Josephine Phillips, founder of SOJO

Josephine originally studied physics and philosophy at University, but has ventured into the fashion tech market as an entrepreneur, and now founder. Sojo app has quite just launched in London, mostly in Zones 1-2, but with the ambition to expand. Josephine is looking to disrupt the second hand clothing market and offer alterations to people in a much more accessible way. Josephine has been an advocate for sustainable fashion, and at 23, she also battles the credibility problems young female entrepreneurs face when starting their own business.

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Can you tell us about how the idea for Sojo started?

 So around two years ago now I made a move away from fast-fashion because I realised that it didn’t align with my feminist values. I became aware at how the success of these high-street brands and the riches of the billionaire men that owned them were created off the back the exploitation of majority women-of-colour garment workers. In my move towards creating a more sustainable wardrobe, I started shopping second-hand clothes all the time- but would constantly come across items I loved, that weren’t the right size. I didn’t know how to sew, and I realised there wasn’t an easy and hassle-free way for people to get their clothes altered or repaired, so I decided to create Sojo so people could do it all with a few simple clicks.

And can you tell us a little bit more about the concept and how it works?

So essentially, we’re a 3-sided marketplace- we connect customers with their local Seamster Businesses through our app and bicycle pick-up, delivery service. I always say ‘Think Deliveroo but for clothing alterations and repairs.’ This means when you go on the app, you can read about the Seamster’s in your area and choose which one you would like to use. Once selected you go through the process of what alterations/repairs you need done to what specific items. Once added to your basket you schedule a pick-up and delivery time that suits you and one of our riders from our female-fleet of cyclists will come and collect your pieces, to drop them at the local Seamster for fixing. Then the turnaround time is 4-5 days! We really hoped that by creating such an easy service, people will shop second-hand with less sizing restrictions in the knowledge that they can fit the clothes to them, as opposed to the other way around. Equally, people would repair their clothes instead of throwing them away which would mean reducing the colossal amount of clothing going to landfill each week.

What obstacles have you come across whilst trying to get a sustainable fashion start-up going?

I’ve faced quite a few! Overarchingly it’s been quite hard bringing something new and specifically something technologically different to an industry that hasn’t really changed since the 18th Century! Equally as a young woman I’ve faced a couple of times where I haven’t been taken seriously – both relating to my age and gender. Covid-19 has made it hard in that lockdown has affected our ability to launch, but despite all of this I’m still incredibly excited and am motivated by the idea of making a big change for a more circular fashion industry. The mission is what keeps you going I suppose.

You studied Physics at university – has fashion always been of interest too?

Haha yes I did study Physics, perhaps the furthest degree away from fashion you can get! I think the fact that I’m starting a FashionTech company is just about good timing. I’d had my eyes opened to the world of sustainable fashion and started to become increasingly educated on the topic and as such, increasingly impassioned. Equally, I’d say I’ve always had an interest in running my own business and making a change in something meaningful. So, when I came across a pain-point in my second-hand shopping experience I realised this was something I could pursue.

Did you always know you wanted to start your own business? Any tips for budding entrepreneurs?

I think I did yes (I’m somewhat of a believer in that entrepreneurial gene). However, I was still apprehensive at the beginning of this journey, very much doubting if it was something I could do, especially given I had no experience. But the advice I would give – which helped me get into a place where I felt confident, motivated and excited to start my business – was to work at confirming that the idea is the right one and also confirming that you’re the right one to do it. For me this meant lots of market research around the idea (surveying nearly 400 people with ‘Mom-Test’ [book] questions) and also educating myself on how you’re actually meant to go about starting a business. I went to an uncountable number of events, read many books and listened to entrepreneurship podcasts on a whole host of topics from social media marketing, to Angel vs VC funding, to building an MVP – all to make sure I knew as much as possible to not feel like I was out of place in founding a start-up. And it worked!

3 books or podcasts that really inspire you?

In terms of deep and consistent inspiration: It’s not quite a book but Maya Angelou’s two poems, ‘Still I Rise’ and ‘Phenomenal Woman’ are two of my favourite things to read every so often (and they are all the more powerful if you’ve read her autobiographies that depict what a difficult yet incredible life she led). Something that inspired me in a practical way: A podcast that I particularly loved last year as I was up-skilling myself as a founder, was definitely ‘In good company’ by Otegha Uwagba. She interviews some amazing and successful working women who give out insights and advice in a really practical way (I particularly loved the Sharmadean Reid episode). A book inspiring a big shift in opinion: I’m currently reading Dambisa Moyo’s book ‘Dead Aid.’ She’s a Zambian born economist who went from the World Bank, to a PHD at Oxford to work for years at Goldman Sachs. Her book argues that all the charitable aid that has gone into Africa in the hundreds of billions over the last 50 years has actually been the cause of ruin on the continent as opposed to a source of good. It’s been exceptionally eye-opening.

Have you got a treasured piece of jewelry, or one you can't take off?

Yes! My parents gave me a beautiful and dainty gold St.Christopher necklace for my 16th birthday and I haven’t really taken it off since (aside from when the clasp snagged a couple of months ago – I’ve been trying to make time to go and get it fixed and this has been a great reminder!)

Do you have a mantra? If you could get something engraved on our Confidence necklace, what would it be?

I absolutely love mantras and I’d say right now I’m reminding myself daily that ‘The day you plant the seed, is not the day you eat the fruit.’ This is to try and inspire consistency and patience in me so that I can play the long game when it comes to building a company and hopefully one day it’ll pay off. For my confidence necklace I’d probably get the words ‘You Got This’ because so often, especially as a young black female solo-founder, you doubt yourself and feel like you don’t belong but I have to remind myself that this is exactly where I’m meant to be.

Thanks for speaking with Kimai Josephine!

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