Nayna McIntosh made her name at M&S and launched her own label for middle-aged women who still want to look fab. She will explain why during York Fashion Week

NAYNA McInstosh began her career as a Saturday girl at M&S – and ended up on the board of the high-street giant.

What this 56 year old doesn't know about fashion and selling clothes frankly isn't worth knowing.

Today, she heads up Hope, an online fashion brand aimed at middle-aged women. Nayna says Hope is for women who want to feel confident in what they wear. "An online survey told us that our customer's average age is 58, but that she feels 39 – so 19 years younger. That is spot on. In my head I feel like 30, but my body doesn't!

"This woman is part of the elastic generation of 50 to 74. She is the most lucrative sector in the womenswear market, but doesn't want to be patronised."

Nayna says she understands this woman – and how that after 50 her body changes and she wants clothes that fit, flatter and make her feel fabulous.

"Lots of women in their 50s are pre or post menopause; their bodies are changing. It's an issue of body confidence. I'm five foot nothing and when I got to 50 it was just harder; I had to think a lot more about [the clothes I wore]. My body shape was changing, my middle was getting thicker, but I still wanted to look good and had to think about how I put outfits together.

"I thought, if I'm thinking like this, what is it like for woman who haven't worked in fashion?"

Hope is for that very woman, says Nayna. Like any brand, it has to have its own USPs. "I thrashed out the things that were important to me, like sourcing. It's really important that things are sourced ethically and my ambition is to source primarily from the UK. Also the collection is what is called 'deconstructed' which means easy layering. It would not be strictly tailored. And it would cater for as many sizes as possible. So we cater for sizes eight to 20.

"We think about sizes in an emotional way. If you use small, medium, large and extra large, I have yet to meet a woman who is happy to be called an extra large. So we use super slim for a size eight; slim for sizes 10-12; curvy for 14-16, and super curvy for 18-20."

Nayna is coming to York as part of the city's first Fashion Week and will take part in two events where she will be talking about her remarkable career in retail – in which she has progressed from Saturday girl to the boardroom.

She began at M&S as a schoolgirl and joined its junior management scheme after her A-Levels. Then she was lured by the exciting new kid on the block – Next.

Next – exciting? Are you being serious? Well, perhaps not now, but dial back to the mid-80s and it was a totally different story.

Next was a trailblazer. Founded by George Davies (who later went on to set up George at Asda, and Per Una at M&S), Next pioneered the idea of the “total concept look”, of putting co-ordinating items together – a matching skirt, with top, bag, shoes and even hosiery – so that a customer was tempted to buy five items when they only came in for one. It was widely copied elsewhere on the high street.

When Davies decided to launch clothes into Asda, people thought him mad. But he knew he was on to a winner. M&S had been selling clothes and food for years, so why not? Again, he was proved right, and the other supermarkets all followed.

Next came Per Una at M&S, which is still a popular mainstay of Marks's fashion offering today despite the departure of Davies to pastures new.

If his story is one of fashion retailing's biggest success stories – then so is the story of Nayna McIntosh. For she followed Davies from Next to George and then on to Per Una, becoming part of his key team.

"Per Una was truly groundbreaking for M&S – it had never had a relationship like this with a third-party brand," says Nayna. A few years later, George sold Per Una to M&S and Nayna was asked by the then M&S boss Stuart Rose to stay on; he created a new role for her: head of store presentation and general merchandise.

"I realised quite quickly that in a corporate environment, I needed a voice at the table: I wanted to be a director in the business," says Nayna. "Stuart was a big supporter and created a management board and I was one of the 12 people appointed." Hence her strapline: "from Saturday girl to boardroom".

For many people, that would be enough. But Nayna felt she had more to give. "I remember I was 51 and on holiday in Jamaica. It was the first time in 30 years I didn't want to get up in the morning. I needed to make a change. I felt there was a big job in me still to come."

That "big job" turned out to be setting up her own business – Hope, two-and-a-half years ago.

Nayna will be taking part in two events during York Fashion Week: she will be speaking to students at an invite-only session on working in the industry, but also hosting a Meet The Designer workshop at The Principal, York, on Thursday, April 19, from 6.30pm. Tickets cost £5, with more details from

So what advice would she have today for young people hoping to make a career in fashion? "Follow your instincts. You really have to listen to your instincts. That feeling when you are really scared to jump is exactly the time to jump."

See the new spring collection at Hope online at:

You can book a ticket (£5) for Nayna's Meet The Designer event at The Principal, York, on Thursday, April 19, from 6.30pm, via

Check out the York Fashion Week programme at