Nayna McIntosh, CEO and founder of womenswear brand Hope Fashion realised there was a gap in the market when providing clothes for women aged 40 and over, who didn’t feel like high street fashion was giving them enough options. Most Hope products have the coveted ‘Made in Britain’ label, which is helping drive sales internationally. Here, Nayna explains how the company is looking to grow its sales over the next few years.
Tell us more about the company.
Hope is a British women’s fashion brand which I founded in September 2015 for 40 plus women, who feel alienated by high street retailers, due to the lack of representation and aspirational products available specifically for them.
My first ‘job’ was working with my mum on her market stall in Birmingham from the age of 10, following this I then got a Saturday job with M&S and went on to join their Junior Management training scheme. From there I moved onto Next, George at Asda, Per Una then back to M&S so my career went full circle. I have sat in enough customer insight presentations to understand the commercial opportunity of the 50 plus market. When I reached that age myself I certainly had a lot of empathy with some of the commentary. This made me aware of how invisible this woman is and how she is so often ignored by the industry. So, I set out to create my own womenswear brand which became Hope as it stands today.
Since its initial launch, Hope has grown rapidly – we now sell internationally with the collection available online and in selected boutiques throughout the UK and US, so we definitely want to continue to see global expansion and encourage women all over the world to feel beautifully confident!
How much initial investment did the company need to start and how did you raise it?
We needed £1 million to launch Hope, and we raised this with personal investment from ourselves, family, friends and colleagues. The money was used to pay for the product itself as well as overheads ranging from payroll, website design/development and logistics costs. All the product was designed in-house by our design team, and everything started as a blank sheet of paper, then developed and made by our manufacturing partners Britain or Italy – as provenance is one of our key values.
A key route to sourcing investment, and something I am a passionate advocate for, is networking. Starting simply with our contact books, we pulled together a list of high-net-worth individuals and got in touch to communicate our search for business investment. Once we got talking to people we found that the ‘ball started to roll’ and people started to spread the word about what we were looking for. As a result, we found that some individuals had already pledged their support and interest, before we actively started looking for investment! As some of these individuals were keen to see the collection and meet the team before investing, we held a pre-launch event, in London exclusively for potential investors.
In terms of best-practice for securing ongoing investment, we provide seasonal updates to our investors and meet regularly with those who are keen for regular status updates, in order to keep them fully involved and as a result – happy.
What marketing did the company employ to maximise exposure?
Being an online business, the focus of the majority of our marketing efforts were digital. Social media, especially Facebook, proved the most successful channel with paid advertising being the second biggest revenue stream.
Working with brand advocates such as over 40 bloggers also became a key way to drive traffic and awareness. From our market research we realised that the 40 plus blogger community were key to driving traffic to the website and for building brand awareness. Therefore, we decided that instead of spending money on a traditional press launch event, we would host a ‘40 plus Blogger Meet’, where more than 40 of the most influential 40 plus bloggers in the UK attended to see the new collection and meet the team in person. We used this event not only as a promotional tool but also as a networking opportunity to establish and grow our blogger relationships for future digital campaigns. This activity was successful in generating a high level of coverage on social media and on different blogs, which was great for our SEO and for ensuring those all-important link backs to the website!
During our launch phase we also held a series of ‘Hope at Home’ events. Held at the Hope office (currently located in my own home), and otherwise known as ‘The Home of Hope’, local customers and key contacts were invited to drop in for a drink and catch up with friends and see the collection. We found that by offering women the chance to try on garments in the comfort of someone’s home was something really special and allowed attendees to relax, shop and socialise at the same time. As part of this activity, we also offered home delivery on any purchases within two days.
The feedback we received was really positive and one particular customer commented, ‘getting together with a group of likeminded women was like free therapy!’ The events have proved very popular, especially as our traditional customer profile has lost their traditional networking opportunities which they relied on when they were younger – such as meeting friends at the school gates etc.
Moreover, as our customer database grew and continues to grow, weekly trading emails have become the biggest driver of sales.
How is the company growing?
We have set ourselves an ambitious growth strategy for the first five years. For example, we set out to double year on year and for two and a half years we have met that challenge, achieving £279k turnover in 2016, and £527k turnover in 2017, more than a 89 per cent growth on the previous year. Whilst we are yet to reach break-even position we are in line with our forecasts, and I have faith that we will see this happen soon.
How important is an inspirational figurehead to a scale-up company?
I think it’s vital that an inspirational figurehead heads up a company – if you’re unable to inspire your staff, how will you get them motivated to succeed? I would define my own leadership style as collaborative with an emphasis on teamwork and transparency. I also believe in creating a working environment where people enjoy each other’s company. Lunchtime is a great time to do this – every day myself and the team all sit down in my kitchen and enjoy lunch together, and we all use it as an opportunity to ‘down tools’ and spend some quality time as a team. Taking a break during the working day is vital to helping employees be more productive.
As a result of we have been able to build a team of supportive, motivated and experienced people who can offer a helping hand or advice when the going gets tough! I think partners, advisers and investors will always be appreciative of someone who is transparent, as it means you can manage expectations and build trust.