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No Ordinary Folk



Glasgow born Maggie Smart is Co-Founder of both London-based contemporary brand Folk and Boutique Fashion Agency Macandi, We wanted to know what brought her to London, the secret to a running a family business and how she finds balance between her work and home life.


You founded your fashion agency Macandi Showrooms back in 1999 with your brother Cathal, how did this proud Scot end up living so far South and how did the agency idea come about? Is going into business with your sibling something you would recommend?


I left Glasgow for London as soon as I finished my last exams at Uni to join a graduate management scheme in hospitality but returned only a year later to spend time with my Mum who was terminally ill just before my 21st birthday and then in the space of a year both of my parents died.

I stayed on in Glasgow for a while to get my head round everything and then a year later my brother, Cathal,  approached me with a business plan (well a napkin with some numbers scribbled on it over dinner and a great spiel!) - our parents had left us each a modest amount of money and that became the working capital for Macandi.  Cathal had worked across so many areas of the industry - store manager & buyer at the mighty Ichi Ni San in Glasgow (I was a Saturday girl from age 13-18 there too) production agency and most recently as head of menswear sales for Nicole Farhi. He could see a gap in the market for an agency that was focused on working with the best independents - and so whilst I wish I could take the credit for the idea, I can’t, as always in our partnership - he is the original thinker and I help him bring his ideas to life.

 

I didn't join the business until around a year later when Cathal secured a contract to do the sales for Puma Blackstation which was their newly launched top tier collaboration division and we needed to start to build out a team and processes and thats what I enjoy. Cathal called,  I packed up my flat and headed South again and our partnership was truly cemented.


In terms of working with a sibling - there are highs and lows like any business partnership - we can be brutally honest with each other and have very high expectations of each other and it can be hard to switch off when we are trying to have family time. What we do have, is complete and unquestioned trust between us which is priceless in business. It’s not for everyone but for me the benefits far outweigh the negatives and completely selfishly , I am not a creative but thrive on being around someone who is - Cathal has that rare balance of a brilliantly creative mind, non stop ideas and super sharp business instincts and so it’s a joy to be in that orbit and that of the creative teams that he has built around him.


As well as the agency, which is responsible for the launch of multiple brands into the independent retail space, you have also co-founded clothing brands including Magic Castles and FOLK, which with its quiet unassuming aesthetic and strong emphasis on quality has unsurprisingly won a legion of fans and has weathered the storm of independent retail where so many others have failed. What's your secret?


Oh that’s a tough question - I hope that it is our steadfast commitment to making great product above all else. Perhaps it’s staying quite small and just quietly working on the details rather than chasing turnover figures ? Maybe it’s truly enjoying what we do and being so lucky to work with a brilliant team every day? I also think Cathal's ‘we’ attitude is quite key - although he sets the vision and guides the work, knowing and appreciating that its a team effort every step off the way and when speaking of the brands he never says “I” always “we” - I think that’s also inherently Glaswegian - keeping the ego in check!





As well as your commercial ventures you have played an active role in working with the British School of Fashion to develop their masters degree and you lecture at GCU. Firstly how do you find the time! and secondly, tell us why these roles outside of the retail world are so important to you?


I used my maternity break to develop the masters in fashion business for Glasgow Caledonian University - also home to the British School of Fashion - so I had a little time on my hands.

I am passionate about the role the University plays with their ‘Common Good’ mission - it speaks to my working class roots, that education should be for all and not only for the wealthy. It is a leading modern University with a purpose,  it speaks to the morals my Mum instilled in me - that if we can help others, we should. So in a way it’’s a selfish endeavour, it feels good to help and support the next generation of fashion professionals and the team at the University are world class in their commitment to the students that step through those doors and does not end when they leave. The alumni team at the University led by Jillian Watt is superb.


From Scotland to London, after beating Breast Cancer in 2019 you and your family now live in the country. What spurred on the relocation and how is your new routing different from your old one?

 

Initially its was a knee jerk reaction to my cancer diagnosis, we had only moved into our newly renovated home a few months when we received the news, my husband just wanted to helicopter my to a quiet life! The house was put on the market pretty quickly and I am a go with the flow person, I was on the fence about such a a big move while I had so much going own but when we really drilled down into where we were at we could also feel that our son needed more space, more nature , more calm - and a dog! I started to view my diagnosis as a gift, it made us stop and really take a moment to think about what we wanted and to take control of our next steps as a family - we moved out pretty much a year to the day that we had moved in .. 

Having completed two complete Victorian property renovations in London in 4 years, we had always dreamed of building something modern and found a lot of inspiration on The Modern House of bungalow conversions and after a lot of searching we found a dream spot in the Surrey countryside - it’s taken a lot of blood  sweat, tears and swearing but we are almost finished a complete rebuild of the property and hoping to stay here for the long term.  


My routine is so different to London life where I felt I never stopped - my life is very focused on time spent in nature now - we are lucky enough to live on the edge of a nature reserve  and have found ourselves in a brilliant community where there is a lot going on and so we spend a lot of time walking with friends. I work from home 2/3 days a week and then spend two days in London and pack in as much as I can, usually staying with my brother so that I get a work, family and London hit all in one go -  I feel very fortunate to have the best of both worlds ad I definitely feel a lot calmer and more relaxed than I have ever done.


Biggest Lesson in Business?


Talk is cheap, work with people who like to DO rather than TALK .


What advice you would give your 18 year old self ?


Ignore the narrative that a strong woman is a difficult woman - don't be afraid to speak up for yourself or others.


Be kind to yourself and really really take the time to get to know yourself and what you want and what really makes your soul sing and focus on that!







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