In an industry where the only trousers available to female chefs are baggy, unflattering trousers aimed at a unisex market, Maxine is hoping PolkaPants helps create the ideal female chef trouser - designed for functionality, comfort, and style.
In the interview below, Maxine talks about her journey so far since starting PolkaPants.
Hi Maxine, thanks for agreeing to share your story on YHP. Can you give us some background information about yourself?
I’ve been bouncing between the world of food and fashion ever since I was 15. I ran my own kitchen when I was 17, and then went to university, where I studied Fashion Design & Business management. I moved to New York where I worked for Chanel for 2 years, then traded my power suit for chef whites and enrolled in culinary school for 6 months to receive my diploma in Classic Culinary Arts. Now (much to the happiness of my Dad) I combined all 3 of my degrees to launch my business, PolkaPants.
Tell me about the early days, the type of challenges you initially encountered?
The challenges that we initially encountered were a lot to do with the production and manufacturing side of the business; suppliers letting us down, production schedules running late; problems that come with inexperience in the industry and also from early days of building business relationships within our supply and production chain. We have since solved these problems and brought production in house where we can keep a close eye on the whole process.
How did you initially get traction?
We threw a massive party! It was more of a celebration of women in food rather than the launch of our brand. Traction has come quite naturally because of this. We try and make the story as much about the community of women who wear our product as much as the product itself.
About the first few months, how excited were you, tell us about how those months felt, what happened?
I was excited and terrified (I still am)! I remember pushing the ‘launch’ button to the Shopify store and just sitting and waiting. Sales since our launch have been steady with a really natural rate of growth. We haven’t exploded but are slowly building and expanding – trying to improve the product, our offering and our overall business.
We manage all shipping and distribution from our HQ so when I see all the packages going to their new homes around the world, it’s really amazing to think that someone cooking in a kitchen in Texas, or Paris, or on a yacht in Mallorca will be wearing PolkaPants.
How have you been able to fund the business so far?
We’ve funded it through a series of Business Start Up loans, bank loans and a personal savings and family investment. We are still bootleg funded, which makes it a very interesting, and stomach wrenching journey!
What are the most crucial things that you have done to grow your business?
Keeping our overheads as low as possible has allowed us to be able to inject the maximum amount of money back in to the business to allow us to keep up with the increasing demand for the product.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
Having met so many incredible women around the world; PolkaPants has opened up the world in terms of contacts and some women who I have met along the way are now some of my best friends. It’s been a really amazing way of meeting other young business owners too. Sometimes you can feel quite isolated when starting a business, as if every challenge will make or break you; and then you meet other business owners going through the exact same phase, and it’s quite refreshing and also inspiring to know that you are not alone.
We also won a Great British Food Award in 2016 (the year we launched) for our excellence in the contribution to the food industry.
What can we expect from yourself and the team at PolkaPants for 2019?
We’re working on collaboration with a workwear label from Australia, which will launch in March 2019. We’re also looking to launch our Everyday Collection – a range of trousers aimed for women who have careers outside of the hospitality industry. We’re focusing on growing our company in the US next year; so planning a lot of food festivals, Pop Ups and events both on the East and West coast from August.
Lastly, what three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
- Keep up with your booking keeping from day one. It’s not the most fun or glamourous thing to do but managing cashflow is the most important aspect of the business.
- Ask questions! If you don’t know the answer to something or are unsure about the next move to make or strategy to implement, ask. There are 1000s of business owners who have been in your position and people are always more than willing to offer advice and assistance when you ask.
- Breathe. Sometimes it can be really hard to see how far you’ve come or what you have achieved because you are so involved with your business. It’s really important to be able to take a step back, look at what you have done (the good, the bad and the ugly) reflect, breathe and then move forward. It’s often by taking this one step back that allows you to take 5 steps forward.