Reader's Digest spoke to Polly McMaster, founder of women’s workwear brand The Fold, about her path through business
RD: How did The Fold get started, and how would you best summarise what you offer?
The Fold is a luxury workwear brand for ambitious women. I started the brand in 2012, believing that women can be both powerful and feminine, professional and stylish; they shouldn’t have to compromise.
Polly McMaster, founder of luxury women's workwear brand The Fold
When I started work in a highly male dominated industry, I wanted to stand out for the right reasons, to feel empowered and confident in what I wore. I spotted a gap in the market for a brand that was relevant to ambitious women, one that could become a trusted peer and ally in their career and professional lifestyle.
We design beautiful timeless pieces, which are elevated, considered and tasteful. We call our product "heirloom styles" that our customers can love and treasure for years to come and pass down to a loved one.
RD: Have you undertaken any training/qualifications in designing women's workwear that have helped you get to where you are now?
In my earlier career I studied a lot! I completed a PhD in Virology, and also did an MBA at London Business School. While my PhD was very specific, it taught me the discipline of research and obviously a lot of useful analytical skills.
My MBA was also highly valuable—during an MBA you cover so many areas of business from marketing, strategy and finance, as well as networking with a great peer group.
All these studies, as well as the professional development I had in my previous roles gave me great broad commercial skills to help me cope with what is needed to run a business.
RD: How does you work compliment your personality? What are the core values that drive you?
I absolutely love celebrating women’s achievements and supporting our advancement at work. Our mission is to help women achieve their ambitions through offering empowering workwear styles, content and campaigns.
I also enjoy networking and having inspiring conversations with remarkable women. I have the privilege of connecting with so many incredible women in the industry.
"Our mission is to help women achieve their ambitions through offering empowering workwear"
I am definitely a combination of both creative and also analytical, so the fact that my role and the business encompass both really motivates me.
RD: A core part of The Fold's business model is in how it allows women to feel both professional and fashionable. What do you yourself like to wear to work? How can a great work outfit boost professional confidence?
We’ve always believed that what you wear can influence your confidence, and extensive research we’ve done with our customers supports this. The influence is multi-faceted, from your own sense of being prepared and appropriate, to others’ perceptions of effort, competence and being put-together to represent an organisation.
The design process for The Fold's new collection
I also think it is really important to love what you wear and invest in clothes that will last for years. I think that sense of joy really influences what I wear to work, and even more so after covid—to treat every day as an opportunity to feel fantastic.
RD: You've dressed some extremely high-profile clients, The Duchess of Cambridge and Samantha Cameron to name a few. What sort of considerations do you make with a celebrity client? Which key pieces do you recommend?
We work closely with stylists for dressing high-profile women for key occasions. It is so lovely and rewarding when an incredible woman chooses The Fold, and we’ve had so many examples of them looking sensational! Olivia Colman, Kerry Washington, journalists both in the UK and US and even the Duchess of Cambridge and Pippa Middleton, the list goes on…we are always so proud and delighted to see them!
The Fold is driven by a desire to empower women professionally
We’ve done this very organically—connecting with influential women from a wide range of backgrounds and careers including entrepreneurs, royalty, actresses, journalists, authors who love fashion and have an incredible sense of style.
RD: What does a typical workday look like for you?
As the founder of The Fold, my days are very varied. From internal responsibilities amongst the team, trading, planning and reporting to the Board, to creative involvement in product and campaigns, and then externally to represent the brand and build our profile and our network! I thrive on the variety of the role, and find it genuinely challenging—and therefore rewarding.
RD: What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your job?
It sounds like a cliché, but when we get an amazing email from one of our customers telling us that she nailed an interview wearing The Fold, or wore our pieces to an important life milestone, it is really an amazing feeling. Those sound like small moments, but that was genuinely why I set up the brand.
When we make an emotional connection with a customer who we have helped to feel confident doing her job, it really fills me with pride and makes the whole journey worthwhile.
"When we make an emotional connection with a customer it really fills me with pride"
Inevitably through the years of The Fold, we’ve also had some tough times—particularly during COVID, when we had business challenges but also had to work with the team through any personal matters. Being brave through these difficult times, but sometimes having to be the bearer of bad news, is without doubt the hardest part of my role.
RD: What do you like to do to switch off?
I have two young kids, so just stepping through the front door is a great discipline of focusing on them and putting any work pressures aside. They are so all consuming and energetic that hanging out with them and my husband (and our dog) is the best way to switch off!
RD: What has been the most valuable business lesson you’ve learnt so far? And what has been your most tangible achievement?
As part of our 10-year anniversary, we recently brought together an incredible group of Fold women to share their career stories. I was having my photo taken at the end of the day, and suddenly got really emotional (not great when you’ve just had your make up done!). Seeing these amazing women support our brand and looking out beyond the camera to my amazing team was really overwhelming.
The Fold celebrates its 10-year anniversary this year
Surviving as a business shouldn’t be taken for granted—we’ve been through some very challenging times. Taking this moment to celebrate what we’ve created, all the amazing women we’ve dressed, and to look forward to the future is absolutely my proudest achievement.
RD: In five years’ time, where would you like to see yourself and the business, both professionally and personally?
We have great ambitions to be the global go-to brand for luxury women's workwear. So, looking ahead five years, I’d love to see The Fold open more stores, both in the UK and in the US, and truly offering a fantastic end-to-end wardrobe for work and beyond for our amazing ambitious customers.
RD: If you weren’t in this line of work, what other career would you love to have?
I’ve already worked in both science and investment, and genuinely felt that when I founded The Fold, I had pulled together all the aspects of my values and ambitions into one role. The creative love of our product and fashion, through to the commercial and analytical side of the business will no doubt keep me busy for many years to come!
Shop The Fold here
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