It started with a charity shop off London’s Portobello Road, and the perfect pinstripe suit. Well, almost perfect. “I totally loved it, but it didn’t fit me. So I had the idea for building an app,” explains Josephine Philips, the founder of Sojo, a startup that wants to bring tailoring “into the modern age.”
Nicknamed “the Deliveroo of fashion repairs,” Sojo was launched in January 2021, and connects users with nearby seamsters while facilitating the pickup and return of clothes using a network of couriers. Independent seamsters register on the app and set their own price for their work, from fixing holes to altering sizes, with Sojo taking a 30 percent fee. That very same pinstripe suit ended up being one of the app’s first orders.
“I experienced going to a tailor, and it was so archaic, it was really backward,” says Philips. “It’s not an activity that’s common, and we want to make it common. We want every young person to be engaged with repairs and alterations.” It’s an issue made all the worse by the fact that two thirds of fixable clothes are thrown away.
Eighteen months after launch, Sojo is a different beast, fresh from a new $2.4 million funding round, a partnership with Scandinavian fashion brand Ganni, and a hiring push that should see it reach 16 staff. It’s also been a seismic change for Philips. The 24-year-old started working on Sojo full-time straight after graduating from university—her only previous jobs being as a waitress and as a summer intern at second-hand clothing exchange Depop.
For those first few months, Sojo was a one-woman show, powered mostly by a mixture of overtime and youthful passion to change the “culture of waste” and “exploitation” that defines the fast fashion industry, from which Philips built up her initial, limited network of couriers and seamsters.
“That youth meant I saw the way the system was working and was like, ‘I can actually change that’ … That kind of outlook was definitely a superpower,” says Philips. “But there was a lot going on. Never having done something like this before meant I was learning and doing simultaneously.”
As a Black female founder, Philips found herself in an industry where women-led startups account for only 2.8 percent of VC funding. In fact, according to one report, between 2009 and 2019, only one Black female founder in the UK raised any Series A funding at all.
“Everyone knows what the venture capital space is for under-represented founders … The numbers speak for themselves,” Philips says, explaining she would regularly get rejected by investors, only to see white male counterparts with little more than “a PowerPoint” making pitches and “getting millions straight off the bat.”
Eventually, Sojo was able to secure backers, initially through an angel round with an array of big-name investors, including Depop founder Simon Beckerman. The latest Series A round was led by female-directed VC firm CapitalT.