Louise Thompson: 'Mistakes are what make us interesting so actually the bigger the better'

Louise Thompson is a force to be reckoned with - a bottle of positivity, savvy business acumen, steely determination and infectious warmth.

It’s hardly surprising therefore that her activewear brand, Pocket Sport, has exploded over the past year, becoming a firm favourite among active individuals.

With a cool and chic capsule collective of activewear, from XXS to XL, Pocket Sport has become an empowering brand to watch. And with community at its core, Pocket - co-founded by Louise Thompson and Edward Page - has stepped up over lockdown, serving up recipes, pocket pilates and even launching 'The Pocket Project' to keep their customers active.

If you want a sportswear brand that makes you feel good about yourself, this is the one. And it’s hardly surprising with Louise’s infectious energy at its core.

With Pocket Sport appearing to explode onto the scene in the past year, you would be forgiven for thinking that it’s a new venture, but this is no overnight success. In fact, Louise tells us that she and her co-founder Ed have actually been at it for a decade.

Louise clearly isn’t afraid of hard work. In fact, she welcomes it, refusing to let anything from stage fright to making mistakes, get in her way.

Marie Claire‘s Women Who Win interview series celebrates strong and inspirational female trailblazers who are leading the way, and Louise Thompson and her determination and unwaveringly positive outlook is that in a nutshell.

Features Editor Jenny Proudfoot sat down with Louise to talk Pocket Sport, spinning mistakes into positives and the importance of making people feel good about themselves.

Take me back to the start of Pocket...

My co-founder Ed and I started Pocket as a denim brand ten years ago, at university. The jeans had contrasting colour pockets - hence the name. We had no real experience in fashion or business. We did it as more of a passion project. Over the years, we both concentrated on other areas of life. I entered the TV world, which was totally unexpected and took up a lot of time and energy, so Pocket was put on the back-burner. Everything is self-funded and for ages Ed and I have been doing everything ourselves - really learning by doing - it wasn’t efficient at all. It wasn’t really until this past year that we put so much effort and energy back in. We realised that this is a full time job and if we can't do it ourselves, we need to employ and invest in a team of people because this isn't our area of expertise. The brand really evolved this last year and we have landed on our feet. We now have a bunch of amazing women working behind the brand, we have an office and we are really committed to building Pocket.

What has been your proudest moment?

I feel like the last year has been so pivotal for us. The brand has existed for over ten years and only now am I finally in a place where I absolutely love it. I wear it everyday and feel proud to wear it, promote it, give it to friends for their birthdays etc. But it hasn't always been this way. For a while it was trying to be something far too cool. It wasn't ready to wear. We had crazy prints and I couldn't wear it myself. When friends would ask me about it, I would just sort of brush it under the carpet. Whereas now, for the first time, I have friends asking me ‘hey do you have a discount code?’ and my mum is constantly putting in loads of requests for things. That was just something that I never imagined happening. It seems obvious but when I walk down the street and I see someone wearing my brand, it feels amazing. It was definitely a big moment for me, and it has only just started happening in the last month which is crazy as it has been going for so long. Now we're clearly we are doing something right and it feels incredible. We really do strive for perfection and now I absolutely love every single product that comes out. It’s a really good feeling.

How has the pandemic changed business?

Communication and time. I feel like I have saved so much time not having to commute. I have been glued to my computer and have been a lot more efficient and productive. Ed and I have communicated a lot more than we ever did before. We would have the odd meeting and we would email and WhatsApp, but we actually never thought to use Zoom or any sort of video chat. The moment we went into lockdown, we set up lots of calls, came together, looked at what areas we needed to work on to make the business a success, found a designer and created a structure. To be on the same page and to create a successful business you have to be speaking at least four times a week. Whereas before, we were talking around four times a month. Everything was delayed as we had other stuff going on, but now we have someone taking care of everything, making sure the colour samples are correct or whatever it might be. We don't have to be doing ten people's jobs anymore.

My life has changed a lot in the last two years, but prior to lockdown, I was the type of person who thought I knew everything, and that I could do it all myself. It was my way or the highway. Now, I'm completely different. I am a listener - I ask lots of questions and I would much rather go with other people’s ideas. That's something I am really grateful for - just being able to work as part of a team, and having faith in other people's decisions.

When are you bravest?

I get really bad stage fright. I hate public speaking - I get really nervous and in my own head. The fear comes and goes, and I do everything in my power to get rid of it, but I think some people just aren't built to be public speakers. I had a Pocket Zoom meeting with a couple of new people who were doing some re-branding for us recently, and for some reason I literally choked up. I must have been feeling really anxious - God knows why, probably to do with my cycle - but I couldn't speak. I was that scared when it came to my turn and I am the owner of this business. It's almost like having this imposter syndrome, where I think, ‘Why am I in this position? What do I have to offer people? And what do I have to teach people?’ I get it a lot, and I actually have to give myself pep talks now before. I speak to myself in the mirror and say: ‘Why am I so scared? I am enough. It doesn't really matter what I say, it can never go that wrong'. So if anyone out there is feeling a bit rubbish about it themselves, I think it honestly happens to most of us!

What has been your biggest challenge?

Recovering mentally after being on a reality TV show for a decade. Those ten years robbed me of a pivotal time in life for learning, forming relationships, figuring out who you are and what you want to do. And also, I guess there was quite a lot of mental damage. I was always told what to say and who to be by producers, and then I would get criticised for it by the public. I took a bit of a battering, so that has taken some unravelling. I never knew the right thing to do. People would absolutely hate me, but in real life I get along with everyone so it was really hard. I couldn't win. I look back and think I don't know how I would do it now.

What is the best advice you have ever received?

You can always spin a mistake into a positive. Anything bad that happens in life can always be spun into something good. I look at my own experience and it just makes so much sense. I was in a really bad place for probably ten years of my life. I suffered with depression and anxiety and have had some sort of alcohol problem. Now, I think everything happens for a reason. I look back and see that if I hadn't been in that place at that time, I wouldn't have this story to share and I wouldn't be able to help others. For every big mistake, there is a story that can be told. And you know, mistakes are what make us interesting - so actually, the bigger the mistake the better. Imagine if I was always just so well-behaved, wonderful, popular on the show, fit and had a banging body. There would be no journey and it would be so dull, and God knows where I would be now. So, it has all worked out for the best.

What is your superpower?

I think that I make people feel good. I guess it's not really a superpower, but it's something I really pride myself on. I always want other people that I’m with to feel good and I genuinely think that has served me so well in life. Probably better than anything else, more so than luck, business acumen or financial backing. I think good things have come to me because I make such a big effort to make other people feel good.

How can you achieve the right work/ personal life balance?

To be completely honest, I have not figured this one out yet. I have become so heavily focused on work that it has probably saved me from falling into a bad place so I am thankful for that, but I do have a tendency to burn out. I have to be honest about that. I am a bit of an extremist and I like to do things really well. I like to put all my effort and energy into something, and it can be too much of a pressurising environment. I worked really hard last year, burnt out over Christmas, took two weeks off, and then had a bit of a reset and weirdly went into this year feeling a lot more relaxed and more grown up. I sort of redefined where my priorities are. Ryan and I then decided that we wanted to have a family, and the moment that we decided to make that commitment in our heads, we realised the other stuff wasn't that important. We created some boundaries. Saying no to working on the weekends is a big first step. I also take one full day off Instagram a week, which doesn't sound like a lot, but it’s baby steps. I think I will be taking more over time, but I’m not very good with change, so I have to lower myself in.

I have never had the structure of working a 5-day week before. With Made In Chelsea, we would film at the most inconvenient times. We would always go away over the weekends or film our big events in a basement somewhere for 14 hours on a Saturday. And we would be told the day before, so our schedule had to be completely clear. I didn’t know any better as I did it for so long but I didn’t have a normal social life. Now I feel like I am back on track with my life. It has taken me about three years, but I now feel like a normal person and I can finally say that I have a normal job. Now I can see friends on a weekend or go to the pub on a Thursday evening. I’m a lot happier.

Have you been discriminated against?

I worked in the reality TV world and I did find it very misogynistic. I did find that the boys were treated better than the girls, and I did find that they were always seen as the truth holders whereas we were seen as complicated and almost liars. It was always the boys' way. I can't just blame the producers but they were bad at enabling it, by encouraging the boys to behave really badly. But unfortunately, the viewers had a really misogynistic attitude to it too. If a boy cheated on the show he would be praised, but if a girl cried over it she was called pathetic. This happened on so many occasions. I was treated so terribly, I would be upset, and people would call me weak, when I was the one who was treated badly. It was so shocking to me at the time and I couldn't work out in my head what I was doing wrong for people to feel that way. It's not right that that's the societal norm.

What would you change for women?

I wish that girls could be listened to the same way men are and also to be respected in the same way. I am lucky that I am respected a lot in my businesses, so I don't actually suffer with this problem anymore. With Live Like Louise (recently rebranded to Trtle) and Pocket, my partners are male, but I am on such a level playing field that I never feel that I am looked at another way. The TV stuff was really bad, but I didn't cling on to it. I am strong within my businesses and I would never stand for being treated in any other way than equal. I do think I am lucky. I read all these awful stories and think, ‘why do I not face this every day?’ I am obviously in a place of huge privilege - I am a white semi-attractive female who owns businesses, so maybe I come with a certain level of respect. Or maybe it's just because I don't hang out with dicks anymore.

We all need to stop hanging out with dicks...

I remember being a teenager, and hanging out with boys from all boys' boarding schools and they would say horrible things and crush our self esteem. They thought they were superior. We would always seek their approval and they would and did make us feel terrible. I actually don’t spend time with anybody that makes me feel terrible anymore. I think if you get the opportunity to move away from a really toxic environment whether it's a friendship, a relationship or a work situation, then just leave. Fly the nest because life is so short and there will always be a better job around the corner.

When I look at a person, I don't actually see a man or a woman, a boy or a girl, tall or short, skinny or bigger - I just see a person. And when I walk out of my door, I will smile at whoever I see, regardless of what they look like, what race they are, and whether they are a man or woman. I just wish that everybody could behave in that way.

How can we all ask for more, whether it’s a pay rise or a promotion?

You have to know your value and how much you value your time. Otherwise people will tell you what it is for you. You need to have a conversation and be really matter of fact. As a business owner, if someone is doing a really good job and bringing us in sales, then great. I would always encourage anyone that works for me to come and have that conversation. I would welcome it with open arms because I really believe in rewarding people for good work. I know quite a lot of people who have left their jobs in the last 12 months because they were not valued enough. They were bringing in huge amounts of money and they weren't seeing any of it, so they had to leave because they weren't being paid fairly, and I would do exactly the same.

I did have to ask for a pay rise for Made In Chelsea as we were paid so poorly, but I am not the best example as I was always told that I could be replaced just with a click of a finger, which is terrible. There was always someone who would want to fill my boots and who would be more funny, interesting and would create more drama. To be honest I would go as far as saying we weren't paid fairly. That really built up a lot of resentment and as cast members, we used to get together quite a lot and ask what we could do about it. If we were all paid unfairly, couldn’t we all group together and unite? But we never did. I think that's because we were scared. But there is power in numbers, and if we had done that then something would have been done about it.

How do you celebrate success?

I celebrate success with food. It sounds ridiculous but it's the one thing I really enjoy spending money on. I am very lucky - I get to travel quite a bit for work and I occasionally get sent clothes from cool brands. Plus, I can obviously make myself clothes so I don’t need to spend any money on that. So, I guess food is the one area where I can really go for it. If Ryan is cooking a really big meal, then I will go to the Butchers and grab some incredible high-quality ingredients. We’ll be bit extravagant with it and really go to town. I always have celebrated with food. When I was growing up, my dad would give me a little bit of money for my birthday every year, and would say, ‘this is your present, go take some of your friends out for lunch’, and I would always think, ‘great I’m spending my birthday money on other people’. It used to piss me off and I thought it wasn’t the most thoughtful gift, but the older I get, the more I love it. It’s a great idea.

What is a lesson you’ve learnt in business?

The more you give, the more you get back. Ed and I haven't actually taken a pound out of Pocket yet. We realised the only way to grow is by paying other people, rather than paying ourselves. And I am so happy to do that as I know it will pay off in the long run. It’s hard at the beginning because you think you can do it all yourself, but I think the more you spend, the more you get back and not just in business, in all areas of life. I used to be the sort of person who wouldn’t spend money on anything nice for myself ever. I started working with a life coach and she was like ‘No, you need to spend money on nice things other people have worked hard to make and then you'll get more back yourself as well’, and it does kind of work like that in all areas of life.

Pocket feels more like a community than just a brand...

It really is. We encourage people to get moving in any way possible, and my main mantra in life is just to get people on their feet outside doing the best that they can. It's been a tough time worldwide, but I think the one thing that we do have control over is our activity levels. As a society we are encouraged to stop moving and we have become so lazy because everything is so accessible. We have to put in time to exercise - we have to actually schedule it in as we no longer have to go out. We started Pocket Project, which I don't think has been done by anyone before. It's an ambassador programme that people can sign up to. We wanted to reward people by giving them credit to buy stuff just by getting active. We set up this challenge where if you run 65km in the year, then we will give out quite a big bonus, and some of our clients have already hit that target! We actually now realise that we are probably going to lose money as we had no idea what the uptake was going to be like! But I am so proud of the people taking part. That's the thing about little businesses - you just kind of wing it and you have to take risks.

What could we achieve if we supported each other?

I think the support of a community can help you achieve a lot more. When I was on my own without this Pocket community, I was a bit of mess. I sought help from others and I became a lot more open from my experiences and achieved so much more. With our fitness community, people have got rid of their diabetes, ended toxic relationships, got divorced and found new jobs that they love. Some people have even quit their careers and started up their own little brands which have been a passion for them for so long. It's true that you need the support from other people to reach your dreams. We don’t have the confidence within ourselves, we don’t trust our own intuition enough, and holding hands with someone else can be so powerful. Find a great community. It can be a 5-person community or a 20-person community - whatever floats your boat, but find like-minded people, stick with them, share with them, and things will happen.

Check out the Pocket Sport website to find out more about the brand.

Jenny Proudfoot
Features Editor

Jenny Proudfoot is an award-winning journalist, specialising in lifestyle, culture, entertainment, international development and politics. She has worked at Marie Claire UK for seven years, rising from intern to Features Editor and is now the most published Marie Claire writer of all time. She was made a 30 under 30 award-winner last year and named a rising star in journalism by the Professional Publishers Association.