How often do you ponder about leaving your day job to pursue a passion project?
This is exactly what business partners Ali Hall and Julie Lavington did. After 10 years working together at Look magazine as editor and publishing director respectively, the two one day left their high-profile media jobs to establish Sosandar, a new online fashion retailer of womenswear.
The duo didn’t waste time, either – they started working on the website the day after they left the magazine world in October last year. Almost one year later, their passion project is now up and running and there are plans grow the business already.
Speaking on behalf of the duo, Hall sat down with the Retail Gazette to explain the inspiration behind Sosandar, and how their combined media and fashion journalism experience would help set them apart from other online retailers.
What got you into the retail sector in the first place?
I always knew I wanted to run my own business. My former role as editor of Look gave me a great insight into how women feel about fashion and shopping, and I had experience designing clothing ranges after working on sell-out collections with various fashion retailers.
I heard the same complaints from women again and again – there are no great dresses with sleeves, hemlines are way too short, etc. It was clear to me that there was a real gap in the market, which is how Sosandar was born. I left Look and started working on Sosandar a day later.
Describe your responsibilities.
It’s a brand new business so it involves spinning a lot of plates – luckily I’m used to that as my previous job was so multi-faceted.
I may be the co-chief executive and founder, but you’ll also find me doing everything – from acting as a fit model to customer services at times. My responsibilities cover every element. Luckily, I’ve hired a great team so I have all the support I need.
How has your previous experience aided your current job?
My business partner Julie Lavington and I worked together for 10 years, so setting up a business with someone who you know so well definitely made things easier.
We each instinctively know what the other is going to do, or what they’re thinking. My former job title may have been editor, but the role involved everything from PR and marketing to photoshoots, content, design and manufacturing. Basically, skills that are now invaluable to my new venture.
However, I’d say the most important thing I’ve brought with me is the knowledge that you need a great team around you. Also, an understanding that our employees – especially women with children – need a job that works around their lives. Providing flexible working hours was extremely important to me – I have a five-year-old daughter so I know how vital it is.
Can you explain the concept behind Sosandar?
It's fashion created for women, by women. Our clothes make women feel chic but sexy, they are trend-led, but not intimidatingly so.
A focus on great fabrics – butter-soft leather is a signature – and unique design details at competitive prices has resulted in hard-working pieces that will make a statement but stand the test of time.
Another thing that sets Sosandar apart is our editorial content. Content sells clothes, so we knew we wanted to fuse ecommerce with a dedicated editorial offering. Women don’t just want the clothes, they want advice on how, where and why to wear them. Daily style inspiration, topical fashion news and advice sits alongside the shopping – it’s intrinsically linked.
Julie Lavington and Ali Hall, co-founders and co-CEOs of Sosandar.
What advice do you have for other retailers looking at creating an inclusive environment for their staff and consumers?
It was extremely important to create a brand with a high-end aesthetic that was also warm and friendly.
Fashion can be alienating, especially high fashion. I wanted to create an emotional connection with women through our down to earth, inclusive tone – our Facebook page, for example, has lots of humour.
The combination of ecommerce and engaging fashion content achieves this. Fashion is something for women to enjoy and feel good about – it shouldn’t be cold.
We also create a collaborative environment in the office where everyone feels they can and should voice their opinion. That makes it a very exciting place to work.
Can you talk about any upcoming projects you’re working on?
We are right at the beginning of the journey as we only launched the label on September 19.
My business partner and I left our former jobs in October 2015 and started Sosandar straight away, so we’ve gone from blank page to launching a fully-fledged business in a year, something we’re extremely proud of.
The next stage is growing the business to become the number one ecommerce site for fashion-forward clothing, but right now we are building a new office which will house our own photographic studios so we can produce all our imagery and content on site. We move in a few weeks, and we can’t wait.
What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking in retail?
The ecommerce side of retail is an exciting place to be right now. The industry is growing rapidly, so it’s a really great time for new British brands.
Also, the way people consume content and media is changing, which is why it was so important to me to integrate this with the shopping element.
You have to be driven, flexible and willing to work hard. But the most important thing is a thorough understanding of your customer – giving them what they want, in an environment they relate to and enjoy. In our case, that’s a website with beautiful imagery, desirable clothes and great content to tell the customer how to wear it.
What would you say is the biggest risk for your sector, given the current climate?
Fashion ecommerce is going from strength to strength as women are increasingly buying clothes online because of the ease and convenience. I don’t see that changing even with the uncertainties associated with Brexit.
Success in fashion retail fundamentally comes down to producing great clothes at the right price that your customer wants to buy.