Ten years ago former JC journalist Jan Shure spotted a gap in the fashion market, leading to fashion and style advice website, SoSensational.
We’ve been talking about closing down our business for some time. But any plans we had to put our feet up are on hold for a while.
The “we” in question is me, Jan Shure, former fashion editor and holder of various senior roles on this newspaper, and my business partner, Cyndy Lessing, an entrepreneur and image consultant.
As the co-founders of SoSensational.co.uk, an online fashion and advice website for women over 50, we have been working flat out for the past nine years to build our site.
It started because as well as being long-time friends, we were fellow trekkers. for the charity One to One, which helps people in need in Israel. Hampstead Heath walks had become a fixture when training for treks and long after. During one such walk we came up with our business idea.
Our friends and fellow walkers, who were, like us, over 50, constantly asked us where they could find fashion as they were struggling to find anything they wanted to buy.
In 2009 it was unquestionably true that the High Street was only interested in young consumers. Nevertheless, Cyndy and I knew there was fabulous fashion available for older women. It was just a case of finding it and showcasing it. Our plan was to create a business to help our peers find fabulous fashion. And maybe we could earn some money.
We decided to create a website. Today, that may seem obvious, but in 2009/10 not so much.
When we launched we were the first to target mature women. We initially said “Fashion For Grown-Up Women” but that seemed a bit mimsy, so we stated unequivocally we offered fashion for women over 50.
The extra bit was blogs and styling advice, specifically for mature women. That was unique to us.
From 2011 onwards, the media was full of stories saying “50 is the new 30”; market research appeared saying older consumers had cash to spend and should no longer be neglected; Balmain and Armani used older models in ad campaigns. It was becoming apparent that Cyndy and I had tapped into the zeitgeist. SoSensational was taking off.
Then in March 2014 I had brain surgery that left me with major impairments. Despite the challenges, the business slowly got back on track. In 2015, we won a business competition run by The Times and Vodafone.
That was a turning point. It confirmed our belief in our concept, won us mentoring from the brilliant Sophie Cornish of Not On The High Street, and encouraged us to seek investment.
We all know about the eye-watering sums invested in start-ups, or the billions paid when businesses are sold.
Sadly that’s not the reality for most businesses. In the UK, six out of 10 start-ups fail after five years. In the US over 50 percent fail after five years and over 70 percent after 10 years.
While we knew we were not in the same league as, say, Spotify or Shazam we also knew we had a great concept, so we met potential investors.
We quickly realised there were three snags, Cyndy and I being two of them. Potential investors were mostly in their 20s or early 30s. They looked at us, both needing specs, me with a walking stick, and our credibility oozed away.
If that’s ageist, forgive me but it’s no fun to be judged by how many years you’ve been on this earth rather than on abilities.
Snag three: they couldn’t understand our business model. We didn’t make clothes. We weren’t a retailer. Oh yes, and we weren’t “disruptive.” (Products or services that change how we do things, such as Uber and Spotify are ‘disruptive’ and the alpha and omega of modern business.)
We were none of those things, so potential investors didn’t “get” us.
They were polite and invariably offered suggestions for improving our business model. Cyndy and I might have questioned what we were doing and how we were doing it if the advice had been consistent. But, of course, it never was.
We knew stylish older women loved SoSensational. They instantly “got” our business model; understood they could find fashion chosen for them, all in one place without having to search dozens of websites or trawl the High Street.
But it was becoming burdensome to carry on carrying on without investment. In August, Cyndy and I told the thousands who receive our newsletter that we were retiring and unless someone bought SoSensational it would close.
Our announcement unleashed a tidal-wave of enthusiasm, which really touched us. It also led to some serious offers.
One of those was from Steven Bryant, managing director of ThoughtMix, a leading player in the digital world. He “gets” our business model (and our potential). Through a new subsidiary, TMG Media Limited, ThoughtMix will nurture SoSensational and invest in it to let more women of 50-plus know about it. Alongside technological enhancements, he plans more brands, new categories and a shopping app. All the stuff we’ve been wanting to add!
Of course, you’d like to know how much he paid but it’s a private sale, bound by strict confidentiality so I can’t say. What I can say is that neither of us will be buying a yacht.
The reason why we’re postponing feet-up time is because the TMG team are retaining our expertise and the passion for fashion for over-50s that motivated Cyndy and I to create the site.
We will be involved in the blogs, the photo-shoots, the videos, the Facebook Live sessions, in other words, the creative, fun side of SoSensational that we love so much.
We’re really excited but it means we’re not going to be Ladies Who Lunch just yet.