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5 minutes with: Polly McMaster, The Fold founder

Ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March, we caught up with Polly McMaster, founder of The Fold, to talk about luxury businesswear, entrepreneurship and the importance of mentoring.

8 March 2022

Polly McMaster
When did you realise that starting The Fold was your calling?

I’ve always loved fashion but started my career working in consulting and then private equity. A suit was very much expected, and I struggled to find beautiful, modern workwear that actually made me feel confident and polished – I knew other women in the corporate sector had the same issue.

The Fold was born out of a passion to empower women to feel confident, comfortable and put together. I wanted women to feel excited about getting dressed for work and to invest in pieces they love and can treasure for years.

 

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy styling up outfits for the office or different events in the diary. I’m fortunate to work with an amazing team who are passionate about helping women in our community to realise their ambitions and put their best selves forward. As well as offering stylish clothing, we also create and share a range of tools and resources to help inspire and motivate people to achieve their career goals.

 

What were the challenges of moving from working in corporate environments such as strategy and equity consulting, to starting your own business?

This was a completely new sector for me, so the learning curve was steep. Two of the greatest challenges were reaching our customers at scale and building our supply base. Early on, we did lots of little events and trunk shows at offices and in homes to get our product to our customers – we learned a lot and built loyalty, but it was hard to scale up.

Over time, we found more routes to market and built a bigger range, so it became easier to deliver on our ambition to be a go-to brand for workwear.

Being new to the retail industry, it was hard at first to find the right suppliers, fabrics and manufacturers, but now we have an amazing network and that has helped us develop a reputation for high quality with our customers.

 

What advice would you give to women thinking of starting their own business?

There were some fundamental things that worked for me when I started The Fold. These are my top five tips:

  1. In-depth research: It’s so important to do your research into the following areas: market, idea, due diligence, investment memorandum and proof of concept.

  2. Review your finances: You have to ask yourself, can I afford to do this? Do you have enough money in your savings to get your business off the ground?

  3. Have a strong vision: Ask yourself why you want to start your own business. This will help you build a strong brand story that aligns with your values, skill set and strengths.

  4. Establish a strong support network: You need good people to drive you forward and motivate you on tough days. Keep people you can lean on close.

  5. Stay motivated: Don’t beat yourself up for having bad days. If you really believe in your business, it will pull you through.

 

We’re inspired by your initiative to provide clothing and coaching for unemployed women in collaboration with the charity Smart Works. Can you tell us about the importance of mentoring?

Mentoring is so necessary for personal development. And it’s always nice to have a little extra guidance and support, especially when you’re starting your own business. I absolutely love what the Smart Works charity does and feel privileged we are able to help women achieve their ambitions and land their dream jobs.

We launched our Pay It Forward podcast a few years ago, which is mentoring on a grand scale. We brought together women at different stages in their careers to impart wisdom, advice and practical tips to inspire women in our community and beyond. Shining a light on women’s achievements hopefully allows more women to believe they can do it too.

 

What piece of advice would you give your younger self?

I definitely fall into the camp of being a people pleaser and worrying about what others think. I’d tell myself to have more confidence in my abilities, stop beating myself up about making mistakes, and not worry as much about others’ perceptions – it is a waste of energy that I could have put to better use!

 

What are the main challenges facing women in the workplace today, and how can we overcome them?

We have come a long way over the years, but many women still face gender stereotyping, unconscious bias and discrimination, especially in male-dominated sectors and in seeking investment.

When The Fold did a survey about the importance of workwear, we were truly shocked to hear about unsolicited, inappropriate comments still being received in the workplace. We need to call it out when these instances occur and give other women the confidence to do the same.

I believe in order to overcome these challenges we need to invest in ourselves and ensure we are in the best place, physically and mentally, to challenge bias and maintain our resilience. Self-care and wellbeing should be at the top of our agendas after two exhausting pandemic years.

 

What does “power dressing” mean in 2022?

Power dressing still means looking polished, feeling powerful and confident, and ready to conquer the day. We conducted a survey in October last year and found that the majority of women are definitely excited about dressing up for work, but after the pandemic comfort is also at the forefront of their minds.

 

What are your tips for curating a wardrobe of stylish workwear?

Don’t be afraid to try something you wouldn’t usually go for; you may be pleasantly surprised and fall in love with it. Wear what makes you feel confident and comfortable, and invest in seasonless styles you can dress up or down to suit any occasion.

 

If you had to pick only three pieces from The Fold’s collection to wear forever, what would they be?

The Knightsbridge silk blouse in ivory is brave in style but totally timeless, the Almeida jacket in ivory elevates any outfit and is perfect for both casual and very smart looks, and my beautiful Napier coat – currently available as a trench – which elevates every outfit and helps you make an elegant entrance.

 

Why did you choose Cadogan Place as the location for The Fold’s first store?

I knew instantly that the store on Cadogan Place was the home for The Fold – the stunning architectural features and bones of the building are elegant and timeless, like our collection. We are on the corner, so have stunning natural light and overlook beautiful gardens. We’ve designed the interior of the store to feel like a members’ club, and to be a perfect setting for us to welcome groups of women for shopping and events.

 

What makes the Sloane Street neighbourhood special for you?

Sloane Street is so elegant and full of the most sophisticated boutiques, restaurants and hotels. We love that our customers can feel so pampered and special, and enjoy the elegance of the streets when they come to visit our store. The rich history of the buildings and the ease of access from all corners of London makes it a perfect place for The Fold.

 

The Fold is at 28 Cadogan Place, London, SW1X 9RX

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