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HOPE seeks £2m investment as it reinvents fashion for older women

 

After three years of selling directly online and dropship companies with no membership through an expanding network of independent small shops, the Berkshire-based company grew 86 per cent this quarter and expects around a £1m turnover for 2018.

Targeting the 40-plus age female, a group of 3.3 million in the UK alone, Hope sits between the high street mainstream and designer high end.

It has, says co-founder Nayna McIntosh “proved its concept that there is a market for a capsule collection of wardrobe staples using the best fabrics and yarns available.

“The relaxed pieces we produce wrap, drape and flatter women’s bodies so they feel confident and beautiful. For many it’s been a long time since they have felt that way about themselves.”

A recently updated report by marketing agency J. Walter Thompson found older women, who by and large control household spending, are the vanguard of a major social change where age no longer dictates the way people live.

Yet they regard the style of best wholesale clothing aimed at them as outdated and consider advertisers treat them as stereotypes not individuals.

McIntosh equally aware of the disconnect in 2014 spotted a gap in the market. Her insights and expertise came from two decades with M&S working to director level.

“I knew the customers because they were like me,” she says. “It was a now-or-never moment to start my own business.”

Five friends and her accountant husband Harvey Ainley bought in and Hope Fashion was born.

It now employs six, almost all of females aged 20 to 62 and including two trainees who decided on the world of work rather than university, plus a wider pool of consultants.

All design is in the UK with the majority of its exclusive, feel-good stretch fabric sourced from Italy and 10 per cent from a factory in Sheffield. Manufacture is similarly split.

Hope’s sizing descriptions are notably uplifting. Dresses float from ‘freesize’ to ‘dual curvy’ while trousers stride from ‘super slim’ to ‘super curvy’.

The company’s best-selling core is its starter Foundation Collection.

In many ways similar to the immaculate construction of performance sportwear, it offers “the wearer support, freedom of movement, breathability, freshness and comfort. The garments won’t pill and are easy to wash and wrinkle-free, so ideal for travelling,” says McIntosh.

The latest, next generation Power Foundation range builds on that, fusing together two fabric layers for more special occasion separates and pieces.

“This has doubled selling expectations,” adds McIntosh. “We find many women buy Foundation pieces as base layers then layer again with our knitwear.”

Another unexpected but very positive consequence has been the wholesale channel, helping independent shops diversify and high street footfall revive in smaller and market towns, where the keep-trade-local ethos remains strong despite the digital onslaught.

“There’s more innovative thinking happening now among retailers – for example one café owner in Devon has started selling our pieces,” explains McIntosh who aims to have 100 on board in future.

With orders from the US, Europe and New Zealand increasing, expansion is essential.

And it will happen McIntosh is in no doubt. After all the business’s name, also her mother’s, says it all.

Her grandfather was part of Jamaica’s Windrush generation who left their families to come to work in the UK and save enough to build a better life for them.

“They have passed on their determined work ethic and love of family to me,” says McIntosh. “It’s what makes Hope the company it is today.”