Mention “ethical retail” and you may have an idea of what the products may look like. But Jennifer Georgeson, the founder of the recently launched So Just Shop, is challenging preconceived notions of what ethical fashion looks like — all while supporting female artists in some of the most impoverished countries in the world.
London-based Georgeson has an eclectic background. She’s worked in Delhi with The Clinton Foundation, and in between stints working with NGOs in Zambia, Pakistan and India, she would work with technology start-ups. While Georgeson was working with the Clinton Foundation in India, she was also running a small charity targeting early malnutrition, and this is when the idea for So Just Shop began to grow.
Georgeson noticed that while her team successfully increased mothers’ awareness of malnutrition, there was no change in the children’s health. Mothers would go to work and leave older children in charge of the younger ones. This meant that often a two-year-old would be left in the care of a four-year-old, and the only thing they’d eat all day is cookies. Once the team launched feeding and early learning centers for the children, things began to turnaround for the women, and their children.
“It got me thinking about who holds the economic power,” explains Georgeson. “When a woman can earn a living wage, there is a trickle down effect for the whole community. If we can help a woman, it can help a whole community,” says Georgeson. As she points out, economic disempowerment is often an obstacle to maternal and child health.
Georgeson also shares the story of a woman who could not read, so it would take her over an hour to get to work because she could not understand the bus signs. Once she learned how to read, not only was she able to get to work on time, but this newly confident woman felt empowered to gather the women in her community to lobby the village leader for a new well. She was successful, and is now one of So Just Shop’s jewelry makers.
So Just Shop launched in 2015, and sells jewelry and home accessories handmade by women in 35 countries, including India, Guatemala, Malawi, Nepal and Thailand. The website gives the women an international platform to sell their pieces, without having to rely on charity or their husband’s income.
Browse through the website and what is striking is how modern the designs are, from the delicate jewelry to the organic shapes of the serving bowls.
“It’s important that the designs are contemporary but the women are always using a traditional skill,” says Georgeson. “We want buyers to recognize where the pieces come from.” Leather belts made by a women’s cooperative in Kenya feature hand beading, and chic wristlets showcase the bold textiles woven on a traditional Mayan loom.
The products are available online and ship to the US, UK and Europe. They will soon be in Anthropologie stores and online. Georgeson has also done a pop-up store in Bloomingdale’s and will soon add bespoke corporate gifts.
As for what’s next, Georgeson is constantly looking for ways to expand So Just Shop. She’s working to raise capital to create a technology platform that will allow women in impoverished areas, who may not have bank accounts, to be paid through a phone. Also in the works? Selling handmade textiles wholesale, all with an eye towards helping to lift the women economically. Now that’s what we call savvy shopping.