Nayna McIntosh believed she had spotted a gap in the market when she launched online retailer Hope Fashion in 2015: producing elegant, relaxed clothes for women in their 50s and older.
After several decades working at some of the UK’s largest clothing retailers, McIntosh – who is now 60 – felt older women were being ignored by mainstream brands, despite often having more disposable income.
“I wanted to unashamedly target a 50-plus woman who is cognisant of the changes her body goes through, and designing products accordingly,” McIntosh says. Those products available on the website include pleated skirts and wrap tops in jewel colours.
Despite growing its customer numbers by more than 160% year-on-year in 2022, and with hopes of breaking even in 2024, the retailer has struggled to secure crucial investment.
Two investors, who have previously supported the business, unexpectedly pulled out of its latest fundraising effort earlier in January.
Now Hope Fashion has taken the unusual move of appealing to its 20,000 customers to open their wallets for a reason other than adding to their wardrobes: McIntosh is asking them to donate £100 or more to rescue the business from imminent collapse.
McIntosh – who was part of the team which launched the George at Asda fashion label with George Davies in the 1990s, and helped to launch the Per Una range at Marks & Spencer – regularly engages with her customers through question and answer or styling sessions on social media.
She says this has resulted in an ”incredibly loyal customer base”, and this seems to be supported by the company’s average score of 4.8 stars on consumer rating website Trustpilot, with the overwhelming majority of reviewers (89%) awarding the brand the top five-star rating.
In an email sent to customers on Monday, McIntosh is appealing to them to become “Hope Saviours” and allow the brand to keep operating.
“Where do you go when you’re desperate and need help?” McIntosh asks in the email, adding: “What if the people who love Hope were prepared to rescue it.”
McIntosh is asking her customers and the brand’s followers to donate £100, £250 or more to help raise £250,000.
The money will be used to buy new products – which are designed by Hope in Berkshire and produced in Italy – for the brand’s spring/summer and autumn/winter collections, as well as for increased marketing.
In return, those who donate will be entered into a prize draw with a chance to win a £1,000 voucher and a styling session with McIntosh.
She believes the fundraising will keep the company and its staff going until early 2024, when she hopes the economic outlook will have improved and “the markets will be more receptive”.
If the company is not able to meet its target by midnight on 7 February, customers will be told “it’s all over” and their donations will be returned.
McIntosh is holding a series of virtual talks with customers to discuss donating to the business, which she describes as “a big ask”.
The veteran retailer Stuart Rose, former chief executive of Marks & Spencer, was one of McIntosh’s first investors, and she describes him as a continued “supporter” of the business.
However, in the past she has found it hard to attract funding from predominantly male investors.
“This is a brand for women, by women, supported by women. I think an awful lot of male investors out there just don’t get it,” says McIntosh.
“As a woman, I’ve got a 2% chance of being successful at fundraising. As a person of colour, that goes down to 0.2%.”
Crowdfunding has previously come in for criticism after some business fundraises have left investors disappointed – and even out of pocket.
However, McIntosh insists she is only “talking to the converted”, her customers, and is not offering any equity in the company during the crowdfunding.
“These are people who are very engaged with us,” she says. “I’m not trying to sell a really good idea to somebody who has absolutely zero interest in 50-plus women and clothing.”