Hadley Pollet, a 1988 New Canaan High School graduate, moved back to town one year ago after growing up here (and attending the great, bygone Center School). She returned to New Canaan after attending NYU, moving to Boston, attending RISD and launching her own fashion line and business.
A success story about an entrepreneur-and-artist following her talents and doing what she loves, Pollet in recent years has become involved with LiveGirl, the locally founded girl empowerment organization, as an inspirational speaker. She and much of her line are the central figures of a May 12 LiveGirl “FemPowered Benefit” at the Carriage Barn Arts Center. In this installment of “Faces of New Canaan,” we talk to Pollet about growing up here, her singular career arc, returning to New Canaan and the LiveGirl benefit (see transcription below).
Pollet said she and her boyfriend, I Jian Lin, “love shooting women who inspire as well as the younger generation in New Canaan.” Asked why she decided to support LiveGirl specifically, Pollet said that there was nothing like the organization in New Canaan when she grew up here “and if there’s one piece of advice I have for every parent in New Canaan: Send your daughter to this program.”
“It’s seriously the most compelling empowerment program I have seen in a long time. The program addresses every challenge of coming of age in the millennia and turns each one into an opportunity for girls to flourish.”
Here’s our conversation:
New Canaanite: So you live in town currently?
Hadley Pollet: I do.
You graduated in 1988?
Yes. 1988. New Canaan High School.
So how long have you lived in town?
I’ve only been back for a year.
So where are you coming from?
I’m coming from Boston. I have been covered here a couple times because we have done events here and because I am local. But I just moved back home.
Why did you move back to New Canaan?
My mom is here and I have a lot of family in the area. We were looking at places north of Boston, and my mom was like what are you doing, you’re a designer you need to be close to the city. So it’s a nice place to be that’s not “in” the city.
We will get back to your designer career. So you grew up here. What schools did you go to before high school?
I went to West school, Center school and then Saxe.
You went from West to Center?
Did your family move?
We moved across town.
Are you going to your 30th year reunion in the fall?
I guess I am in town. Yes. I am going.
So you finish high school and I read your background on your website—did you go straight to RISD [Rhode Island School of Design]?
Tell me what you did after high school.
So after high school I went to NYU for 4 years and then coming out of NYU, I worked at Little Brown Publishers.
Did you earn a degree at NYU? In what?
English and American Lit.
So you then got a job in the city?
Yes I got a job in the city in publishing and my family has a place on Martha’s Vineyard. I was making no money and driving to Martha’s Vineyard every weekend to get out of the city. So I made the decision to move to Boston.
So you finished NYU in 1993 and then when did you move to Boston?
I moved to Boston in 1995.
Which part of Boston did you move to?
And you were there until a year ago?
And when did you launch your own company.
I launched my own company after 9/11.
So tell me about your first years in Boston.
I worked at a company that was called Mullen Advertising at the time. It’s now called MullenLowe & Partners. It’s been acquired a few times since. I was in the PR department and I worked on a bunch of different accounts, one of which was a textile account: Polartec/Malden Mills. During that time Malden Mills had the eleventh largest fire in the country and I did all of the crisis communications behind that fire as well as my job as supervisor I quickly moved up the ranks as I was literally thrown into the fire of work. I also supported 220 brands. They licensed their brand so every time someone used Polartec—so let’s say DKNY uses it, she has to hang the Polartec tag on with hers. Or Patagonia—anyone or any application that it was in, didn’t matter what brand it was in, it was my job to support those brands as part of the licensing deal. So it went from Homegoods, to fashion, to really high tech stuff—it didn’t matter.
How many years were you there?
I was at Mullen for 5 ½ years.
Did that lead pretty much to your own business?
It led to Rhode Island School of Design and I was doing PR consulting at the time because I basically got bored after the fire. They tried to put me on some other accounts and I was like i just went through this incredible experience and I’m kind of bored. So I started my own business doing PR consulting.
At this point you’re not yet making your own stuff?
No. Not at all. I went back to school. I signed up for some design classes at night at RISD.
How would you describe your fashion sense at this point? Are you paying attention to putting yourself together your whole life?
Yeah. If you were to talk to anyone from grade school here they would tell you when they found out I went into fashion there was no surprise whatsoever.
When you go to RISD, do you have particular area of concentration?
I was concentrating on designing my own line.
So you went in knowing that?
I went in knowing that I wanted to do something on my own, yes.
Take me that realization.
So, 9/11 happens and my mom’s third husband dies on 9/11 and he was on the phone with her when the towers went down and I was doing this consulting business which I didn’t really like but it was paying the bills and then I had just started RISD. And I had to give up a couple of my clients to take care of my mom. She was just devastated. Just completely devastated. So my solace every week was going to my night classes at RISD. That was like my self care. So I put together a design board for the class and I really thought a lot about what was going on socioeconomically, what was going on politically and really kind of channeled what I thought everybody needed in the United States at the time. My concept was, while almost everyone was designing wedding gowns or like night dresses—everybody always wants to do dresses—I really wanted to do this modular pregnancy line where women would buy a pair of black pants, take the bottom off and switch it so that for evening they could wear the same pair of pants, but it might have a different bottom to it, so it would be a little bit dressier. So then you wouldn’t have to buy five pairs of pants, you only had to buy three. When you’re pregnant and going to outgrow them quickly. One of the ideas was that women would wear this belt. The belt was a piece of vintage trim with a tortoise buckle. I went out one night in Boston to a birthday party and I wrapped a piece of trim around a buckle. I did not sew it. I was waiting for my friends party at a brewery. And five people that I didn’t know while we were waiting were like, “Where did you get that belt?”
This is pre-RISD?
During RISD. While I’m preparing my line.
Now you’re saying, this is a specific thing I am going to create?
Yes. I turned around and was like, how much will you pay for it? Literally I asked all of them, what will you pay for this? So originally I was using these vintage trims and tortoise buckles but it comes back to Malden Mills because they had a specially jacquard division. Jacquard is a fabric that’s woven and haves curves in it. So the CEO of Malden’s wife, I used to play hookie with her designing speciality jacquards, picking yarns. And the belts are made out of these with a turquoise buckle and are reversible. So very quickly after having some samples made up, we started to design the logo and I started to design my own jacquard fabrics which all have this flower in them—which is our logo. So the branding aspect of things comes through in everything. My teacher at RISD when I was designing worked for Anne Klein and a lot of other brands on the side and took me aside and said, you have something very special here. You have a look and a feel and you understand branding. It’s very rare that somebody walks into my class that’s got all of those together.
Right, that can be creative and business minded. But you had the background already in branding and you had your natural ability for fashion. So, when did you launch your business?
I launched my business in a January after 9/11.
It says in your About Us that you do public speaking and inspirational talks. How long have you been doing those?
Yes. I started being asked by girls that interned for me to come to their business schools in Boston. So I started getting asked by Babson and BU. So I’ve probably been doing it for 10 years now. I think it’s because I am a designer. Women and especially the younger girls, they link things they can touch and feel. You can talk to them about STEM all day long but when you bring your bags in and belts and start passing them around and tell them your story about how you liked purple eyeshadow or purple nail polish but nobody else did, and you didn’t really fit in, then they start to connect to you.
How did you meet Sheri West?
Darcy Pennoyer, an old friend of mine, was in my class and had me come speak at her group New Canaan Women Mean Business and her first speaking engagement I spoke at. Sheri came saw me speak and then Darcy introduced us after.
Let me ask you a little about coming back to New Canaan because your mom lived here so you probably had been around town and back but now you’re living her full time for the last year. So tell me some of the ways New Canaan has changed in these years since you lived here last?
It’s a lot more sophisticated. There’s more restaurants, more influence from the city. It was such a small town when I grew up. We had like five stores. I remember the candy store and Mackenzies. It’s just very different from that aspect. But it’s very comforting to see my old friends.
So this thing that you are doing for the LiveGirl event, what made you want to get active with LiveGirl?
Sheri had me speak at I think it was her last speaker at camp last year. So, the girls were just amped up. I mean they were so in their power. She brought them down in the auditorium in the high school and I could not believe the [diversity]. I was so impressed… I thought this is amazing that she is able to basically take girls from all over Fairfield County put them all in this program and have them all feel so incredible by the end of the week. So they came walking down singing this theme song. I started to cry. There was someone before me giving spoken word, I swear I do yoga and if I didn’t know how to do my yoga breathing I’d probably be crying through the whole talk. So I took a lot of deep breaths and then gave my speech. And it was very interactive, because whatever I do is always very interactive and I thought this is the feeling you get about what she’s doing and how empowered these young girls feel and how great they feel from what she’s doing is what made me say to her I want to do something with you. Also it’s a local thing. I have partnered with a lot of national organizations. But I feel like the money will go a lot faster, to a better place.
This is May 12 at the Carriage Barn?
You said, there will be some special featured models at the event?
Yes. Marysue Rucci, class of ’88. Sheri is walking in the show with Liv.
What’s it like living back home.
Are you living near where you grew up?
No. I grew up on Jennifer Lane, off Michigan. Center school territory.
Where was West school territory?
What are you doing town-wise? Are you enjoying the restaurants and meeting up with old buddies who are around?
I’m not much of a drinker but I go to Samayoga a lot and I do eat out a lot and see a lot of people.
What’s your favorite restaurant in town?
I’m pretty relaxed. I like SE Uncorked a lot.
What’s your favorite thing there?
The little tacos with the pork. I think they’re really good. I also like the new Sushi place a lot [Hashi Sushi on Forest Street]. The agedashi tofu is amazing.
Is your business based here now?
Yes. Technically I believe it’s still registered as a Massachusetts company but it is based here.
You don’t go back there for business?
We have some manufacturers there.
You do sales online. Where else are you selling? Do different stores sell your stuff in the store?
We do. We sell in speciality stores around the world. We don’t have a store in New Canaan. We’re just closing a deal at a store in Greenwich and Nantucket right now so we’ll start selling there soon.