Turning 50 proved to be a major milestone for Nayna McIntosh, prompting much reflection and a reassessment of her work, her life and her style – but it resulted in the creation of a whole new business.
“In my head I still felt like I was 30, but my body didn’t,” she says, adding her birthday coincided with the realisation that she was not finding her high-flying fashion retail career as satisfying as she once had.
“I started in retail at the age of 12 working on my mum’s market stall in the Midlands. I got a real passion for selling then. I went on to work for Marks & Spencer before moving on to Next, Per Una and then back to M&S, so my career went full circle.”
While Nayna was with M&S, customer research, as well as her own insight, identified that 50-plus women felt uninspired by the high street, with no particular brand talking to them as they move into mid-life. “When you become one of those women, you better understand that woman,” she says.
“When I reached 50, clothes no longer worked as they used to, yet my desire to look stylish, feel comfortable and therefore confident had not diminished. I too became disillusioned and began to understand why some women of this genre can feel ignored by the world of fashion.”
This gap in the market spurred her on to launch Hope Fashion in 2015, a ground-breaking new label embracing women of all shapes, sizes and ages.
“I had always had a little voice inside me that wanted to start my own brand, but it was only when I left M&S and had some time out to read and reflect that I realised this was what I wanted to do,” she says. “Hope was influenced by my Jamaican heritage. The brand name itself derives from my grandparents’ emigration from Jamaica to Britain in the late ’50s, which was driven by a desire to build a better future for their young family. I know faith and hope would have been a key driving force for them in those early days. Hope is also my mother’s name and had a great influence on my life and my values.”
As a woman’s body changes throughout her life, so does the shapes she needs to wear, Nayna says. “We address this firstly with our Foundation Collection which will smooth, sculpt and shape the body without sacrificing comfort. At Hope we think body shape is more relevant than the number, so we have devised a sizing system that positively focuses on just that. Our clothes are designed to enhance and to work with a woman’s height and proportions to create her best ever silhouette.”
Most of the collection is available in three sizes: Freesize, to fit sizes 8-20; Dual Slim, to fit sizes 8-14; and Dual Curvy, to fit sizes 16-20. Trousers come in Super Slim to fit size 8, Slim to fit 10-12, Curvy to fit 14-16 and Super Curvy to fit 18-20.
“I often say size is more than just a number,” says Nayna, who is married to Yorkshireman Harvey and lives in South Oxfordshire with teenage children Arthur and Florence. “Who wants to be called ‘extra large’? When you take the number out of the equation, it all starts to get less emotional.”
The brand’s marketing and advertising feature women of different ages and sizes, with a mix of “real women’’ and professional models. The aim is to offer relaxed pieces for all occasions, interchangeable for work, play and events. Many of the SS20 pieces are ideal for travel and holidays. “I love to travel and being half Jamaican, that’s my favourite place to visit, the colours very much inspire me for the collection. We recently went to Australia to visit my son who is working out there for his gap year,” she says.
The clothes are made by a handful of small family-owned factories in the UK and Italy, using fabrics that wrap and drape the body. Being sustainable and ethical are key concerns, especially being able to visit manufacturers at any time, and using recyclable tissue, paper bags and cardboard boxes in packaging. Hope uses recycled cashmere, working with its factory in Italy, where old cashmere styles are shredded and then combined with a blend of fibres and spun into cashmere yarn. For 2020 it is introducing recycled cotton using the same process.
Hope Fashion is sold for the most part directly to the customer via the website. However, there are popular sample sales up and down the UK and Nayna will soon be appearing at York Fashion Week, when she will share her story and show the new SS20 collection with an opportunity to try and buy.
“Our customers tell us that shopping on the high street today is a lonely and unfulfilling experience. They feel invisible to retailers and not understood. I am in my 50s and often say ‘I know this customer because I am this customer’,” she says.
Nayna McIntosh will tell the story of Hope Fashion and preview the collection with fizz and cakes at Hotel Du Vin, York, on March 21 at 2-4pm. Tickets £12, see www.yorkfashionweek.co.uk.