Interviews

Jennifer Georgeson talks profit and female empowerment

10 min read

26 September 2018

Features Editor, Real Business

This female founder has started a business that combines humanitarian impact, female empowerment, and solid profit margins.

Jennifer Georgeson is an entrepreneur who believes that profit and humanitarian impact can go hand in hand. Her drive to create an impact business that empowers women in less developed economies was her founding vision, So Just Shop, an online gifting marketplace linking customers with female artisans around the world, was the realisation.

Company: So Just Shop
Website:   https://sojustshop.com/

Your legacy:

Our mission is to raise 250,000 vulnerable women and their families (from throughout the world) out of poverty through economic empowerment.

Your business model:

We are an online marketplace working directly with artisans in over 40 countries spanning three continents. We have a number of different income streams in our business model:

  • Direct to consumer sales – acting as a marketplace for women-led artisans from all over the world, we take 25% of consumer sales price and pass 75% back to the artisan (higher for our own brand products).
  • Wholesale sales into the retail space – acting as a marketplace for women-led artisans from all over the world, we take 10% of wholesale sales price and pass 90% back to the artisan (higher for our own brand products).
  • Bespoke gifts to corporate/events/parties and weddings – commissioning artisans directly we take 45% of the sales price and pass 55% back to the consumer

How do you measure success?

Through positive economic impact, which is measured by paying a living wage and ancillary programmes such as creches (one of our women-led organisations in Kenya works primarily with disabled women and provides a creche service for their children), safe water supply and education.

Do you plan to enter new markets in the next 12 months?

We are already working across the globe in terms of sourcing products. However, we are currently building a technological platform that will allow us to trade with communities that have limited, if no access, to the international market, using mobile phone payments and blockchain technology.

How did you fund your business?

Any which way I could! Part self-funded, partly funded by friends and family investment and partly funded by consultancy services we offer in addition to our core business. It has meant that we are now breaking even after 2.5 years of trading and now starting some very exciting technological developments.

We’d like to be in a position to do a £500k raise by the end of the year but that money should be earmarked to fund our greater technological vision. Invaluable advice I was given early on is to raise money as late as possible. It teaches you to count every penny and gives you greater autonomy when developing the business concept.

In five years?

We aim to have a mobile-led fully licensed trading platform that will enable us to track and monitor a product’s provenance from the creation of raw materials through primary and secondary manufacturing processes, to finishing and shipping, verifying payment of living wages and working conditions from end-to-end. We aim to have over 1,000 women-led artisans on our site by then.

Within the next five years, the face of the fashion industry will change dramatically. Sustainability will no longer be viewed as an unverified “add-on” but will be at the core of the industry.

Technology and legislation (such and the anti-slavery act) will make transparency paramount to how companies operate.

Your highest point…

We launched our retail proposition this time last year and our first two customers where Bloomingdales and Anthropologie. The endless and selfless offers of support I have had from so many who wish the business to be a success with no personal gain on their part. Our collaboration with London College of Fashion which lead me to meet our creative director.

The aim of this business has always been to level the playing field – to create a space where any woman can trade with anyone in the world. The prototype we are building is a stepping stone on this journey and I’m so happy this has started.

Your lowest point…

April last year. I was down to my last £5k, with £5k of bills to pay from the business, and I was waiting for the sale of my house to go through. I needed to find a place for my son and I to move to but I had no money for the deposit (or anything else!). Luckily some friends stepped in and rented me their flat with no deposit and let me pay a month in arrears.

What would tell your younger self?

Always ask questions, always try because the adventure is in the learning and never be afraid of making a fool of yourself – it makes life much more enjoyable!

Your policy wish list:

Everyone should be educated equally, everyone should have access to a basic level of healthcare and everyone needs a voice at the table. It isn’t rocket science and it makes good economic sense to do so.

Also, global regulation of supply chains. It is unacceptable that communities across the world are facing drought and polluted water supplies and subsisting on a less than the living wage and in poor working conditions so we can buy a T-Shirt for £5.

Your biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs…

What you put in is genuinely what you get out. It is crazily hard work but incrementally you will make headway.

AND never be afraid to approach people (even if you don’t know them), never be afraid to ask advice, people love being asked to help and if they can will willingly give their time.

Guilty pleasure..

I am someone who rarely stops running through life and constantly feels guilty about not doing enough /not being enough. One of the few moments I stand still is when I’m sat watching my boyfriend cook me dinner.  We take it in turns to choose songs to play and I get handed a glass of wine and I sit back and watch him cook for me – life doesn’t get much better than that.

What would make you a better leader?

Being able to dedicate more time to listen to my employees and anticipate their needs

The one app you use the most…

WhatsApp!  We communicate with sellers from all over the world. I can be on a video call in the Himalayas in the morning and with the Wayuu tribe in the deserts of Colombia in the evening.

A day in your life…

It is safe to say I do not have a typical day!  Today I’ve taken my son to school, had a meeting for our consultancy work, met with my social media manager to sign off on the newsletter, discussed our event/wedding planner sales strategy, spoken to one of our artisan manufacturers in India about exclusivity and a contact from London Fashion Week about exhibiting there…and it’s only 2pm!

On your reading list right now…

100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell – witty, interesting and laugh out loud and cry out loud funny and tragic in equal measure

Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me – brilliant, this should be mandatory reading for everyone. The world would be a better place.

On your watchlist right now…

Sacred Games – Netflix with the wonderfully talented Saif Ali Khan. And just because everyone should see it – the NEW Ghostbusters, I am typing this out loud. It is much funnier than the first!