It began with a charity store off London’s Portobello Street, and the right pinstripe swimsuit. Nicely, nearly excellent. “I completely cherished it, however it didn’t match me. So I had the thought for constructing an app,” explains Josephine Philips, the founding father of Sojo, a startup that desires to deliver tailoring “into the trendy age.”
Nicknamed “the Deliveroo of style repairs,” Sojo was launched in January 2021, and connects customers with close by seamsters whereas facilitating the pickup and return of garments utilizing a community of couriers. Unbiased seamsters register on the app and set their very own worth for his or her work, from fixing holes to altering sizes, with Sojo taking a 30 p.c payment. That exact same pinstripe swimsuit ended up being one of many app’s first orders.
“I skilled going to a tailor, and it was so archaic, it was actually backward,” says Philips. “It is not an exercise that’s widespread, and we need to make it widespread. We would like each younger particular person to be engaged with repairs and alterations.” It’s a difficulty made all the more serious by the truth that two thirds of fixable garments are thrown away.
Eighteen months after launch, Sojo is a special beast, recent from a brand new $2.4 million funding spherical, a partnership with Scandinavian style model Ganni, and a hiring push that ought to see it attain 16 workers. It’s additionally been a seismic change for Philips. The 24-year-old began engaged on Sojo full-time straight after graduating from college—her solely earlier jobs being as a waitress and as a summer season intern at second-hand clothes change Depop.
For these first few months, Sojo was a one-woman present, powered largely by a combination of extra time and youthful ardour to alter the “tradition of waste” and “exploitation” that defines the quick style business, from which Philips constructed up her preliminary, restricted community of couriers and seamsters.
“That youth meant I noticed the best way the system was working and was like, ‘I can really change that’ … That form of outlook was undoubtedly a superpower,” says Philips. “However there was rather a lot happening. By no means having performed one thing like this earlier than meant I used to be studying and doing concurrently.”
As a Black feminine founder, Philips discovered herself in an business the place women-led startups account for solely 2.8 p.c of VC funding. In reality, in line with one report, between 2009 and 2019, just one Black feminine founder within the UK raised any Collection A funding in any respect.
“Everybody is aware of what the enterprise capital house is for under-represented founders … The numbers communicate for themselves,” Philips says, explaining she would frequently get rejected by traders, solely to see white male counterparts with little greater than “a PowerPoint” making pitches and “getting tens of millions straight off the bat.”
Ultimately, Sojo was in a position to safe backers, initially via an angel spherical with an array of big-name traders, together with Depop founder Simon Beckerman. The most recent Collection A spherical was led by female-directed VC agency CapitalT.
Exterior funding has additionally prompted a change of focus—a extra pragmatic, however no much less efficient model of Philips’ imaginative and prescient. As a substitute of its direct-to-consumer operations, Sojo is more and more specializing in business-to-business—making offers with main style manufacturers equivalent to Ganni (alongside seven different partnerships within the pipeline) to be the supplier of alterations for its hundreds of consumers. These offers will enable clients to simply request clothes repairs and alterations from Sojo’s seamsters, and helpfully go some method to altering the best way they see tailoring.
“I spotted that by shifting our enterprise mannequin into working with manufacturers, we’d be capable of really attain scale and make an impression rather a lot quicker,” Philips explains. “One in every of our traders mentioned you’ll be able to both spend £10 million making an attempt to accumulate 10 million direct clients over a interval of 10 years. Or you’ll be able to have one B2B companion and also you entry 10 million clients in a single day.”
Philips can be within the technique of outsourcing Sojo’s courier community whereas hiring in-house seamsters. She has even explored increasing Sojo into offering its personal “darkish kitchen” equivalents; a community of business seamster workshops that may give it the size to work on hundreds of alterations domestically, unexpectedly.
Philips hopes Sojo will change client attitudes towards clothes at a time when quick style is within the highlight for its environmental impression. “In the end, we dwell in a tradition of hyper-disposability,” she says. “Clothes has not been thought-about one thing of worth.”
This text was initially revealed within the November/December 2022 difficulty of WIRED UK journal.