Fashion feels different at the moment. With virtual fashion shows, a non-existent red carpet season and no real need to wear anything other than loungewear, our relationship with style has shifted. The pandemic has forced us to look at the industry a little differently and has allowed us the space to rethink some of the old habits we got so used to.
Can we be greener when it comes to fashion? What does it actually mean to be sustainable with shopping? Do these small changes really make a difference? While looking after the environment feels like a responsibility far greater than the individual, it’s never been more important that we all play a part.
It starts with your existing wardrobe. We all know that renting our clothes and contributing to the circular economy is great; we know that buying secondhand and supporting sustainable brands is favourable over fast fashion; and we know that the ‘make do and mend’ mantra means we have no excuse to throw things out. But where do we go for those alterations to give our clothes a new lease of life, particularly in the midst of a pandemic?
Recent physics and philosophy graduate Josephine Philips believes she has the answer with her new app, Sojo. The app works by connecting its users to local seamster or tailoring businesses and delivering your items to be altered or repaired - via bicycle of course (the greenest option). The app is on a mission to help people in their quest for a more circular and sustainable wardrobe by making clothing alterations and repairs an easy and hassle-free process, whether it’s shortening your trousers or fixing a zip.
We caught up with Philips to find out more about why she started the app, how she developed her idea and what we can all do to help the planet.
How did you come up with the concept of Sojo?
“I came up with the concept, like many other entrepreneurs, from a personal problem. I had moved away from fast-fashion and was relying nearly entirely on shopping second-hand. This was great, except I kept finding these amazing one-off pieces that I loved, but that wasn’t my size. I knew altering them would be a solution, but I didn’t know how to sew and getting my grandma or a seamster to do it seemed too much time and effort. Slowly but surely a pile of clothes that needed to be altered gathered in a drawer and I knew I wanted a really simple way to get them fitted to me. In very Gen-Z fashion, I thought, it would be great if it could be done on an app - and Sojo was born.”
Your app helps support small businesses by connecting them to the consumer, why was this important for you?
“I think for me, the aspect of Sojo that supports small businesses fell into place quite naturally. There was a consumer need, with lots of young people shopping second-hand and becoming more conscious of sustainable fashion, and then on the other side, there were all these seamsters who had decades of experience and yet weren’t tapping into the younger demographic that had so much potential.
“These shops were losing business along with the rest of the ‘dying high-street’ and it made me want to be the go-between that would be doing good for both sides while building a business in itself in the middle. I personally like knowing who I’m supporting when I’m buying and I think that’s why we have the app feature where you can read about the story of the seamster you’re about to use, and also see their picture. I didn’t want customers to feel detached from the local business they were supporting just because they were doing it on their phone.”
What do you think needs to change in the industry to make it more sustainable?
“It’s a big question with plenty of tangents that I could go down but, overarchingly, to make the industry more sustainable we need to look at every single aspect of the supply chain and the life cycle of our clothes. Each step of the process needs re-evaluating and reinventing with ethics in mind. From the materials being made (for example whether they’re organic); to the farmers who are making them (bringing down their suicide rates); to the dyeing processes (stopping its pollution of water supplies); to the factories that turn them into clothes (looking at their pollution output); to the, majority, women of colour garment workers (dismantling how they are exploited and mistreated); to the consumer's attitude towards buying (consumerism and wanting to stay up to date with trends); to how we look after the clothes that we own (re-wearing them often, repairing and altering them); to how we dispose of them (whether they get recycled or go to landfill).
“It’s a horrifically long list, it’s not exhaustive and I’ve barely touched the surface. From among that list, for me personally, I am pulled towards starting with the ‘people’ aspect of the fast-fashion industry - eliminating all the ways that garment workers are exploited and mistreated - and also looking at what we can control from a consumer perspective; looking after our clothes and elongating the lifespan of our clothes, and implementing a more circular model."
What do you wish people knew more about when it comes to the fashion industry?
“When you give your clothes to charity or you even put them in a clothing recycling unit, that doesn’t necessarily mean they get re-sold or even recycled. Quite often these clothes that you think you’re giving a new life will still end up in the landfill.”
What’s the smallest change a consumer could make to become more eco-conscious?
“I’m going to be biased and say that they should be buying less and trying to look after the clothes that they already own with more love. And really trying to unpack and reverse the notion that we should always be buying new clothes and keeping up with all the trends, and instead try and value what we already have in our wardrobes.
“However, if that can’t be done (and it’s incredibly difficult to do given the consumerist culture we live in) and if they’re going to shop, they should shop second-hand! Those clothes are already in existence and although they might not be new, they’d be new to you which feels just as good.”
What do you think the biggest misconception about sustainable fashion is?
“That it’s expensive. I know that there’s a big problem of privilege and classism in the sustainable fashion movement, and it’s rightful to say that not everyone can afford a £50 T-shirt, but I think that it’s so important to remember that ‘sustainable fashion’ doesn’t mean just buying from sustainable brands. As I’ve mentioned, you could be taking part in sustainable fashion by not really buying anything new at all. You can also take part by engaging in clothes swapping, which again is free - whether that be with your family and friends or on a clothes-swapping app like Nuw.
“Equally, you can engage with fashion rental which allows you to get that ‘new item’ fix without buying it, and you can still keep up with the trends. And also second-hand! I was a uni student when I began engaging in sustainable fashion and that meant shopping in charity shops or at car boot sales or at kilo sales. Buying from brands that are expensive as a result of them valuing the people and the planet the way they should be valuing them isn’t the only way to be involved in sustainable fashion at all."
What should consumers look out for when shopping sustainably?
“I read somewhere that buying an item of clothing should be like choosing a tattoo. It should be something that’s really well thought out, that isn’t an impulse, that you really love and that is something you think you can keep and love for life. My grandma recently gave me a dress that she wore back in the 1960s; she’s had it for over 60 years. Now that may be a little bit of a reach for most people at the moment, but really trying to think about the longevity of an item is one of the most important things for shopping sustainably I think.”
What’s next for Sojo?
“After lockdown, when we’re able to prove that the business works successfully here in London, I want to expand throughout the UK quickly so that more people get to use Sojo. The more people altering and repairing their clothes the better, so we’ll definitely be growing outside of the capital and also hopefully outside of the UK at some point, too."
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