By Isobel Van Dyke
ack in May 2021, The Stack published a photoshoot highlighting 25 Black female founders who were all raising investment for their businesses at the time. Since then, we have been inundated with their success stories. From Simi Lindgren raising £500k in pre-seed funding, to Mariam Jimoh securing $3.4 million in her pre-seed round.
Now, one of the youngest participants in our photoshoot, 23-year-old Josephine Philips has secured £300,000 with her first funding round, collaborations with global fashion brands, and has quickly gone from a team of one - juggling university and launching a business - to a full time team of staff.
Founded in 2020, Sojo is a fashion-tech startup for the circular economy. Its app and cycle-powered delivery service uses a Deliveroo-style model to connect customers to local seamster businesses, taking a commission from the seamster’s services and charging the customer a delivery fee to cover collection and drop off. With the second-hand clothes market set to be worth $51bn by 2023, physics graduate Josephine saw that repair and alteration services will be increasingly in demand from eco-conscious consumers.
Below, The Stack caught up with Josephine following her whirlwind of a year, talking how she got to where she is today - and where she plans to go next.
Are you a female founder planning on raising capital in 2022? Join our events for all the business advice you could wish for, and, if you’d like to be part of our next Deal Flow photoshoot, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Since we did our Deal Flow photoshoot back in May, what has your Sojo journey been like?
I know it’s only been six months but so much has happened it’s hard to summarise what the journey’s been like – but if I had to, I’d say it’s been exciting – so many leaps and bounds have been made and we’ve undergone quite significant changes and transformations that have taken Sojo from a self-funded idea being pushed forward each day by a one woman band to an investment-backed start-up with a full-time team poised and positioned to scale.
What have the biggest challenges been?
There has been new challenges nearly every day, but I’d say there are three main ones:
Building and managing a team. As someone who went straight from university into starting Sojo I can tell you that this has definitely been my biggest personal challenge.
Pivoting our business. It was really hard letting go of the ‘original’ business that I conceptualised and built because you get so attached to it.
Deploying the capital raised. Aside from salaries, I’ve actually struggled to spend the money we raised because it’s hard to come out of the saving-every-penny frugal mindset from the first year of working on Sojo.
What are your proudest achievements?
Three big ones definitely stand out:
Closing my first funding with a collection of sensational angel investors. Particularly proud of securing £300,000 as a 23-year-old graduate and first time founder.
Winning the Santander Entrepreneurship competition in which the prize included £75,000 in equity free funding.
Launching a partnership with GANNI - our first big B2B ecomm partner and it’s the coolest brand out there.
What is your overall mission?
Our mission has always been to help make the fashion industry circular by making clothing alterations and repairs mainstream. Even though we’ve pivoted from a business model sense, we’re still chasing the same mission. B2B just allows us to scale quicker and get there faster.
How did your collaboration with GANNI come about?
We actually first connected with GANNI back in February around the time we launched when their sustainability lead reached out via Instagram. But I was still a team of one and was just getting started with our D2C app so couldn’t even conceptualise servicing a brand at that time. Skip forward some months and I got back in touch when I felt that we were ready for the business pivot and the scale that that would bring. They’re now offering their customers free repairs on their GANNI items and also free tailoring as an alternative to returning a piece of clothing. Both initiatives increase sustainability and circularity within the brand and we’re so excited for the impact.
What does it mean to you to be working with GANNI?
I think it can be summed up in the fact that if you had to ask me a year ago what fashion brand would be a ‘dream partner’ for Sojo to work with, I would’ve said GANNI. For them to be our first partner is unreal. It’s such a powerful move for the industry for such a respected brand to be pioneering free alterations and repairs for their customers. Hopefully leading the way for others to follow. I don’t want to be cheesy but for them to believe in us at such an early stage and embark on this journey with us is the stuff of dreams.
Do you have any projects coming up that you’re excited about? / What's next for Sojo?
We’re now ready to push forward with working with more brands to offer repair and alteration schemes to their customers so 2022 will hopefully be bringing more partnerships that’ll be game changing for the fashion industry. We’re also going to be fundraising again in the new year in order for us to have the capability of scaling across Europe so that’s going to be exceptionally exciting.
Sojo is changing the face of fashion. Josephine Philips is a founder to keep your eye on - at only 23, she’s already making waves.
By Isobel Van Dyke
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