Between the overflow of cheap clothing, schedules packed to the brim, and a decline in sewing education, torn and ill-fitting clothes are far more likely to be tossed than mended or altered.
Sojo makes it more convenient than ever to get your clothes mended or modified — and I have no doubt that it’s going to transform the industry.
Josephine is going to give us many more details about how Sojo works, as well as the future plans for this company, in this episode. You’ll also hear Josephine talk about:
- Why mending is the “forgotten” circular fashion solution
- How we can make mending more mainstream
- The importance of sustaining local tailoring and seamster businesses
- And more!
ABOUT JOSEPHINE & SOJO
Josephine Philips, 23, is a recent graduate turned Fashion Tech entrepreneur working to make the fashion industry circular with her startup, Sojo, which is modernising the clothing repair and tailoring industry. Sojo is the UK’s first clothing alterations and repairs App and it connects customers to local seamster businesses to ensure that getting your clothes fixed or fitted is an easy and hassle-free process.
CONNECT WITH JOSEPHINE & SOJO
Tune in to this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast below, or on your favorite podcast app.
The transcript of this episode of the Conscious Style Podcast is below.
ELIZABETH JOY: Hey there, and welcome or welcome back to the Conscious Style Podcast.
Today, we are talking about potentially the most underrated circular fashion solution: mending.
As we’ve talked about in this season, a crucial but all too often forgotten step to circular fashion is extending the lives of our clothes and reducing consumption of new things.
While we can do all that we can to care for our clothes (by the way, check out season one bonus, “How to Care for Your Clothes Sustainably” or more on this), there will eventually be tears or rips that happen.
And between the overflow of cheap clothes on the market for decades, busy schedules, and a lack of sewing education, mending has become a bit of a lost art.
Clothes are more likely to be thrown in the trash or put in a donation box — which is also essentially dooming it for the landfill — than they are to be patched up or sewn.
Another huge issue with extending the lives of our garments is sizing.
We may potentially have clothes in our closets that no longer fit us, or maybe never fit us, and they just ended up hanging in our closets unworn.
Or, maybe, we go secondhand shopping, and we just can’t find pieces that look right on us.
Well, in this episode, I am chatting with Josephine Phillips, who has dedicated her business to helping people overcome these very clothing challenges.
Josephine is a 23-year-old recent graduate turned fashion tech entrepreneur who is working to make the fashion industry circular with her startup, Sojo.
Sojo is the UK’s very first clothing alterations and repairs app. It connects customers to local seamster businesses to ensure that getting your clothes fixed or fitted is an easy and hassle-free process.
Essentially, Sojo is modernizing the clothing repair and tailoring industry. I won’t get too far into the details because Josephine will explain much more in this conversation.
And Josephine will also be talking about why mending isn’t discussed more in the sustainable fashion conversation, how we can make mending mainstream, and her tips for finding fixable garments on the second-hand market and [tips] for extending the lives of our clothes.
If you enjoy this conversation, make sure to subscribe or follow the Conscious Style Podcast so that you don’t miss similar episodes like this one.
And if you are liking the show so far, give us a rating on Apple Podcasts. And if you have a moment, a review is also super appreciated. Now let’s get on to this conversation. Josephine is starting us off here with her background, how she got into sustainable fashion and why she founded Sojo.
JOSEPHINE PHILIPS: Thank you for having me first and foremost.
And I think the journey sort of started about three or four years ago now. I was in my first year of uni and I discovered Depop. And I basically was like this is amazing.
Secondhand clothes are great. I started selling clothes on there, buying clothes on there and sort of got my way into the sustainable fashion space, which I then realized was so important because I found out about how exploitative the fast fashion industry was towards garment workers.
And it meant that I was like, I don’t want to be putting money behind these brands that are oppressing women of color.
So finding secondhand clothes and realizing that that’s a way I could consume consciously was really fantastic and I got into it.
And then I worked at Depop HQ in East London between my years of uni during summer. I did an internship there and that sort of gave me the experience of a tech startup that was community-based and doing something fantastic for circular fashion.
And then the final step to the story is that out of the secondhand market, I had a personal problem. I kept finding secondhand clothes that I loved that weren’t my size.
So I would find an amazing two-piece suit that was in great condition and had an amazing value. Then it wasn’t my exact hip and waist and length and everything, and I was like, I want to alter this, but I have no idea how to sew. I have no idea who’s good, who’s not.
Even if I did, going there is so much time and effort when we’re used to everything at our fingertips. We are used to our food and our taxis and our beauty treatments.
And I really was just like, wouldn’t it be easy if it was on our phone? And that sort of led me to Sojo.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, I mean, it makes so much sense.
Once I read about it, I was like why didn’t this exist before? It’s so smart!
So for anyone unfamiliar with Sojo, could you explain how the app works?
So it’s essentially a marketplace. So what we do is we connect customers to other local seamster businesses.
So that sort of within that hyper-localized community, you can get your stuff fitted.
So exactly, you go on the app and you choose what local seamster you want to use. You can see a picture of them, look at their prices, and read their bio of how they got things started, and when you choose them.
You say what you need done, for example, trousers waist in or repair a broken zip.
Then one of our cyclists — we have these amazing women cyclists around London — who come and collect your order from your house at a designated date and time, they drop it to the seamster, who completes the order. And then it’s back with you in three to five days.
ELIZABETH: Very cool.
So what are some of the most common mending or tailoring projects that people order through Sojo?
JOSEPHINE: Well, our most common one most definitely is taking the waist in or getting the hem up for women.
I feel like people who make these clothes at brands as lot of their trousers are really long and half the women are like less than five foot five or five foot four or something.
Like my sister is five foot three, and all her trousers are long that she buys. And so that’s something that’s really common.
But also quite surprisingly, as well as we have had quite a few men use Sojo, which I didn’t expect. And that’s actually because their crotch rips quite a lot from all their manspreading.
So they get that patched up. And so that’s something they do quite a bit is that they have rips in their crotch and then Sojo to the rescue.
ELIZABETH: Okay, yeah, that’s interesting.
And definitely makes sense with the hems. I feel like I have that a lot as well, because I’m five four, and I often cuff the pants, but it would be a lot nicer if I hemmed them.
So, of course, your app is very helpful for individuals looking to adjust or mend their garments.
But it’s also really beneficial for local tailoring businesses, which is another aspect that I really love about it.
So could you speak a bit about the impact of that, and why supporting local businesses was important to you?
JOSEPHINE: Yeah, so sort of from the beginning, it was really about the fact that these people have the skills and they have the expertise, and they have the businesses already set up.
They just don’t know how to tap into a younger demographic, which I saw had loads of potential.
And I was like, I need to bridge this gap between these two.
I did think about whether that meant us getting people in-house. But really, I just realized that these communities and these shops and these small businesses already existed and sort of being the bridge is really where I felt Sojo sat in a sort of a perfect business model.
It was hard because they’ve been doing it for decades, without technology and without an app and I sort of was going door to door being like, Hi, this is the situation and I want to bring you business and you’d have to use an app!
And for some of our seamsters, who have been doing this for 45 years even, it’s quite an intense proposition for me to be like, I’m coming to shake up your business.
But ultimately, they came on board, because that’s the proposition. We want to bring you more business, we want to support you, we want to help you tap into another demographic, we want to facilitate more business for you.
And so they came on board, and we’ve had a fantastic relationship with them. And it helps them to have consistent income coming each week, and especially during lockdown — which was when we actually launched — a lot of their shops were closed, and they had to be due to government regulation.
But Sojo was a way for them to get contact-free delivery. So they could still be making money because we would leave on the doorstep.
They would take it and do it then — do you know what I mean? So actually, it was something that was really beneficial for them [during] lockdown, out of lockdown, and in general.
So we’re really happy about that because it’s sort of its supporting community, supporting skilled workers, which is so important, as we all know, with like the Who Made My Clothes Campaign?
It’s sort of supporting the people behind the garment making and fixing and everything and that’s really important to us at Sojo.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, absolutely.
Just like we’re learning to… or the fashion industry is starting to learn to respect the makers through the Fashion Revolution movement, we also can respect the skills and talents of tailors and seamsters. So, that’s really, really incredible and I love that.
So a lot of the big circularity campaigns from fashion brands are focused a lot on recycled garments, recycling technology, maybe renting and we’re even seeing more resale programs from brands, which is great.
But repair is still something that’s quite rare.
I can only name a few brands off the top of my head that have repair programs.
Why do you think that repair isn’t getting the same attention as other circular fashion solutions?
JOSEPHINE: It’s a great question.
And I think it really lies in what we find most important within capitalism, which is consumption.
So it’s how the sort of society functions, is like consuming and consumerism and buying and buying more. And ultimately, that’s the aim of those businesses anyway.
So their resale programs are fantastic, and they’re adding circularity. But ultimately, it is moneymaking in and of itself, and that’s an ultimate aim.
Whereas I think, when it comes to repair that’s really focused on slowing down consumption. Repair has nothing to do with increasing consumption.
Even rental is still about trends. It’s still about wearing something new and feeling good in something new, and then being able to buy something, not buy, but rent something else the next week.
And I think with repair, it’s less glamorous like it’s about taking the thing that’s already in your wardrobe that’s got a rip in it, and making sure you patch it up and you can wear it again.
And although it’s less glamorous, it’s just as important. It just doesn’t see the time of day because it’s not the brand’s central focus, because it’s not so much on consumption.
It’s not as sort of financially generating for them. So ultimately, I think that’s why it hasn’t been tapped into. But we’re here to completely change that and shift that.
And we are also developing our B2B offering to be able to be that solution for brands to be able to offer repairs to their customers.
Oh, wow, I didn’t realize that. I’d love to dive more into that later. That’s really cool.
What is it like running a circular, sustainable business that doesn’t rely on consumption? What are the challenges with that?
JOSEPHINE: I think the challenges are definitely around education and around culture.
One thing that we do say with Sojo is that we want to do repairs and alterations — and we also want to do education.
We also hope to sort of help shift the consumption culture.
Because by slowing down our relationship with fashion, and by repairing clothes, we hope that other people will repair their other things as well.
It just becomes more how we treat things and how we realize that we don’t need as much and how we can slow down.
So I think one of the hardest things is the fact that it’s really hard to change people’s opinions.
And it’s really hard to fight against decades-old, capitalist consumption models. I mean, it was hard.
I’m a recovering fast fashion person, like everyone in the sustainable space is really, because we’re all fed this notion of consuming.
We’re all fed the notion of cheap clothing and looking great and wearing new.
And what’s really hard is to get people to stop doing that, like it’s hard to shift your mindset. It’s hard to educate yourself away from that.
It’s hard to not tap into that pool of like, doesn’t it feel great wearing something new, and not having spent that much on it?
So I think that’s the hardest thing and most challenging, but also, there’s an amazing community of people who are on board with the mission and who are on board with doing that.
And, and Sojo hopefully is going to help them get there because we make it so easy.
ELIZABETH: Right. Yeah, exactly.
And I do feel like the growth and interest in mending is definitely increasing, at least within this sustainable fashion space. I don’t know about the broader fashion industry or consumer populace.
But to shift it more, what do you think we need to make mending mainstream or just more common?
JOSEPHINE: I am going to do a shameless plug here and say Sojo.
Only because sustainability is so often married to inconvenience and increased price.
Very often, if you want a zero-waste store, it’s further away and it’s more expensive than your local [store].
And I think one thing that Sojo really wanted to do was make sure that okay, so say you have a zip that you need fixing.
It’s not about ordering a new zip, getting thread, getting a needle, getting a sewing machine, watching a YouTube tutorial, asking your mom how you can do it, and fixing it yourself…
It’s about 30 seconds on your phone and then the rest is taken care of for you.
So that’s our mission. It’s actually our mission statement is to make clothing alterations and repairs mainstream. To make it as easy as getting a Deliveroo or a coffee or whatever it is.
We want to make it so easy that people do it without thinking.
ELIZABETH: Mhm and you have plans to expand as well?
Because selfishly, I really want something like this in the US. Probably that will be a while, but I’m really excited about that.
But what is the growth plan? Or where are you at right now with Sojo?
JOSEPHINE: Sojo is tiny, so we’re obviously only a few months old. I think we’re seven months old now.
And we’re still just in London, but the growth plans hopefully are when we get it right, as in when we get the app perfect, and we get the model really working, and we have the great scalable way that we can onboard seamsters and riders, it’s then going to be quite quick expansion and replicating it in other cities and other countries.
Because fundamentally, when you get it right, you can then sort of add fuel to the fire with raising some funding and making sure you expand really quickly.
So although we’re being slow in London, it doesn’t mean the next city will take seven months after we’ve moved there to move on.
It just means that we’re really working on getting the correct offering. And then we hope to be everywhere ASAP because fundamentally, growing fast means we’re doing better for the world.
Because we would love to be doing tens of thousands of alterations and repairs every day.
We even had a reach out from someone yesterday being like, I’m in New York, come to New York. And that happens really often. People want us in Australia and Europe and we’re coming, we’re coming.
ELIZABETH: Yay. That’s exciting. I love that.
So there’s a lot that Sojo does. And one of the common things is getting secondhand garments altered that aren’t the right size, as you mentioned.
So kind of thinking about it from the beginning, do you have any tips for shoppers who are looking secondhand in how they can identify if a piece is alterable or fixable versus what isn’t?
What elements of a garment are easier to repair, maybe more cost-effective to repair or mend or tailor, versus what might be more difficult to alter or mend?
JOSEPHINE: I was going to say with this actually, that when it comes to sizing, especially when shopping second hand, it’s the simple things, that are the things that are problematic.
So taking a waist in or taking a hem up is really where sizing is most problematic when shopping secondhand.
And I think one thing that we need to get away from is that things are difficult to mend or alter or repair. They might only be difficult because we’re the ones trying to do it.
These experts literally have been doing it for decades. And quite often, someone — I mean, we have a set list of things that we do on Sojo — but someone might contact us with something a bit more bespoke, and be like I have this really rogue situation that’s happened with my lace that is disintegrated, or whatever it is.
Fundamentally, there’s someone who can do that, because that garment was created out of nothing in the first place.
So it can be altered and repaired. And I think knowing that and finding the right person to do that is the key.
But obviously, it comes at a financial cost. And I think one thing that I find really great is shopping at charity shops or thrift stores and getting something cheap, then altering it, it comes at the perfect price.
But I think you do have to accept that actually when you do put a bit of money behind it, you’re investing in that piece to be loved for so much longer.
Because when you have that perfect pair of jeans that fits you amazingly, you’re gonna love it for years — and all your clothes should be like that.
So yes, it might seem like a lot to put another you know, I’m gonna speak in dollars but if you put another like sort of $15 behind getting it perfectly tailored, that’s an investment for the future, 100%.
And you shouldn’t see it as like that’s too expensive because it’s really really buying into a long-lasting wardrobe.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, absolutely.
And when we think of repair as just like part of the clothing lifecycle, it just totally shifts our mindset of the value of clothes.
It’s really a shame sometimes because with fast fashion, maybe you can get a pair of jeans for $20 or some really cheap price.
And then when there’s a tear and you see mending is $10 then you’re like well I’m just going to buy another pair of jeans.
And so, I feel the cheap fashion is not only more difficult to mend and repair with the fabric blends and poor construction, but it also feel like makes people less likely to mend.
Do you see people getting their fast fashion garments mended through Sojo?
JOSEPHINE: Yeah, I would say it’s not fast fashion.
I would say that it is like stereotypically, it will be people shopping secondhand or vintage and I would say that they are doing it to garments that they value more.
Mainly because, as you said, it’s not worth it.
The fact of the matter is the price for the repairs is the price for the same as something new.
And for a lot of people, they just can’t get their head around that, and fast fashion is so much about disposability culture.
Actually, you’re right when it comes to shopping secondhand, fast fashion items are not as easily mended or adjusted because of the materials used.
But I think that fundamentally, it’s not about making Sojo about high-end clothing either. Because that’s not what we’re saying.
It’s not that you need to have a luxury dress that you’re actually getting tailored. We want everyday clothes to be tailored, but we don’t want everyday clothes to be fast fashion.
So do you know what I mean? It’s like that right mix of, good, great secondhand, or nice sustainable branded company item and then get it tailored and have it fit perfectly.
Do you know what I mean?
ELIZABETH: Yeah, absolutely.
And like this [shirt that I am wearing] is a really old fast fashion top from middle school, literally over 10 years old, and it still works.
Fast fashion garments, some of them can last, if you take care of them — you have to really like to make an effort to take care of them to make them last.
But they also it’s just the mindset with the price. Sometimes we feel that it’s disposable, but it’s not.
Yeah, and actually, that’s not to say that fast fashion items can’t last because I have a lot of items that I bought also years ago that I still have.
And sometimes, one of them, I have a polo neck and it’s so stretchy. And like I love that when I’m putting on my polo neck because I have done my face up with makeup and I love that it pulls massively. And I love it.
I want to love that item for ages and ages, and I don’t think that a sustainably made polo neck will maybe be as stretchy. So I’m like, I better hold on to that, and I better look after it.
But it’s just about, it’s about attaching value to the item irrespective of how much it costs because you might find a $2 top in a charity shop. Do you know what I mean?
It’s your choice to make something valuable to you.
It just helps if that item wasn’t so cheap, to begin with.
ELIZABETH: Absolutely, absolutely. It definitely makes it easier.
So what other clothing care tips do you have? Of course, we should mend and repair our garments. But what else can we do to extend the lives of our garments?
JOSEPHINE: One thing that I love to say is, and I heard it from Orsola de Castro, who is the founder of Fashion Revolution.
And she gave an amazing tip, which was to hide your clothes.
Innately, we get bored of the clothes we have. And we’re like, there’s nothing to wear in my wardrobe, and we sort of like look at them. We’re like I hate all of this blah, blah, blah…
You wanted that item at one point. You wanted it enough to buy it at that moment and then you were probably three times that week, and then you really loved it loads and you were like, this is my favorite item in my wardrobe at the moment.
You’ve just fallen out of love with it because when we’re made to sort of want something new and shiny.
So putting it away, hiding it and putting it under your bed and then finding it again in four years, or six months or one year, whatever that timeframe is, it’s exciting again, and it will help you love it for longer because you haven’t seen it in a while.
And I even feel that way when I put a summer bag away. When I get out my summer bag of dresses, I have forgotten what dresses I have.
And I’m like oh my God, this!? Like this is so great.
So really get into the habit of like before you throw in the charity pile, which might end up going to landfill. Or before you do anything with it, where you’re like, oh, I don’t want this anymore…
Think about just putting it away. And maybe you’ll fall back in love with it in a few month’s time.
ELIZABETH: Yeah, absolutely.
I thought I lost a pair of shoes in a hotel room one time and I found them like three years later, and it was the most exciting thing.
JOSEPHINE: Found them where!?
I found them hidden back in my closet. Like my closet was a mess. And it was the most exciting thing.
It really felt like they were brand new. And I just appreciate them so much more because I noticed that I missed them when I couldn’t find them.
And so many people have items that they have given away that they’re then like, I never should have given that away!
Like that’s come back into trends, like corduroy or whatever it is. It’s come back and I wish I had that now. We’re like, where’s that dress that I had?
Because in the moment, you’re like, ugh I don’t want this, I wore it too much and I don’t like it anymore. But it’s just about giving it time and you loved it at one stage, so like you can love it again.
Yeah, you can put it in a box and just think about it for a while before you give it away or sell it or whatever, and give it a second chance.
So I wanted to talk a little bit more about something you mentioned, with Sojo developing a B2B offering.
Can you share anything about that? Or is it still under wraps?
JOSEPHINE: It’s actually still under wraps. So it’s outrageous that I just threw it out there!
But no, it’s just that we want to be able to not just be a direct-to-consumer brand where people can do it on their app with their local tailor.
We really want to also allow brands to have their own repair schemes. And we’ll just be the facilitator of that with our network and with our brand offering.
It’s in its nascent stages. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but it’s early days, but it’s something that’s really exciting.
And essentially, it adds to our mission of making clothing alterations and repairs mainstream because hopefully you’ll be able to buy something for a brand and repair it with that brand and repair your clothes at home as well and just use Sojo for everything.
Because a lot of brands are doing resale programs now by partnering with other companies who have that sort of expertise because it is a new
JOSEPHINE: Infrastructure, yeah.
ELIZABETH: Yeah and I think that was Orsala de Castro who said that that’s great and all but what would be even more amazing is those brands had repair programs.
Yeah, it’s the future… I hope.
JOSEPHINE: It is, yeah me too. I also very, very much hope.
On that note, I think that leads into the final question I have for you very well, which is what does a better future for a fashion look like to you?
JOSEPHINE: I think to me, a better future of fashion looks like a whole mix of all the sustainable fashion options we have at the moment.
I want them to be in the limelight. It doesn’t mean just slowing down consumption and not having any clothes and just repairing and just loving what you already have, which I think is really important.
It’s that, plus swapping with your friends or swapping on a platform…
Plus renting when you have an occasion where you want to wear an incredibly glamorous dress, and you don’t want to obviously buy it,
Plus sustainable brands that are manufacturing in the US or manufacturing in England that are paying their workers properly and sort of like it’s very local, and supporting those brands.
And it’s also supporting brands where they’re still manufacturing in the Global South, but they’re just doing it in ethical ways.
Because I think that’s really important to like increasing the GDP of the country and like I don’t want manufacturing to just be eradicated from the Global South, I just want them to be paid properly.
So I just see it as a landscape of like, resale, and just everything like really just circularity and options, and that being the go-to.
I don’t think it looks like one thing. I think it looks like an amazing amalgamation of all the different sustainable fashion offerings for people to choose from, that create just a more conscious fashion future.
And fast fashion does not have a role to play in that.
ELIZABETH: And that’s a wrap for this episode.
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