Wonder Women: Jennie McGinn
Browsing through countless online shopping websites in search of the perfect LBD without any luck can be an extremely frustrating task. This is equally as frustrating as rummaging through rails of duplicate New Look dresses, only to discover it isn’t stocked in your size anymore. The absolute stress of it all.
Imagine how convenient it would be if you could access all LBDs in your required size from a variety of popular digital retailers simultaneously? That’s impossible, I hear you say. Well, no it’s not because, unless you have been living under a massive fashion-deprived rock, you’ll already know that online shopping platform, Opsh, lets customers do just that. Listed as a key digital innovation in the ‘2015 Retail Insider Digital Retail Innovations Report’, Opsh plays host to a variety of top brands from Lipsy to Forever 21 and provides customers with options tailored to their preferences, created after a quick and straightforward registration process.
But what about the brains behind the business? Co-founder and CEO, Jennie McGinn, who developed the concept of Opsh along with her two younger sisters, Grace and Sarah, began with an award-winning fashion blog ‘What Will I Wear’ back in 2009, before launching Prowlster, an online fashion magazine in 2012, which led to Opsh. Now, Jennie and the girls are set to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the platform that is revolutionising online shopping.
Currently working hard on launching Opsh in the United Kingdom, Jennie has been listed as one of 2013’s ‘Top 30 Under 30 Brightest Entrepreneurs’ and more recently, was celebrated at the ‘Starting Strong’ programme in Dublin, an event which recognises the significant progress made by ambitious female entrepreneurs in terms of business development. With her future-focused approach and ability to use any negativity or challenges as motivation to work harder, it’s no surprise as to why Jennie is regularly acclaimed.
While she jokes that in five years time she sees herself baking scones in Strandhill, it is Jennie’s ambition for growth that is most striking. With this in mind, I was interested in finding out how Jennie effectively puts her ideas into action, how she keeps her personal relationship with her sisters separate from her professional one and what advice she would give to aspiring female entrepreneurs. And if I was ever given the Opsh to interview Jennie again, I definitely wouldn’t say no to a chit-chat over baking scones in Strandhill!
Describe yourself in three words.
Motivated. Encouraging. Enthusiastic.
When you were young, what did you aspire to be when you grew up?
A writer! Also a psychologist, a youth worker and a professional show-jumper.
What first drew you into the fashion industry?
To be honest, my first foray into the fashion sent me running away from the industry for about five years! I did the Fashion & Lifestyle Journalism course in the London College of Fashion, which I enjoyed immensely but found the industry in London to be quite competitive, bitchy and narrow-minded. I decided to focus on the ‘lifestyle’ elements of the course and pursued film, art, events and youth work thereafter.
How has your perception of the fashion industry changed since you first entered it?
I’m an ‘insider-outsider’ – I still don’t really consider myself a part of the fashion industry. This affords me more perspective. With Prowlster, we were committed to promoting young designers so I got a keen understanding of the difficulties and struggles experienced by young designers. With Opsh, we are positioned at the intersection of retail, technology and business so again, I have more insight into systems, innovation, supply and demand and consumer trends. The changes I see are more related to the business of fashion but on a more general level, I think fashion has become much more accessible. I think the industry has so many more touch-points now so there are more routes into it – which is a good thing as it promotes diversity of thought.
Let’s take it back to the very beginning and the birth of Opsh. You’ve had quite a business journey since then! Can you explain how you and your sisters, Grace and Sarah, came up with the concept and how you got well-known high-street retailers, such as New Look and Forever 21, onboard with the idea?
Prowlster was a great concept – shop directly from a magazine! However, we realised that the growing rise of New Millenials expected everything instantly. We were working with emerging designers and boutiques who have longer lead-in times for product. We realised that if we were to cater to the New Millenial, we needed to work with fast fashion. Simultaneously, we started researching the retail industry and realised there was very little innovation happening at the mid-market level. We had been inspired by the growing model of ‘facilitation’ and felt there was a clear need to introduce this model to the mid-market. In terms of getting retailers on board, we had to ensure the product was as ‘light’ as possible – so no integration as then you have a larger battle convincing time-poor, resource-poor multinationals. I think part of convincing retailers to come on board was the validation we received from the Opsh audience – if they were saying they needed a new way to shop, then retailers became much more interested.
The reception in Ireland has been incredible so far with you being acclaimed regularly in Irish media. You’re currently working on launching the site in the UK, how has that been going for you? Have you plans to progress the business to the US?
The UK is definitely a different market – there’s no simple replication of what we do here and do it over in the UK. We have recently hired a firm in the UK to help us penetrate the market; mainly introduce us to relevant people. Then it’s up to us to build meaningful relationships. In Ireland – well honestly, it’s absolutely humbling the amount of support we have received from the press and the blogging community. We have built very strong relationships with press in Ireland but I also think we’re a very positive company and we are very focused on ‘giving back’ – that helps.
The US is not necessarily the route for us – people in the UK/Europe shop more, spend more and have a very integrated distribution network. This is not the case for the States – so as much as we would like to set up shop in New York or L.A, it’s more practical to follow across Europe and maybe China!
Being the oldest in my family, I tend to take control of certain situations sometimes and while myself and my sister secretly love each other, we don’t always get along so I couldn’t imagine working with her! You and your sisters are obviously very close but as the eldest, did this play a part in appointing you the CEO of the site or were your individual roles assigned based on college studies? How do you find working with one another?
It is tough. There is no way to sugar-coat it. You have to work at the relationship constantly, establishing personal and professional boundaries. However, we have sharply different skill-sets that complement each other. The decision on structuring roles was one that emerged naturally. I have more industry experience (being the eldest) and have a strong communications background. Grace has an architecture background and product development fell naturally under her skill-set. Sarah has a media and broadcasting background and so the marketing became her forte. To caveat all of that though, we have an exceptionally strong team who have really contributed to the direction of the business and we work with a wide range of industry-expert advisors. It’s definitely not just the three of us!
Can you take us through a typical working day at Opsh and share with us your favourite part of your career?
Meetings, meetings and more meetings! I also deal with about 80 emails a day. I think there’s quite a disconnect in working for a fashion company and running a fashion company – a lot of my day is not very glamorous and involves meetings with lawyers, accountants, preparing investment materials, business development opportunities and supporting the whole team across the different departments. Without doubt, the best part of my career is nurturing talent within the team and seeing staff hit and exceed milestones. Something hugely gratifying is the community of Opsh supporters that we have grown around the company and hearing people act as ambassadors on behalf of the company because they genuinely believe in what you do – that is priceless.
It can be quite challenging when starting up a fashion blog or business and can take some time to make it big. What are the biggest challenges you have ever been faced with and how did you overcome these challenges?
When you start a blog, you have a passion for something – that will take you to a certain point. Challenges arise when you need to professionalise that passion and when you have to do it at a rapid pace. You also encounter a lot of unconscious bias about your capabilities or about how serious your intentions are. We simply use that type of negativity as fuel to succeed.
You were listed in the Irish Independent as one of the Top 30 under 30 brightest entrepreneurs back in 2013. What advice would you give to women who want to be taken seriously as fashion entrepreneurs or bloggers?
I think you need to collaborate first and foremost – strength in numbers. You need to seek out a peer network so you can access support and advice. You need to have a vision and a conviction in that vision as the path to success is very rocky and uncertain. Always reach out for help as people can be very generous with their time but be respectful of that time.
With all of these big plans on the horizon, where do you see yourself both personally and professionally in five years time?
Retired. In Strandhill. Baking scones and surfing every day. Writing a book. On a more serious note, we would love if Opsh was one of the top five online shopping destinations for women. We would love to introduce menswear. We would love to have an Opsh Summit, an Opsh Book and perhaps Opsh TV? Or maybe an interview with Oprah?
Photo c/o thinkwhatyoulike.com