Once upon a time, a time doesn’t seem that long time ago, I went to see my ex boss about starting a coding school for women and non binary people in the slums of India funded by paid for classes here in the UK. 4 and a half years later, I get to say I’ve been the very proud founder and CEO of 23 Code Street, a company I’ve poured my heart and soul into, the coding school for women and non binary people. For every paying student on our courses, we teach digital skills to a woman/non binary person in the slums of Mumbai.
TL;DR: I’m joining Vinokilo as CTO and head of e-commerce to build a platform where people see second hand as valuable, if not more, than first hand fast fashion. If you’ll indulge me, I’d like to write a little bit of the story but feel free to jump down and reply as if you’ve read the whole thing, twice, and in depth.
The pandemic was one of the hardest periods that we have gone through mostly because of the mental toll it took on the team…that it took on me. We closed the office a couple of weeks before the lockdown occurred, we moved all classes online, and I was dragged to my parents place which, after my initial meltdown and tantrums, I was very grateful for.
It was exciting to see how well we managed to do online. I never thought it would be possible to build a community, a feeling, like the one we have in person. But through classes, Google hangouts with the cohort, regular Slack chats, and team projects, we were able to build the environment that makes 23 Code Street so special. Massive shout out to Jenni and Guy through this period!
I loved spending time at home with my family, cooking, baking many banana breads, eating, learning how to do pull ups and getting totally shown up by the youngest sister (for those interested, I can now do 4 chin ups and 2 pull ups. She can do 10…), drawing a bunch, exercising a tonne, having socially distanced street parties, and having some space to think whilst laying in the sun. Side note, the lockdown would have been shit without a garden. I worked a lot. It felt like endless hours of calls, admin, and planning. I also turned 27 somewhere in the middle of all of this. My fam jam threw me an incredible surprise disco in my shed/office.
Lots of us founders helped each other out through this time. From Zoom calls to WhatsApp chats, we kept each other sane. I don’t know what I would have done without a bunch of people like Nafisa Bakkar, Tom Salmon, Dan Parry, Liv Little, Sam Piggott, Andy and Andy, Anne-Marie Imafidon and Charlotte and the entire Stemettes squad (big up our Houseparty times), and many others.
One founder I spoke a lot to through this period was my friend, Robin Balser, founder of second hand fashion company, Vinokilo. We, randomly, met at Old Street at a Twilio conference about 6ish years ago.
I’ve been watching in awe as Robin has grown his company in Germany over the last 5 years, catching up over chai as and when, picking up where we last left off. Over the last year or so, I’ve been out a few times to visit him, to see the company, attend their events, and to talk about strategy for an online world of second hand. He’d floated me joining before but 23 Code Street left no space for anything else. But the conversations always left me inspired and dreaming up plans at 4 in the morning.
Fashion is an industry that, secretly, I’ve always kept up with (yes, I know, my absolute lack of imaginative style says otherwise). There was a point in time where I used to play a game whilst walking around London, naming what brands people were wearing. More and more though, over the years, as in every aspect of my life, I’ve been interested in the brands trying to create less impact on the world, from skincare and shoes, to furniture and fashion. I started to look into things like
Patagonia’s repair schemes,
Finisterre’s relationship with the ocean,
Depop’s second hand marketing,
Paynter’s made to order ethos,
Allbirds’ sustainable materials,
Organic Basic’s use of Tencel instead of cotton,
and many others. My spreadsheet of fashion and skincare companies is a bit mad. Does someone want to clean it up for me?
Anyway, the crisis had meant that all of Vinokilo’s events were cancelled. Vintage kilo sale events around Europe is how it makes its money. People come to these events and pay for the items by the kilo. It’s a much fairer way to shop as you are buying based on weight which usually translates to material cost and labour required to make, as opposed to the fashion label and marketing that normally sets the cost. Buying in kilo is also how we pay for the stock that we save from landfill.
Events were cancelled and being deemed illegal across the continent, so online became the focus and lifeline. I began to freelance with them to help steer the ship in the right direction. Again, we talked about me joining. I initially couldn’t see it happening. However, as time went on, I realised I quite liked the idea of working on a “product”. It’s something I’ve never done. I also wanted to be more technical in practice. I also, quite frankly, wanted to work with Robin as he’s super smart, and we’ve always aligned, culturally and ethically, that I wanted to see what we could do together.
So, after weeks of negotiations and setting my hard no’s and requirements down, I somehow found myself saying…yes.
Yes to working on a product. Yes to being more technical. Yes to creating impact/reducing impact on the world. Yes to working for a company as opposed to owning it. Yes to friends becoming colleagues. Yes to a new country. Yes to new adventures.
I announced the decision to my family with a delivery from Vinokilo!
Slowly, slowly, I got round to telling the people closest to me and the team. I was so worried what people were going to think, yet the reaction was so beautiful from everyone. I had some amazing emotional mushy messages of love and encouragement. Please forgive me if I didn’t tell you personally! It’s been an intense few weeks!
So the key questions
What happens to 23 Code Street?
- We’ve worked too hard for the story to end here. Plus, I love it too much.
- We are taking a break until September. We will be looking for a managing director/CEO type figure.
- I will continue to be the founder and will still be very much involved.
- Our podcast will continue after a long hiatus. Woop! And we have an excellent sponsor to be announced!
- We will be putting out a lot more content over the next few months. Look out for some amazing instruction videos coming soon!
- We will no longer have a permanent office but we will still run in person events in partnership with incredible venues. We hope this will mean we can run courses outside of London. Of course, for now, we continue to be remote. We don’t expect in person to resume before 2021. Our students and team’s safety is our utmost priority.
- We will run more online courses.
- We will be running a teacher training course for internal and external people for the first time.
- We’re still running our corporate work and are open to talking to anyone who wants to work with us.
- When we are able, we will resume work in India. Over this period, we have been providing financial support to Indian organisations supporting migrant workers hugely affected by the pandemic.
When do you start?
Wellll…about that…I moved to Germany last week and this week is my second week on the job!
I drove here with the little pup in a Vinokilo van (a hard no was flying- there’s a pandemic going on, you know!?) with my entire life packed in the back.
The day before was jokes. I had to pack up my entire house and I had severely overestimated my packing abilities (lol sorry Tom and Joe). Saying bye to my BFFs and housemates was sad! I loved living with them and their nonsense. Please endure our cuteness below:
Then, the van key broke in the ignition and we had to call out an auto locksmith- this is a real profession- at midnight to create a new key.
THEN, my stupid dog found a bar of 80% chocolate and ate 40g of it. This is a death sentence for stupid small dogs like mine. Luckily, I saw it, jumped in my first Uber since early March, and got her to the vets for some stomach (and bank account) emptying treatments.
BUT YES, I got here after a beautiful 11 hour journey with the best driver, Lucas. Quick tangent, but the story is too good. Lucas works as a driver for Vinokilo to get stuff to events at weekends but during the week, he’s a software engineer at Deutsche Bank. Legit. He just loves driving.
I met my brilliant new team last Monday. One of the things that drew me to Vinokilo is its diversity. I’ve said this many times but I couldn’t ever work in a team that wasn’t diverse. Or in a place that didn’t value inclusivity. I have zero interest in trying to fix a place like that. Just looking at the gender and ethnicity breakdown to illustrate, my e-com team consists of two German women, a Pakistani man, A Syrian man, and a woman from Hong Kong. Between us we speak English, German, Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, Spanish, French, Thai, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean. Dreams. This is reflected across the company. And it will only get more interesting from here. I mean, have you met me?
What’s your job?
Joking. Ish. So I’m CTO and head of e-commerce because having one job title doesn’t seem legit in 2020. The shop is my domain. I am also in charge of all things tech. I have a team, deal with strategy, build, hire, set up infrastructure, processes, and get to be part of techy-ing up a warehouse. It’s super exciting to get to transfer everything I’ve learnt from a, primarily, service business to this. There’s also a couple of cool projects that I am going to be running. Watch this space. You know I can’t just do one thing ;)
Where are you?
Soooooo, the office is in a small town called Bodenheim which is STUNNING. I’m sorry but my cycle to work is through fields of wheat. I am really doing my best Theresa May. This town is near the city, Mainz. People go to the market with wicker baskets. Wicker baskets! It’s a hipster’s dream. I’m 20 minutes from Frankfurt airport which is an hour from London.
I feel like a week here has added ten years to my life. I’ve been swimming in the river, runs in the forest, a cycle to the city along the Rhine, and drives in vintage cars through vineyards. Oh yes, did I mention this is wine country!? This is sooo exciting to me because the sparkling grape juice is next level. Can’t tell you anything about the wine. I’m sure it’s fine.
You moved during a pandemic?
This is a hard one. I felt safe in Nottingham. I barely left the house apart from for runs. Coming back to London sent my anxiety through the roof. I cycled everywhere, couldn’t bring myself to head into a shop, and was drowning my hands in ethanol. Going to see Nanny and not being able to give her a hug broke me. The prospect of moving here, to this place where the Coronavirus risk was lower, where being outside was easier, and where life felt a bit more normal, was actually a real positive for me. I’m not stupid, I know there is still, of course, a risk. I am going to an office, I’m eating out, I’m shopping at the local supermarket, I’ve had a haircut…each one of these encounters is, of course, a risk but I am being as careful as I can, whilst trying to learn why this region has managed the pandemic so well. On a positive note, a really exciting thing here is that the local Government has allowed restaurants and cafes to take over outside space so that they can open safely. With it being Summer, this has been lovely to experience.
How’s Lady Grey?
This dog is living her best life.
Are you hiring?
Yes! I’m actually looking for a marketing manager for e-com to come and join my team. Give me a shout if this is you! The company is run in English. I have lots of Earl Grey tea to share…
Congratulations for getting this far and thanks for indulging me and my rambling announcement. Thank you to everyone who has been on this journey so far with 23CS. I couldn’t have done this without you. You all know who you are. If I start typing your names, I’ll cry. One day, I will write the 23 Code Street story but right now, I am still in the middle of experiencing it.
I’m really excited for the journey with Vinokilo. I think we’re going to change the face of fashion and consumption in Europe, making second hand as, if not more, desirable than first hand, fast fashion. We have a hell of a lot of responsibility and ambition and I love that.
I’m also excited to be living somewhere new. It’s so bloody beautiful. I’m excited to learn German. I’m excited to meet new people and form new communities- If you want to connect me with people in Frankfurt, or anywhere else in Germany to be honest, I’m all ears, DMs are open, etc. trying not to sound too desperate for friends, etc.