From one girl boss to another meet Maxine Thompson, chef and founder of PolkaPants – a brand that makes the coolest, most flattering chefs trousers designed specially for women. Before PolkaPants, chefs clothing for women was somewhat limited and left a lot to be desired in terms of fit; it was all a bit shapeless, to say the least. After one sweaty and uncomfortable service too many, Maxine decided to do something about the lack of decent kitchen clothing for women and thus, PolkaPants was born.
I recently had the pleasure of cooking alongside Maxine at my She Wears The Trousers supper club and couldn’t wait to sit down with her for a good natter about food, business and future goals.
What was your initial inspiration to start PolkaPants?
My initial inspiration to start Polka Pants grew from the frustration of not being able to find any comfortable, practical and stylish trousers to wear while cooking in a restaurant kitchen. The idea came about when I was working in a restaurant in Tasmania, Australia in 2013. The restaurant did 100 covers a night with the choice of an 8 or 10 course tasting menu that changed every day. With only 3 of us in the kitchen, so 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.
I went through SO many different pairs of store bought trousers (I even tried cooking in high wasted tight jeans one night, and almost passed out I was so hot and uncomfortable!). None of the trousers I tried fit the bill, they would either lose their shape, a button would fall off, the crotch would split or the fabric would bleed onto my chef whites when I was scrubbing down at the end of the night. I was fed up of spending money on unsuitable products, so I took matter into my own hands and started to make my own.
What are the core values of PolkaPants?
At PolkaPants I really believe in keeping our product made in London. As chefs, we care so much about where our food comes from, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have the same relationship with our clothes. We believe in slow fashion as much as slow food. We make all our products to last.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced since starting your business?
So many! Overcoming self doubt, financial constraints, trying to handle every aspect of the business.
What has been the most rewarding thing about starting your own business?
One of the most rewarding things is going into a cafe or restaurant and looking over and seeing someone in the kitchen or behind the bar wearing a pair of Polkas, getting dirty, getting hot and sweaty – actually seeing girls physically working and cooking in them, o see them doing their job makes me really happy! Also having the freedom to work when you want. I feel very very lucky, and am still able to balance the office side of my job with cooking jobs – which keep me sane!
From one girl boss to another, what advice would you give you other women wanting to start their own business?
Always ask for help… don’t be ashamed if you don’t know something; you only know what you know and there are so many people who been through the same processes as you and had different experience, and people are always willing to give her advise and two cents about things.
What is your favourite part of working for yourself?
Getting to share a work space with my sister! She’s work for herself too (as well as doing all the branding for PolkaPants) so we share a studio. It’s also amazing to be in charge of your own time, so you can maintain a healthy work/life balance. I can always make sure I have time to exercise, do laundry and do a full days work.
If you travel a lot with your job, how do you balance work/home life?
I have always travelled, or moved around a lot; so I am quite used to being away from friends and family – Skype and WhatsApp make everything a lot closer. It’s always inspiring to go away, and always really wonderful to come home.
What are your future goals for the company?
I’d really love to turn the PolkaPants head office into a commercial kitchen space, a place where chefs, bakers and cooks could come and experience, recipe test, do cookbook/ photoshoots and then also a space we could host dinners and parties and teach cooking lessons. Half of the space would be Polka offices and distribution and the other half a space for cooking enthusiasts to rent.
Products wise, keep developing our line of trousers, make them more customisable and collaborate with brands to increase the offering.
What do you enjoy doing to relax after a stressful day?
Usually attempt to do something in the way of exercise, more often than not have a glass of wine, cuddle a friend, take a deep breath and remember that tomorrow is another day!
Talk us through your day in food: do you have time for breakfast in the morning? What is your favourite meal?
I always give myself enough time in the morning. I eat a lot, I eat out and I cook at home, so for breakfast at the moment I’ve been having green smoothies (yep, Im one of those girls) and coffee, for lunch its usually some form of salad or crackers with cottage cheese and tomato. For dinner its anything from a laksa to donburi, fresh pasta, risotto or a burger at the pub. I love dinner… its a chance to either sit and enjoy time on your own, or enjoy the company of friends and family, catch over a drink and relax. My favourite meal.. I adore Italian food, so it would have to be my mum minestrone, mainly because when I eat it, it feels as though she’s giving me a cuddle!
Where is your favourite place to eat out?
Rochelle Canteen.. it feels as though you’ve teleported out of London to your own magic garden. And its BYOB.
If we came over for dinner, what sort of food would you serve?
Italian or Japanese (my older sister lives in Tokyo so I get to spend a lot of time there and always come home with a suitcase full of weird powders and food stuffs)!
Are there any specific ingredients/foods you couldn’t live without?
Pasta and champagne.