So Just Shop puts innovation at the heart of sustainable retail model

Craftspeople in Africa

Innovate UK EDGE has helped an innovative and sustainable lifestyle brand featuring accessories and homeware handcrafted by women from some of the poorest and most disadvantaged communities around the world to conduct an intellectual property audit, prepare to raise finance and increase its presence in overseas markets.

So Just Shop doubled its revenues in 2020 and employed new staff after Innovate UK EDGE innovation & growth specialist Peter Cocks began working with the South London company.

“Working with Innovate UK EDGE and Peter has been incredibly useful, not only in terms of the advice and resources shared with us, but also in having a great sounding board with wide industry experience to try out ideas and plans on, outside of our own small management team - sometimes a view from outside is much clearer and less rose-tinted, and so really helpful to clarify direction and ideas,” said Judith Blair, Commercial Director at So Just Shop. 

IP audit to protect ethical supply chain certification process  

Through Innovate UK EDGE, the company qualified for a £2,500 grant for an intellectual property audit that identified ways of protecting its innovative ethical supply chain certification process.

This certification mark will show how products and producer groups supplying So Just Shop align with key UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) goals (https://sdgs.un.org/goals). The company is highly unusual in that it can prove compliance, something that environmentally aware consumers are increasingly looking for in their ethical and sustainable purchases.

“Our innovative supply chain verification process is our own design and system platform,” said Blair. “The platform checks that the claims made for our products can be verified. We went our own route on this as we felt that the existing audit organisations for supply chains were primarily aimed at much larger organisations and were limited in scope of the checks they made.”

So Just Shop has created a process and reporting system that tracks everything – from the origin of the raw materials used in its product to the background and salary of those who hand-make the products. This ensures they know who is actually making the products, that they are paid a good wage and that there are no third parties in a country taking money or using ‘slave labour’ or factories. 

Investment readiness support for this sustainable business

Ahead of a £250,000 investment round, Peter also helped profile the business and reviewed the business plan, pitch deck and ‘teaser’ documents before offering feedback on each. He then assisted in identifying potential investors.

In addition Peter referred the company to an international trade adviser specialising in fashion and retail, which assisted in establishing shops in four additional global marketplaces.

Finally, the impact of COVID on the UK retail sector meant the So Just Shop team needed to focus on digital sales via its website and develop a presence on other marketplaces. Peter’s feedback helped to identify improvements to boost web traffic and make better use of digital marketing platforms, including Facebook advertising. This led to the company applying for and being awarded a Facebook small business grant and several months of ad credits.

There has also been other support from Innovate UK EDGE related to grant funding, loans and government COVID support for continued product development, also to address cash flow issues when the pandemic restrictions affected physical retail concessions. 

Poverty reduction through ethically-sourced products

By returning a significantly higher percentage of each sale than through normal channels to the cooperatives, alongside providing ongoing design support and assistance with cash flow funding for product manufacture, So Just Shop aims to raise 250,000 women and their families out of poverty while ensuring that ethical and sustainable products are accessible to all.

The organisation deals directly with group leaders, ensuring that the women have access to the funds, materials and training they need and that their communities benefit from the work.

Working with Innovate UK EDGE has been incredibly useful."

Judith Blair, Commercial Director at So Just Shop