Polly McMaster is a successful business woman and co-founder of The Fold, a contemporary womenswear label that aims to deliver chic clothing for the working woman. Her career in the City led her to create a brand specifically designed for the for the professional, as it her belief that “looking as smart as a man in his bespoke suit gives women the same level of confidence and gravitas at work”. The Fold’s seasonal collections define 24/7 dressing through versatile pieces that are designed to create a clean, modern aesthetic and past customers include the Duchess of Cambridge, Samantha Cameron and various other senior politicians.
Polly began her career in the competitive world of consulting and finance, with a Cambridge PhD in Molecular Biology and an MBA at London Business School. It was at LBS that she met her former co-founder, Cheryl Mainland, and between them they launched The Fold back in 2011. In July 2013, Management Today voted Polly one of ‘35 Women Under 35’ and in 2016, The Fold was named one of Walpole’s prestigious Brands of Tomorrow.
A fervent supporter of British and European industry, Polly runs The Fold’s design headquarters from London and all garments are manufactured in Europe. She is also a big believer in championing women in business and in honour of her strong female customer base created an online and offline community centred around ‘The Fold Woman’, which profiles extraordinary women and their tips to success – with a view towards empowering the image of women in the business world. Polly regularly hosts networking events designed to bring together the highest achieving women in business.
Tessa Packard [TP]: Tell us more about your career path and how you went from a Cambridge graduate with a PhD in Molecular Biology to the founder of a contemporary fashion label?
PM: It sounds more random than it is… I’ve always been a bit ‘left brain right brain’ so loved both art and design as well as analytical problem solving. So from pure lab science, through to consulting and private equity, and now The Fold there is a creative / analytical approach that has carried me through.
TP: What key advice would you pass on to anyone looking to start their own business?
PM: Be absolutely passionate about what you are doing. The rollercoaster cliché is true, and grit and determination are what you need most – so if you love it, it will come across to your customers, suppliers and supporters.
TP: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced since launching The Fold back in 2011?
PM: Building a brand takes time and nurturing – so finding investment support to go along that journey is critical, and securing that as well as running the business is definitely challenging. Having a baby while running a business also definitely tests your multitasking skills, but I’d highly recommend it…
TP: What have been your greatest achievements?
PM: Recruiting a great team – I love going to work everyday and spending time with The Fold team. They are all very passionate about what we do, are solution focused, and go-getting – we work hard but find it so rewarding when we see everything come together and the business grow as a result.
TP: Who have been your most important mentors and influencers to date?
PM: Our customers (including early investors), my husband and family, and chairman. I genuinely try to listen to as much feedback as I can get from our customers to make sure we are designing what they want, they are an exceptionally talented, smart and inspiring group of women so I feel privileged to dress them.
TP: Describe your working-look style and some of your favourite brands (if not The Fold)?
PM: I am dressed head to toe in The Fold most days! When I’m more casual I can wear our tailoring mixed with denim, and for an important meeting putting on a dress from our collection gives me a confidence boost – which is exactly what they’re designed to do!
TP: As a Walpole 2016 Brand of Tomorrow, how do you feel the programme has influenced The Fold’s development?
PM: The Walpole is amazing in terms of the network and the mentoring. I met lots of fantastic brand founders and I will definitely stay in touch with them. That is for sure the best part of the programme – being part of a peer group of incredible brands.
TP: Tell us more about the work you do championing women in business and the networks you have formed supporting female entrepreneurs?
PM: Our Fold Woman community is an amazing network of women, and we hold events and run features to talk about their achievements. We also host womens’ networking events and love being able to support them building relationships. We’ve had incredible feedback of the connections that have been forged through this – which is very rewarding
TP: What are your future ambitions?
PM: We are building exciting momentum in the UK as well as abroad – our customers are very cosmopolitan women, so we are excited to keep expanding internationally.
TP: How do you like to unwind in your spare time?
PM: I have a 1 ½ year old daughter Lainey – so spending time with her and my husband is a completely wonderful change of pace and breath of fresh air from work.
ON THE SPOT
Town or Countryside? Town
Favourite city? London
Your perfect dinner guest, dead or alive? Richard Branson
If you could time travel to any era it would be…? The time of Henry VIII – after reading Wolf Hall
The best meal you’ve ever eaten is? The River Cafe – birthday dinner with my husband, mother and sister. I love the simplicity of their food with beautiful fresh ingredients.
The one essential you can’t leave home without? I-phone
Pet hate? Raw onion in salads and, separately, people with negative attitudes
Biggest extravagance? Doing what I love everyday
Favourite book? All the books by Donna Tartt, also Dirt Music and Cloud street by Tim Winton
What would your gravestone read? Hopefully an end date that is far into the future
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