Pole Junkie: interview with the founders

I’m a Pole Junkie brand ambassador! Now that the cat is out of the bag, I am celebrating the reveal by interviewing the global polewear brand’s founders, Heather Laughland and Kirsten Fairlie, to shine a light on the team behind PJ.

Why I’m working with Pole Junkie

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Pole Junkie is one of the biggest household names in the pole industry, an over 100,000 follower-strong one-stop-shop for all things polewear rocking the pole world since 2014. I have previously worked with them for a blog post in early 2021, and we have been keeping in touch ever since.

Pole Junkie have recently been expanding their ambassador team, a team of polers who produce the fab social media content you have seen the brand post. “We have chosen some incredible dancers to represent Pole Junkie. It is important to us that our ambassador team is diverse and they inspire our community in different ways, using unique media,” says Heather.

So why has yours truly come on board, creating content regularly and modelling items for PJ? It’s not just because Pole Junkie are probably the biggest pole brand this side of the pond, but because I’ve been admiring their work from afar, seeing them grow exponentially while not compromising on ethics and values. Their posts about issues that matter to the pole dance industry, gathering funds to help against period poverty, raising awareness of censorship of sex workers and about the lack of diversity in pole dance, have not gone unnoticed. For all these reasons, Pole Junkie is a brand I very much want to work with… which is why I was extremely chuffed to be asked to come on board, but why did Kirsten and Heather want me to join?

“We’ve followed your blog for years and love the content,” Kirsten and Heather told me. “It’s the perfect mix of fun, easy reading and more serious subjects. Plus you have awesome style, both on the pole and pole wear. Welcome to the team!”

*blushes*

So without further ado, here’s everything you’ve wanted to know about Pole Junkie!

P.S. If you’re buying from PJ, pretty please consider using my affiliate link: www.polejunkie.com/bloggeronpole.

How was Pole Junkie born?

Heather and Kirsten met at a University careers event that “was admittedly very dull,” says Heather. They figured out they both went to the University pole dancing club and their conversation quickly turned from finance careers to pole moves they were trying. “We bonded over free wine and on the train home decided to do our first performance together, which I’m sure is buried on YouTube somewhere!” Heather adds.

The year was 2012, and the pole industry in the United Kingdom was a lot smaller, but beginning to blossom. Heather says: “Pole studios were on the rise and the competition scene was ace.” Pole Junkie’s founders recall attending Miss Pole Dance UK in 2012, the year Sarah Scott won. “We were mesmerized and inspired that day, getting to be so close to our idols, we were star-struck!” But it wasn’t all plain sailing…

“The problem we faced (so dramatic!) was not being able to get the super cute pole wear we were lusting after on Instagram as it was mostly in Australia or the United States,” team PJ say. “Something had to be done.”

That something was founding Pole Junkie. The idea came up when Kirsten and Heather had a chat about some polewear they bought from the U.S., polewear they paid a fortune in customs and shipping for. “We were just like… someone should bring this in wholesale, then we decided, ‘Why not make that us?'”

That day, Kirsten and Heather got in touch with potential suppliers. “I remember emailing them saying we’d be the biggest reseller in the UK for them,” Heather says. “So I definitely manifested that from the beginning. You have to believe in yourself sometimes!”

Despite the gamble, Heather and Kirsten weren’t really worried about PJ not working. “Worst case scenario, we decided that we’d be able to eBay everything at cost price and all we’d lose is time. Definitely a bit enthusiastic and naive, but that can be the best combo!”

Pole Junkie now

A long way from the launch days, Pole Junkie now employs a team of 13 employees.

Team PJ with Tiff Finney

Team PJ includes two warehouse managers, Katy in Glasgow and Delphine in Amsterdam, who make the business as fast and efficient as possible and keep Pole Junkie’s stock organised. The warehouse managers manage a team of warehouse assistants who pick and pack orders, process returns and check in new stock.

The brand also employ a customer service lead, Jen. If you’ve contacted Pole Junkie in the last six months you’ve probably had a reply from her. She lives in the French Alps and works remotely. 

You can tell Pole Junkie apart from many other brands thanks to their snazzy social media content, and for this you have Kheanna – none other than Kheanna Walker, one of the recurring models on Pole Junkie’s IG – to thank. Kheanna works as PJ’s creative lead, running PJ’s Instagram and TikTok accounts and liaising with their growing team of brand ambassadors, yours truly included. Kheanna is local to Pole Junkie’s Glasgow office, which is handy for shooting content of their new releases. Kheanna’s work has been crucial to growing PJ’s social accounts and (spoiler alert), you’ll be reading all about her on this blog soon!

PJ’s values

PJ are all about making “customers feel as good on the inside as they look on the outside, and pole wear can definitely provide that confidence boost.” Their core values are:

  • Respect: Respect the origins and foundations of the pole industry
  • Diversity: “We aim to reflect the true picture of our community so everybody feels represented. This includes having open conversations with our current (and potential future) brands to encourage inclusive size ranges and the use of a diverse group of models,” says Heather.
  • Inclusivity: PJ want all their team members to feel they have a seat at the table, are listened to and work in a safe environment.
  • Sustainability: “We take our part in reducing our footprint. We offset our team’s carbon footprint by donating monthly to Ecologi (planting trees), we use carbon neutral couriers where possible and do not add any plastic at our point of contact with stock,” PJ say. The team also discuss a reduction of single use plastic annually with their suppliers to eliminate or reduce unnecessary waste at source. 
  • Trust: PJ say that their customer’s journey is their number one priority. “If something isn’t working – whether it’s product quality, or logistics wise, we need to act fast and make the required changes,” they say.

Being a leading brand during unprecedented times

So in case you missed it, living in the 2020s is… a lot. You can’t just be a brand anymore. Everyone with a big social media account is now expected to engage in activism or advocacy, but that’s tricky when you’re selling something.

Pole Junkie has so far led by example while dealing with the many issues that owning a company brings in this eventful decade: pandemics, Brexit, social justice work and so on. But how have they been achieving this? The founders don’t deny that reacting to living in unprecedented times as a brand has been a challenge.

“We did feel under pressure to be reactive to quickly moving situations and as a small business owner, wearing that hat along with all the others was a new field to navigate. We thought for a while, ‘We’re just a couple of girls selling pole wear from a spare bedroom. Why would anyone care what we have to say besides that?’ But our platform can be used to promote change and amplify voices and that’s pretty awesome.”

Pole Junkie

The key approach, for team PJ, has been to keep reading and learning. They say:

“In all of these situations, it’s been reading and educating ourselves as well as taking advice from appropriate sources and proving with time that we are learning and adapting. Sometimes we have to hold ourselves accountable and admit what we’re doing wasn’t perfect, but I feel comfortable doing that if we can prove our intent to change over time.”

Pole Junkie

Now, Pole Junkie have a more long-term approach to advocacy. They say: “We’ve learned to reach out to people in our industry, where appropriate, to gain insight on how a situation may be affecting them, and discuss measures that we can take to help or change.”

PJ and social media censorship

Pole Junkie’s social media account has been growing constantly, but as a social media moderation researcher and all-round tech policy nerd I couldn’t help but wonder how and whether they’ve been affected by online censorship.

PJ say that social media governance has forced them to focus on making organic content extra engaging, but they’re no strangers to censorship:

“The biased community guidelines is something that we are still learning to navigate. We shot a really cool advert with Kheanna last month but it was instantly banned. It’s not fair that we need to censor what we’re doing, and we feel that planning around this and ‘jumping through the hoops’ will only make things worse.”

Pole Junkie

“We are in constant fear that our social media will be taken away with no notice,” they add. “We’re focussing on our owned assets such as our mailing list as that will always be ours.”

From a business perspective, this is very frustrating for Pole Junkie’s founders. “We are a professionally run, financially healthy company, but in most business settings, at the mention of polewear you instantly feel a change in respect. It’s incredibly demeaning and sexist and one of the biggest challenges we face,” they say.

Say “ciao” to Pole Junkie Europe and to an even bigger PJ

Pole Junkie launched their European online store last year, in 2021. “It was always a bit of a dream, but Brexit forced our hand to move on it,” the founders say. “We’d have loved to have opened it before Brexit actually happened, but the trade deal was announced at the very last minute and until then, no one really had an idea of how it would affect trade.” Thanks for nothing, BoJo!

Still, despite all the political, practical and pandemic-related hurdles, Kirsten and Heather are very proud of how quickly they set up their second warehouse. “Within four months we had registered a business in another country, a fully stocked warehouse and a new team ready to look after our EU customers,” they say.

So if you’re based in the EU, you have no excuse: “We’re HERE! You can shop with us *customs free* and we can get your order to you even faster and cheaper than before,” team PJ say, adding that they’re building their European stock so much that the items on sale are the same as their UK store.

The UK, the EU, social media: Pole Junkie’s takeover shows no sign of stopping. So what’s next for this smoking hot brand? The founders say they want to keep bringing the best polewear from around the world at the best prices to their customers as quickly as possible. “We know we’re good at this and will play to our strengths! We have a few ideas in the pipeline at the moment, but we can’t reveal them just yet.”

Teasing, much? 

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