Meet the founders of online fashion brand Sosandar
PUBLISHED: 10:45 10 March 2020 | UPDATED: 10:45 10 March 2020
Online fashion brand Sosandar, based in Wilmslow, was founded by friends Julie Lavington and Ali Hall, the result of a moment of clarity
Julie Lavington and Ali Hall met more than 14 years ago, when they were tasked with launching Look, the weekly gossip, fashion and lifestyle magazine that was the most successful title launch in 17 years. It soon became the best-selling weekly fashion magazine in the UK, with its up-to-the-minute dish of celebrity news and serious commentary on fashion and beauty for real women, with real needs. The magazine closed in 2018, but by this time, Julie and Ali had already had their bright idea and set about bringing everything they had learned about women's wants and needs in fashion to the online marketplace. 'We were brought together to launch the magazine,' says Ali. 'We came up with the concept, we launched the magazine and then we ran it for ten years. And while we were doing that we also started doing fashion ranges with various retailers - collections developed by known fashion brands, under the Look brand name. It wasn't them developing a range that we put our brand on. We actually went into the offices and did the ranges with them, involved in every stage from design to photography. We did it for Debenhams, we did it for Office shoes, we did it for Oasis. Just as today retailers might have collaborations with fashion designers, they did it with us. Look, at that point, was the most influential fashion mag in the UK. It targeted 18-30 year olds and was where all young women came for their style advice.
'Facebook was still in its infancy, social media was still a very new thing and fashion e-commerce was a only just beginning - and people were still questioning whether it would ever work online.
'We saw an opportunity in the market of women who had, by this point, grown up with what had become the 'fast fashion' market. A very fashion-forward product, that followed trends. Something for women who as they graduated from the fast fashion brands wanted the same fashionability, but also wanted quality. There are a multitude of online fast-fashion brands, but we saw this market of women who wanted to follow what they'd seen on the catwalk but wanted things that were lifestyle appropriate - clothes that would last longer and would suit their bodyshapes.'
They're talking about me, of course. And probably you, too. Two children in and far more sure of myself than I ever was in my twenties, I want fashionable items that don't chafe, ride up, pinch or that I am just desperate to peel off at the end of the day. I also don't want weekly trips the dry-cleaner and complicated fiddly bits to iron flat. I want style that's also on-trend. I want cuts that flatter my shape and beautifully made pieces that don't cost the earth - in any respect, financially or ethically. I want what Sosandar's got, in short, and am an avid follower of their Instagram feed and very, very happy with the various pieces from their recent releases I have in my wardrobe.
'What we have set up is exactly what we wanted to set up,' says Julie, when I ask how they feel about it three years after launch. 'People who are ready to graduate from the fast fashion brands had nowhere to go without a massive hike in costs. We spotted that opportunity and that is exactly who is buying from us. Perhaps our only surprise is that the age range shopping with us is broader than we thought, women from age 20 to 60+ buy our clothes. I think this is why we've been successful - a clear vision and also the ability to be agile and adapt to changing circumstances.'
Ali adds, 'I think coming from a media background really helps. We put the customer at the centre of everything, we work very close to season and we listen very closely to our customers. We handle any customer calls here, in the office - our customer service team know our range inside out and upside down, they are sitting right by a rail of all the fashions, so can give advice and know exactly what the caller is asking about.
'The designers, the buyers, the marketing team and us, we're all here and all ready to help at any time.'
All Sosandar fashions, from skirts to shoes, bags to boots, are designed in-house, giving Ali and Julie ultimate control over their offering.
'Having an in-house design team ensures that all our fashions are unique,' Julie explains. 'When any piece is designed, we have considered all the lifestyle needs of our customers. We think about women going to work, women going to parties, women sitting at home on the sofa drinking wine. They want to feel brilliant and look brilliant; look and feel sexy and feminine and chic. It's very much a collaborative process across the whole team - creative and commercial - it's not a designer sitting in a room alone just coming up with ideas.'
Having met while working in London, I am curious as to what has brought this duo north, and specifically to Wilmslow.
'By complete coincidence we are both from the North West,' says Julie. 'Ali grew up in Cheadle and later Wilmslow and I am from Lancashire. We chose the North West as we knew there was a brilliant supply of talent up here for e-commerce and for fashion. You can't built a business on your own, you need a team around you and need a pool of really, really strong people to recruit from, so we knew it would work here. Wilmslow is great for easy transport links for staff, and we're in a town centre too, which is great.'
It seems like Julie and Ali have rather nailed it, in terms of creating the concept and then bringing it to successful life, so what's next for this driven, dynamic duo?
'We want to be the go-to destination for all our customers' wardrobe needs. It's our objective to be a one-stop shop; our number one priority is therefore product expansion,' Julie says,
'which is what we've been doing constantly, but it's an ongoing thing - expansion within the categories we have. The existing product ranges will broaden, but then we are also expanding into new areas - but we aren't going to tell you what, at the moment! Women buy all the time now, not just at the start of a new season and will wear all of her wardrobe all year round too. Whatever her need - work, leisure, travel, occasions - we are going to be here to supply it.'
Having spent barely an hour in their company, I have no doubt that Julie and Ali will do exactly what they say. They are strong, confident, bold and unafraid of stepping into new territory. They also laugh (a lot) bounce off one another like a well-oiled team should and seem to have an inexhaustible wellspring of ideas. I can't wait to see what's coming next.