Maxine Thompson, PolkaPants Maxine Thompson, PolkaPants

Maxine Thompson, PolkaPants

James Sandrini 20th September 2018

What’s it really like to start a business in hospitality? We started an interview series to find out.

This week, we talked with Maxine Thompson, Founder of PolkaPants about bringing gender balance to the brigade, making clothes that chefs want to wear and who’s more sensitive: Chefs or Designers.

Q

PolkaPants. Great idea. Why has it taken so long for someone to design an item of clothing that a chef – any chef – actually wants to wear?

I think there are many contributing factors to why it’s taken so long.

The first, that it is traditionally a male-dominated industry, so until recently there has never been any need for women’s uniforms. Similar to airline pilots; in 2016 Qantas redesigned their pilot uniform to include a women’s version. Up until then they had been flying in a men’s suit.

This goes to show how the times are changing across all industries in terms of gender, not just that of hospitality, and now there is a need for essentials, like uniforms, to be reconsidered and redesigned.

Another contributing factor is that the whole industry is changing: chefs are now being seen; they are part of the dining experience. The last 5 years have seen a change in restaurant design, and kitchens have gone from being invisible dark spaces underground to the centerpiece of the restaurant with chefs now playing an integral part of the dining experience. Patrons now communicate, interact and observe the chefs & BOH staff, so it has become important to look presentable.

Q

The trousers can be seen all over London and often outside the kitchen. What other industries do you have your eye on?

We have women in all sorts of industries wearing them – from the hospitably sector, to doctors, librarians and teachers.

We’ve recently seen a surge in female artists purchasing them as studio pants; either for painting or ceramics. It’s nice to see them getting trashed in a different way; covered in paint and clay opposed to food!

"There’s no hierarchy. I think this supportive attitude is really helping to open up the industry over there and think London could learn a thing or two from them! "
Q

You’ve worked in fashion and food. Designers or chefs: Which are the most sensitive about what they create?

Having worked in both, I can tell you that both chefs and designers are very moody about their creations! In terms of designers, you could argue that they can be more sensitive because their creations are built to last years.

What chefs take hours to make - and in some cases, months of planning and testing - can be gone in seconds; but they can be more sensitive for this reason because of the amount of work that goes into a few seconds of pleasure, everything has to be perfect!

Q

And you worked in NY too. What are they getting right about recruiting women in kitchens that we’re not? Last time we checked, less than 1 in 5 members of brigades are women.

I find the whole restaurant industry in New York is a breath of fresh air; it’s fun, it’s exciting and it’s super encouraging and supportive. I feel the scene has a big community feeling to it, everyone knows everyone and talks to everyone regardless of whether you work in a starred restaurant or run a street stall; there’s no hierarchy.

I think this supportive attitude is really helping to open up the industry over there and think London could learn a thing or two from them!

48.1 - Maxine Thompson Polka Pants
Q

Professional kitchens have always been a boys club. Are PolkaPants, tailored chef jackets and the like – by nature of devolving the homogeny – part of a much bigger solution that will help even out the gender balance?

One of the issues that’s going to help balance out the gender balance in kitchens is beyond the subject of uniforms. It’s a bigger issue about making the industry more appealing for men and women alike; make working hours more balanced, fewer doubles, better pay, more time off – that sort of thing.

Yes, uniforms may help women feel more comfortable physically in these environments but better working conditions will make the industry more appealing to everyone.

Q

You’re still cooking too right? What do your weeks look like right now?

Yep I still cook- but not professionally that often. I try and do pop up dinner events a couple of times a year, as I do love being a professional kitchen and it is fun to challenge myself like that, and to keep my knife skills up to scratch! I also have a few private clients that I cook for, which I love; a lot of them have become like family.

Right now the weeks vary quite a lot! We’re currently working on a few events, both in London and New York, working on a collaboration with another workwear label, and developing some new products. We have recently just moved studios too, so trying to work in a construction site is interesting!

Q

And where do you eat out in London?

I cook at home a lot; but favourite places to eat out are: for midweek breakfast, Esters, perfect spot for a long-relaxed Sunday lunch, Rochelle Canteen, for a cheap and delicious dinner, Xian impressions, for a special occasion, The River Café and my favourite, dinner at my sister’s house.

Thanks to Maxine Thompson.

Find out more about PolkaPants on the website, go monochrome with them on Insta, or straight up follow them on Facebook and Twitter.