Inspiration can strike in many places - out and about, after a drink, whilst watching television, taking a walk. For Maxine Thompson, the founder of stylish women's trousers PolkaPants, inspiration struck at the workplace - a hot kitchen, where she became frustrated at the lack of choice for chef's trousers that were comfortable and stylish at the same time. After starting to make her own, she founded PolkaPants - trousers specifcally designed for women in the hospitality industry.
1. Explain your business in thirty seconds or less
PolkaPants are tailored trousers designed specifically for women who work in hospitality - including chefs, waiting staff, bar staff, food photographers and food stylists.
2. Where are you based and why is it a good location for your business?
We are based in East London. It's good for our business as all our production, screen print and fabric-sourcing is done locally in East London, so we can pop into the studio to pick things up, check on production or have a cup of tea with our fabric supplier. A big part of our business ethos is to keep everything local and London-made.
3. How did you come up with the idea?
The idea came about when I was working in a restaurant that did 100 covers a night, with the choice of an eight or ten course tasting menu that changed every day. With only three of us in the kitchen the days were long, hard and fast, and service was hot and sweaty. I could not for the life of me find a pair of trousers that were cool, comfortable and durable enough to work in for 14 hours a day… so I took matters into my own hands and started to make my own.
I became serious about actually making them on a commercial level when I moved to London two years ago, I began with the usual market research, user-testing, development and refinement - and PolkaPants was launched in Febuary 2016.
4. What’s the business model?
We only make trousers - one style in four colours. The trouser is designed to flatter every woman's body, regardless of what size or shape you are. We sell directly to customers through our website, and ship internationally.
5. Who are your competitors?
There are a couple of similar business doing men's chef clothing, and also clothing for women who ride motorcycles (custom-made leathers and denim, very cool), but no one is doing trousers specifically for women in the hospitality industry.
6. What’s unique about your business?
We are the first company in the world to offer trousers specifically designed for women who work in hospitality, and they are designed and made in London.
7. What stage was your business at when you applied for the Start Up Loan?
I had my first run of samples complete (sizes 4-16 in three variations).
8. How have you used it to grow your business?
I have used it to grow my business through a marketing campaign, a sales trip to New York, I’ve hired my first employee, and we are about to introduce one more colour to the base collection.
9. Who is your mentor and how have they helped you?
My mentor is Jonathon Spanos - food-obsessed and well-dressed, it's been the perfect match! He’s been great because he understands my target market and understand the fashion and business industries. The hardest thing in our meetings is to stay on track and not just talk about food.
10. Who is your regional delivery partner and how did they help you get a Virgin StartUp loan?
My regional director was also Jonathon Spanos, I feel very lucky to have had him beside me on this journey! He helped me get my loan by tidying up my business plan, making it more short and concise. His wealth of knowledge and business brain provided me with great inside knowledge, and I owe a lot of whats happened to his advice.
11. Biggest achievement so far?
Getting featured on Vogue.com! For all my years working in fashion, it took my direction in food to get featured on my dream website!
12. What’s next for your business?
We’re focusing on taking PolkaPants to Australia, New Zealand and throughout Asia towards the end of the year. We’re working on a chef collaboration and will be hosting a ‘Women in Hospitality’ dinner in November.