A Week in My Life: Jennifer Georgeson, Founder and CEO of SO JUST SHOP
So Just Shop is an accessory, homeware and gifting marketplace working directly with women-led artisans from some of the most vulnerable communities in the world.
Jennifer Georgeson lived and worked for a number of years in Zambia, working on prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV programmes with University College London, whilst simultaneously completing a part-time PhD.
Becoming a Programme Director for the Clinton Foundation, Jennifer then moved out to Delhi, India for three years, working on public-private partnerships between India's Ministry of Health, Clinton Foundation, Yale University and private investors. She returned to the UK with the nascent idea of starting a business focusing on women's economic empowerment, Jennifer founded So Just Shop.
Here's what a working week looks like for Jennifer...
I start off the week exhausted - SO JUST SHOP was at a pop up all weekend so haven't had a break. I was supposed to have the Saturday morning free but was firefighting a problem with a training programme we're running and then had to put my retail face on and work the rest of the time.
I don't mind doing pop-ups. I think it is good to keep connected with customers and enjoy some sales banter, but being overworked and short-staffed is tough at times (welcome to the world of a startup!).
As often helps, I took the dog for a long walk before the day started on what was a gorgeously sunny morning - this really helped clear my head. I try and spend Monday's on admin, reviewing my work plan from the previous week, and prepping a work plan for the coming week.
We are currently developing a transparent supply chain tracker, so we, and customers can know who made the products, when, how, and where they were made. It will also help prove that everyone involved is paid a living wage, of legal age and working in safe working conditions. It's all very exciting! However, checking over the 'Master Service Level Agreements' for the developers, whilst vital, is less exciting :(
One of my favourite parts of the day is walking my son to school. One of the privileges of being the boss of the business and being a single parent is structuring my working day so I can spend time with my son (not a lot, not enough - still a world of guilt but better than it is for many). Today we were mainly discussing would we rather be a zombie, werewolf or vampire - I opted for a werewolf but not totally fixed on this!
The rest of the day was spent with the team - SO JUST SHOP launched our own brand JUST Jewellery range last year and we're now expanding the range. With this comes the highly expensive process of making lookbooks so you can sell into retailers. We did the shoot last week so are now selecting final pictures and arranging all the information for the graphic designer. In a couple of weeks, we have a stand at Tom Kerridge's 'Pub In The Park' in Marlow, so we're also planning what stock to bring, placing orders for any more that we may need, and organising staffing.
As part of the development of our supply chain tracker, we are also in the process of raising investment. This necessitates a lot of documentation and long conversations with our company accountant. This call was followed by a debriefing call from one of the consultants working on our Pakistan projects. I struggle sometimes to switch from describing government tax-saving investment schemes to investors, to querying whether we need to put pom-poms on handwoven jute table mats :)
Today is all about shareholders. I prepare updates for them on the current state of the investment raise and planning the next stage of our development cycle. Days like these I feel comfortable. As someone not from a design background, the fact that I have started a jewellery, accessories and homeware business amazes me. Our mission, raising 250,000 women out of abject poverty through economic empowerment, is my driver.
We chose to work in accessories because most women throughout the world, irrelevant of their educational background, have some form of traditional skills. I, however, don't. I have a background in Public Health and Tech. When phrases like "much better to use sea sand in the mould when hand-casting brass because the salt binds it better" comes out of my mouth, I feel like looking over my shoulder to check who said that! Anyhow, today I talked not just about what data we can use for the supply chain tracker, but how we can ensure that it's useable data. Happy days :)
A nice run to get the day going, complete with dog chasing me and trying to trip me up - adds an element of skill and surprise. My Ops Director is off to New York for a week so am in handover mode - she has done all of the hard work collating all the material for the lookbook and now I need to hand it over, with the right images, to the graphic designer.
We're currently developing a couple of product lines using sustainable and recycled materials - one in India. One product is bunting made from recycled sari material so we had a briefing call about this. The second line is baskets from Ghana, all going beautifully but the shipping fees are enormous. A third of the cost of 50 baskets (it's not a weight issue but a volume one, never knew that before starting the business) so we are trying to find ways to lower the cost.
I am also trying to think of creative solutions to how we can ensure good quality control in one of our projects. The business means I have the wonderful opportunity to upskill women and help them take their traditional designs and add a contemporary feel to them. It is hard to get consistency when you are not there on a day-to-day basis. All of the products on our site must be of high-quality and consistent and we won't sell them unless we can be assured of this.
Usually, we use WhatsApp to video in and view the products being made, this works really effectively, however, we are currently working with a group of women in rural locations in Pakistan and the infrastructure is just not there to make video calls so we are trying to work through alternatives.
Lovely morning playing tennis, then frantic scramble to catch up on the hell that is my email inbox. SO JUST SHOP often does bespoke orders for events/corporates or other brands so I am playing catch up to ensure everything is working to standard.
We have a lovely project at the moment making laser cut wooden earrings with a group of women in Palestine, getting the products made is simple and the quality is fantastic. But shipping is a nightmare as packages often lie idle for days in Israeli customs so I try to untangle this and give the client an update.
I have a wonderful lunch today with one of our investors, I am so blessed that all of the investors in SO JUST SHOP are committed to the work we do. They don't just invest but offer up contacts and events and buy our products.
Back to the office to write up a couple of consultancy proposals. Looking forward to a long weekend off, well, a long weekend not working quite so much.