When I got the job of News Review editor on the Sunday Times in 2013, my parents-in-law bought me a big, black leather Prada bag. It came in a massive box and was swathed in a silky blue dust cover. I’d haul it onto the Circle line at 7.15 am for my commute, first to Wapping and later to London Bridge when I became editor of Style magazine. Looking back now from my start-up vantage, I can’t think why I crammed it so full every day.
There was a large wallet full of cards I never used, an overflowing make-up bag, random books, shoes to change into after work, diaries, newspapers, a solitary hairbrush…stuff. One Friday evening a treasured Mui Mui flatform fell out somewhere between Monument and High Street Kensington, but as a veritable walking bag lady, I didn’t even notice. All that is history.
These days I have a cherry red Knomo backpack (a Christmas present from my husband before we even started working with Knomo) that holds my MacBook Air, a phone, keys, a lipstick and a black leather credit card holder containing a debit card and a Boots loyalty card. I never carry cash but compared to some my younger colleagues, I remain positively laden. They buzz around town with just their Apple Pay on their phone and a laptop. But my slimmed-down sartorial baggage belies a vaster cultural change.
I came from a media monolith with its towering glass office and army of workers, including my own PA, where 73 per cent of the top earners were men. Paper was our stock in trade and I had someone else who knew how to attach a picture file to an email. (Although that was nothing compared with the technical acumen of some the senior suited males.) Change took an age. In early 2015 we wanted to set up a daily email. But emailed newsletters, we were told, were over. (I know). A podcast? It was grudgingly allowed as long as we could fund it ourselves, and then chucked out the moment I left, along with its two journalists. They renamed it and it recently surpassed its two millionth download.
This is a once great industry, full of brilliant minds, that’s permanently running to keep up with the future. So, in March last year I pressed the buzzer on a new working life.
The company had yet to be named and resided in a fashion and music studio space on the wrong side of York Way in Kings Cross. The office had no computers, phones, PAs, office handbooks, induction days, legal departments or even a stationery cupboard. Instead, there was student food (tea, coffee, avocados, popcorn) and bags of free thinking and flexibility. By May we had a name - Soda (School of the Digital Age) and was targeting a gap in the retail tech market.
No-one was selling smart goods to a growing female audience. Everything was black and boxy and shiny and being run by men. And yet look at the figures and women dominate retail. We buy stuff. Soda launched in Selfridges in September last year, curating a selection of tech products and accessories, mostly aimed at women. Within six months we had become part of a predominantly female led start-up and influencer community who were all helping each other – with marketing, advice, plans for pop-ups and collaborations.
In my old life, no-one talked to competitors. Now we have meetings every day with other founders who are targeting the same audience. The tenets of traditional business ways are being torn down and to keep up you have to be nimble, light and adaptable.
And that lovely Prada bag? It remains a symbol of yesterday’s working world, its dust cover dutifully collecting dust in the corner of my room.