflections on growing older contentedly with you. Before we begin though let’s define the parameters. Google, Wikipedia and most retail demographic categories define midlife as the period between 45 – 65 although there are arguments that it needs to be reassessed because outlooks have changed over the last ten years and attitudinally, midlifers are much younger. I suspect that we’ll see it extended to at least 70 before too long but we’ll go with the current definition for the purposes of this post.
Nayna and I met six years ago when she was about to launch Hope Fashion. We were introduced by an old friend of mine from Selfridges who went on to work with her at Marks & Spencer. In fact we had a Sliding Doors scenario when we realised we’d worked there at the same time. However I was consulting in the Home Department whereas Nayna was in fashion -and at M&S that’s a bit like being on Jupiter and Mars. As soon as we did meet though, we just clicked.
Before each season begins, Nayna, Amanda (who handles Hope’s marketing) and I have a catch-up about the next collection… and everything else that’s going on with our lives. This time around it was on Zoom just a few days before Nayna’s 60th birthday and so of course I asked her how she was feeling about it.
“Just contented,” was her reply, “very contented with who I am, what I have and what I’ve done.”
Which led me to ask, “so are you done then Nayna, is this the point where you kick back and slow down?”
“Oh no!” she spluttered, “I’ve so much more still to do.”
And as you can imagine, my interest was piqued. So a couple of weeks ago when we were both in London we spent the most glorious afternoon and evening together and as we chatted through Nayna’s life and learnings, wisdom spilled out of her.
For context I’ll just start by quickly telling you a bit more about Nayna as a person so that you can feel that you’re sitting having a coffee with us. The eldest of three, she was born in Birmingham and spent quite a bit of time in hospital as a child – and that’s something I often find when I talk to people who’ve been driven to succeed. Her dad had a strong idea of the career she would follow: she was to be a doctor or a lawyer. However Nayna was creative, from a young age she spent her spare time designing and making her own clothes as well as helping her mum to source and sell accessories from her market stall. (I think this all of this is key when you look back at her trajectory).
So her dreams didn’t align with her dad’s and perhaps because of that, she says she failed her A Levels spectacularly. Instead she started working at her local Marks and Spencer and was soon spotted by the HR manager who encouraged her to apply for the management trainee scheme. She was accepted and from there her career fast-tracked. She moved on to work with George Davies on the launch of Next from 1985 – 89, went with him to create George at Asda in 1998, in 2001 they then went on to launch Per Una at M&S. In 2008 she became one of the first three women on the M&S board of directors, staying there until 2014.
You’ll notice that her departure was soon after her 50th birthday. She told me that as big birthdays always do, it brought with it a period of introspection and she realised that although she was materially very successful, her life wasn’t what she wanted it to be. She was seeing far too little of her husband and children, she wanted to be around more and live a more fulfilling life. With support from a group of friends and backers who included ex-M&S chairman Stuart Rose, Hope Fashion was born.
And so as she’s approached 60, she’s found herself using the experience she built up over the years to follow a dream of her own. And that makes it sound as though 50 came with a magic wand but Nayna isn’t one to sugarcoat things and she’s the first to say it’s been tough on both a personal and professional level. Before her 60th birthday her mum developed a severe case of pneumonia and for a few weeks it wasn’t clear that she would pull through. And of course growing a business and keeping investors satisfied during one of the most difficult trading periods in history would be a challenge for the most courageous of women.
I’ve really enjoyed watching Hope develop over the years, here’s a picture from the very first outfit of theirs that I featured on Midlifechic…
… it was the first time I had the courage to stand in front of the camera on behalf of a brand. In a way Hope and I have grown in confidence and experience together – look how little the youngest was then!
I’ve enjoyed watching Nayna’s boldness develop in terms of design. My early feedback was that the range needed more colour and that it should embrace the chutzpah that midlife women often have. The clothes have gone from this chic but muted look in 2016…
… to one of my all time favourite outfits ever in AW21. The difference in colour, drama and mettle mirrors what midlife can be all about. Outfits like this arguably work better on an older woman than a younger one – and Hope has become the place to find them. Personally, through writing Midlifechic, I’ve learned that midlife is a time when you don’t have to follow trends or even play it safe, instead you can find great clothes that express who you are inside and this Hope outfit does exactly that for me.
Growing older contentedly
I think we all aspire to reach the point of contentedness and assurance that Nayna has found at 60. So let’s talk more about that.
I can’t take you through all of the quite serious conversation we had in the afternoon and then the rather raucous ones over dinner when other retail friends joined us. Even so I knew it was going to make a good blog post so I took notes and here are some of my favourites from the many questions I asked her:
Nikki | What advice would you give to a younger woman on growing older contentedly, hoping to hit her 60s feeling as happy as you do now?
Nayna | Try to recognise what you’re good at and what makes you happy. And follow your instincts at all times – I so wish I’d had the confidence to do that when I was much younger. I truly believe that instinct will always play out for you, even when your head says otherwise. So build your life around it. Don’t be afraid to sketch a life plan and have the courage to make changes. I did one in 2000 because I wanted to be prepared for a new millennium. The vast majority of things I wished for, including having a family, I achieved after doing that.
I’d share this quote from Thoreau with any woman younger (or older) than me :
” Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined!”
Nikki | What do you think will be the biggest challenges that you’ll face in the decade ahead?
Nayna | I’m a glass half full person Nikki, I don’t dwell on things like this but… bereavement will most likely be one. And health, I hope we can all stay healthy as long as possible. And I really want to conclude my days feeling as positive and content as I do now but maintaining that mindset might be an ongoing challenge in itself.
Nikki | What are you most looking forward to in the decade ahead?
Nayna | That’s easy – it’s the joy of watching our kids growing into their own lives and seeing what they’ll become. I love imagining what may be ahead for them and who they’ll be, when I think about it I feel really excited. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll be lucky enough to be a part of it.
Nikki | What tips do you have for someone struggling to identify her own style at this stage of life? Perhaps her life has changed and she’s working from home more or she’s retired?
Nayna | We’re finding this to be an increasingly big question that comes in from the Hope customer. She’s often retired or semi-retired – or she finds herself based at home more than before Covid. Before, she had a well-established look or uniform with a socialising look that often led off from that same sense of style personality. Now her wardrobe requirements are very different, forcing her to think again about how she presents herself to the world. The starting point is – understand the differences. What really are your requirements? Is it a more relaxed look than before? Is it a bit of both – in which case favourite pieces of your wardrobe can be retained and reworked alongside new ones.
I then say (and this is how I went about the switch when I left corporate life), make a mental note to self. When you stand in front of the mirror and think ‘I really love this outfit’ – stop! Make a note of what it is about your reflection that’s making you look and feel fundamentally good. Is it the colour? The fit (that’s really important)? The shape?
So for me, I’m really short waisted but have reasonably long legs for someone who’s 5ft nothing. Therefore at midlife I realised I looked better when I was dressing to enhance my lower two thirds, making the most of my legs, hiding the fact that I have a short – and now thickening – middle.
So make notes on the outfits that make you feel really good and work the rest of your looks around that. And plan ahead – from your underwear out – as I’ve got older I’ve had to work harder at it all, planning is key.
Nikki | Our bodies change a lot between 45 – 60, do you have other key style tips for working with a thickening middle?
Nayna | This is absolutely my Achilles Heel so to speak. There’s an expression we use at Hope – ‘disguise and reveal.’ Acknowledge which bits are your least favourite – I won’t say ‘I hate my thickening middle’ because I refuse to hate anything about my body but it’s the bit I dislike the most. One of the reasons I fell in love with Donna Karan years ago is because she deals with it so brilliantly. She’s always added lots of ruching or wrapping – that’s something I think about very carefully. So we have a jumpsuit coming in soon and one of the reasons it has a tie-front waist is because it will be brilliant at disguising that thickening middle while giving the perception of a waist.
Jersey does it so well – so when I’m dressing a woman I’ll put a jersey top on her and show her how to ruche it gently across the tummy. Most women’s instinct is to pull it straight down whereas a little ruching makes all the difference. Ruching, draping, wrapping are the three ways I deal with my thickening middle every day.
Nikki | As a small brand how have you survived the last difficult years when so many have gone under?
Nayna | There are four things that I put it down to:
- An unbelievably supportive set of investors who continue to believe in me and the brand. It’s very encouraging and I’m deeply grateful.
- Customers who have been so kind, so generous and so supportive. Many have become not just friends of the brand but friends of mine.
- My amazing team who continue to support me and do everything they can, every single day.
- And finally… this is about being 60 feeling able to say this… part of the reason the brand is still here is because of my own tenacity and I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to give myself credit for that. My tenacity will enable me to absolutely fight to the end.
So with the joy of Hope still being here through thick and thin, let me go on to show you some of my favourites from their new season looks. Growing older contentedly doesn’t have to mean fading into the background – if you think about a garden, August flowers are often the ones that have the brightest and boldest blooms. We are in the August of our lives.
I’m going to start with a silhouette that probably wouldn’t work for my body but it would be great for women who like the fluid, Toast way of dressing. Most Hope looks integrate a way for you disguise a thickening middle if you want to and this empire cut is a great example. It has a jersey top and a taffeta skirt with a flattering boat neckline.
It’s also available in a black and white gingham but even though this has just arrived, it’s nearly sold out already.
There’s a midi-skirt option in the line too and I haven’t had a chance to try this but it’s intriguing because you can use the drawstring to adjust the volume until it sits as you want it to. I have tried the jumper though and you’ll see it on me in a minute.
Hope always have column dressing options that make my heart beat faster and this is one of them. The jumper and matching scarf are made from the softest cashmere and merino blend with a tiny touch of sparkle. I have a couple of the scarves from past seasons, they’re particularly good when you’re travelling because you can use them on the plane and when you’re out and evenings get chilly. The skirt hasn’t arrived yet but it won’t be long.
The days when Nayna only did muted colours are over – just look at this. Both pieces are so great for summer, you could wear the top with patterned or white linen trousers (it says cropped but that just means it sits at the waist so it’s perfect with wide legs or a full skirt). You could also pair the skirt with a simple t-shirt tucked in and it would look chic with a classic white shirt too.
Cropped boxy knit; Skirt coming soon
You’ll see me trying these trousers in navy in a minute but I’m intrigued by the bronze colourway for summer. I might pair them with one of this season’s knitted polo shirts but I’d be interested in putting a red top with them for contrast too. And the thing is that you could then wear them with sequins for a relaxed Christmas party later in the year(!)
And look at this for a wedding, a graduation or any kind of spring/summer event.
After those pictures my heart is sinking as I come to show you mine because the weather has been well and truly against us again. However, I borrowed two sets of samples when they came in – a safer one and then one of the more flamboyant looks. I’m wearing a size slim in everything by the way which is a UK 10 – 12. The skirt and trousers are a neat fit and they have elasticated waists which give a muffin top if they’re too tight so if you’re on the upper size of a 12, go for a curvy. Let’s start with an elevated simple number – you could wear this for anything, working from home, an evening with friends or a luxe airport look…
It was hard to capture the sheen on the trousers because it’s subtle, it’s only when you get up close that you really notice it; we’d stopped to warm up with a coffee and it really stood out under the cafe spotlights.
I love these jumpers because they elevate an outfit so well, they’re particularly lovely if you’re popping out for a drink or for dinner with friends.
The next outfit was far more flamboyant. Hope have become the owners of the statement skirt and it’s something that midlife women pull off so well – think Helen Mirren or Jenna Lyons who are both masters at wearing them with a simple top for high/low contrast. I’d requested this outfit in the week when the sun was shining hot and we all believed summer had arrived for good. As we now know, it hadn’t – and my face is saying “I’m not frozen – honestly!”
There are two versions of the top for wearing with the skirt – the body that I’m wearing here fastens with poppers for clean lines or there’s a vest in the same style for people who prefer them. They’re both made in Hope’s foundation fabric which gently helps to smooth out lumps and bumps. If you prefer more coverage, there’s a tonal blouse and jumper too.
The skirt made me think instantly of Fragonard’s lady on a swing. The fact that it’s a slim cut means it disguises your midriff without adding too much volume. Dressed up with heels like this makes it an outfit you could wear for a wedding or a summer party. It struck me that if you dressed it down with a t-shirt and trainers it would be a great skirt for a festival or a relaxed barbecue too. And add a crisp white shirt and you could wear it for a meeting when you want to project sassy midlife confidence, Sarah Jessica Parker style.
We were going home via the cinema because Mr MC and the youngest wanted to see Morbius (the latest Marvel film) so I’d popped a jumper, jacket and boots in the car. They liked the result so much that Mr MC took a quick photo as we were walking up and it shows that although this wasn’t an outfit that was intended for the blog, it’s a skirt of many moods.
As I say every time I feature them, Hope get stronger with every collection they release. They have their finger on the pulse and yet they still create timeless clothes that give midlifers a way to express their sense of joy and self-assurance. And that’s what we should be doing, standing out with ageless style.
Before we went on to meet the group of retail friends that we were both connected to via different strands of the same web, I asked Nayna if there was anything we could help her with as a community as she keeps on striving to build her brand. You’re always generous with your time so if you can, please answer this next question in the comments. And take the opportunity to tell Nayna about anything else you’re looking for from the midlife marketplace too. She responds – within hours of me talking about flattering necklines in our Zoom meeting in January she’d changed them across the whole collection – that’s the kind of woman she is.
Nikki | How could Midlifechic readers help you right now as Hope continues to grow?
Nayna | One thing filling my mind at the moment is: how can we do more from a sustainability point of view? We’re already doing the obvious – using recycled yarns and fabrics and we already source from Italy to minimise our footprint. I have an idea in my head about how we can recycle Hope clothes. I was talking to a potential investor yesterday and I was explaining that one of the downsides of having a brand that uses good quality yarns and fabrics is that the clothes last a long time. And that’s what we all want – wear forever investment pieces but also, as women, we sometimes like to mix it up a bit for a different look.
I have this thing in my head based on watching my daughter Florence and how she shops. She barely buys any clothes brand new apart from footwear and underwear, everything else she buys from Depop and Vinted; she sells her stuff at the same time. I grew up in a family that didn’t do second hand shops – my mum would have been affronted. I don’t know whether it’s a me-thing or a generational thing.
I’d love to come up with a methodology that’s part of the Hope community – for people who are already customers or would like to be. We could almost have a Swap Shop where I’ll swap my 4 seasons ago khaki foundation top for your two year old cobalt one. Or alternatively you could buy it at a pre-loved price. How do Midlifechic readers feel about that as an idea? What do you think about recycling, swapping or hiring? I’d love to know because the team here think I’m slightly mad but I’d like to understand if there’s interest out there so we could make it happen.
So please do share your thoughts on this – and anything else that strikes you with regard to retail and the midlife marketplace at the moment. Thank you for reading – and responding – as always.
Disclosure: I was commissioned by Hope to write a post to celebrate Nayna’s 60th birthday, the approach I took and the outfits I chose to feature were all left to me without any influence from Hope. On growing older contentedly – and bold SS22 looks.
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