Preparing Gen Z For A Fashion Revolution
Twenty-three-year-old Josephine Philips is more than just a budding entrepreneur. The Londoner is a recent university graduate, a devoted sister and daughter, and a self-proclaimed musical theatre fanatic (“I’ve been to see Hamilton five times,” she tells Miss Vogue over Zoom). Josephine is also emboldened with the kind of voice that, one day, could speak for an entire generation.
“In such a consumerist society where unethical, ultra-fast fashion is still booming, I believe that championing and facilitating slow, minimal, and sustainable consumption of clothes that are already in existence in this world is still a radical act,” she says, describing the motivation behind the launch of her app, Sojo, which uses technology to simplify the process of ordering and fulfilling clothing alterations and repairs.
And she’s right. Sales for e-commerce behemoths like Boohoo have soared over lockdown amidst allegations of modern slavery in its Leicester factory; Asos, which now owns Topshop, Topman, Miss Selfridge and HIIT, is one of many multi-brand retailers that outperformed in 2020 despite the millions of dollars it inherited from Arcadia and remain still owed to overseas suppliers for orders completed then subsequently canceled or delayed at the start of the pandemic, leaving garment workers destitute and without jobs. This exposes a rupture in the fabric of an eco-conscious yet convenience-obsessed Gen-Z, the age group to which Josephine herself belongs. Young people may be leading the world’s social justice and sustainability agenda, but they’re also immersed in a culture of excess and disposability that’s exacerbated on social media and enabled by companies that target young shoppers.
Josephine is well-versed in the gendered implications of this dichotomy, and she considers it part of her job to raise her voice about how these issues, and their disproportionate impact on communities of colour, have guided her entrepreneurial ambition. She turns to statistics to draw a clear line between global supply chains and sexism: “There’s only two per cent of garment workers who earn a living wage, and by living wage, even in the developing world and the global south, that is just what they need to eat and wash and live. If 80 per cent [of garment workers] are women, and 98 per cent of them are being exploited, how can you not tell me that that’s a women’s issue?”
While Josephine is quick to emphasise that Sojo isn’t directly addressing fashion’s endemic environmental and labour rights violations — she references the influential work of Black women like Aja Barber and Mikaela Loach whose intersectional activism tackles the industry’s most oppressive systems head-on — she points out that by making it easier to maximise the longevity of our clothes, she hopes to equip smartphone-dependent generations with the tools they need to reimagine their existing wardrobes. This promotes consumer consciousness and circularity, keeps garments out of landfills, and generates new demand for local tailoring businesses in London who can tap into a wider customer base through registering with Sojo. It’s slowly but surely changing culture by changing minds, one fixed seam at a time.
“I’m going to put my hands up and say that before the concept of Sojo, I did not alter or repair any of my clothes, ever. And it’s not because I didn’t want to or because I didn’t have stuff to repair, but I’m part of this generation where it’s not part of our usual life, it’s not something that we’ve learned to do,” she explains. “Sojo is an accessible way for [my generation] to be able to engage with tailoring and repairing through a really easy process which they’re used to doing, and that’s playing with an app on their phone.”
If you’ve ever ordered a takeaway on Deliveroo or used Uber to book a lift, the steps of the Sojo process should feel very familiar to you: Download the app, enter your postcode, find a vetted seamster in your area, place an order. Your item will then be picked up and dropped off via bike in three to five working days.
In the 11 weeks of its existence, Sojo has gotten thousands of downloads and fulfilled hundreds of orders, most of which involve hemming trousers or taking them in at the waist, as well as fixing crotch and underarm rips. “We’ve already done three wedding dresses,” Josephine adds excitedly. She’s also received over 500 requests to expand the app’s reach beyond London (where it currently operates in zones one to two, with plans to extend its services to zone three next month) to other UK cities, like Bristol and Liverpool. At the same time, Josephine is in the early stages of developing partnerships with laundry service Oxwash, vintage clothing retailer Beyond Retro, and fashion rental platform Hurr, all of which see value in integrating Sojo’s services within their own business models.
But Sojo is about more than revolutionising the centuries-old industry of tailoring for the digital age. The business was created to reinforce the message that by treating what we already own with respect and at the same time respecting the individuals who make and repair them. Putting a face to that invisible labour, be it through educational campaigns on Instagram or via the seamster photos and writeups shared on the app, encourages humanity in how we shop. And it’s this insistence upon a community-oriented, narrative-driven approach to her mission that earned Josephine a financial grant and six months of mentorship as part of the Now & Next programme organised by Depop, the peer-to-peer online clothing marketplace.
“Alongside resale, repairs and alterations are powerful tools to extend the life of existing garments. Like Depop, Sojo is community powered and puts both people and planet at the heart of its model,” Depop’s global head of sustainability, Justine Porterie, tells Miss Vogue of what makes Josephine a “perfect fit” for this initiative.
“If I’m being truthful, my life is Sojo, that is it,” Josephine explains of the realities of being a founder. “I do have things in my life, but I think over the last year I’ve forgotten them because I’ve spent the whole year inside working on my business.” Three months in, and it seems like she’s finally coming up for air at just about the same moment that the country is opening up again.
“I have no career experience, I’m very young, I’m a woman, I’m a solo founder, and I’m Black. I know I’m not an investor’s dream,” Josephine says, hinting at plans to enter her first round of fundraising in the months ahead. “So what I want to do is really focus on Sojo and try to get the growth of the business to be the selling point.”
Josephine appears to be well on her way, especially as she outlines her plans to use Sojo to push for greater inclusivity and accessibility in the realm of design. In its immediate next steps, the app will become a resource for upsizing clothes and adapting them to accommodate customers with physical restrictions. While this next chapter of Sojo’s sustainability story is still in the works, it’s one that requires collective action in order to radically transform the fashion industry. “We know it’s the future that everyone is going to get to in the end,” Josephine adds, without any hesitation. “Sojo wants to help people get to that place.”