Flora Davidson

Posted on 13 November 2020

Flora is Co-Founder of SupplyCompass, the production platform for fashion brands and manufacturers. 

Elliot Moss

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Good morning and welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss.  It’s where the shapers of business meet the shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues.  My guest today I am very pleased to say is Flora Davidson, Co-Founder of SupplyCompass, the end-to-end fashion software, changing the way that brands and manufacturers work together; it’s really clever so stay with me for this hour.  Flora and her Co-Founder, Gus Bartholomew, met at Bristol University and noticed that small UK fashion companies faced difficulty in finding international manufacturers.  With her early career in global innovation strategy in the fashion industry, Flora then spent two years with Gus living in India working with manufacturers and factories to ensure a unique grasp of the challenges this side of the business.  After a crowd funding campaign to develop the technology, they launched SupplyCompass in 2018, a cloud based software allowing brands to build trusted, and as they say “radically transparent supply chains aiming to make sustainable source and easy cost effective for brands and every player in the chain.”  As Flora says, “we believe that for sustainable sourcing to enter the mainstream and become the only way to source, it needs to make business sense.  If designing and producing sustainably was easier, more efficient and more cost-effective than conventional ways of sourcing then everyone will do it.”  SupplyCompass now provides access to over 200 handpicked responsible manufacturers, mills and suppliers mainly in India but also in Portugal, Nepal, China and Spain. 

It’s really nice to have you here.

Flora Davidson

Thank you for having me.  It’s a pleasure to be here. 

Elliot Moss

Now, help me understand how your life moved towards this notion that the world needed a business that was going to help businesses manufacture sustainably.  What happened in Flora’s life that this was the conclusion she came to?

Flora Davidson

I mean I always think, I always try and reflect on that point and I always kind of want to come back to this pinnacle moment where I thought “This is what I need to do.  This is where I’m going to go” and unfortunately it is less exciting than that, it was gradual.  I think really in my kind of early working years, I started to get interested in this theme of sustainability from a consumer lens and I was working as a researcher and I thought, I always thought I was going to go down the documentary film making route and it kind of became quite clear quite quickly that I probably wasn’t going to go down that route and actually applying research to different businesses could potentially actually be more interesting for me personally and so in my kind of early research years I was doing a lot of research around the world, mainly in America, South Africa, France, and saw these kind of themes of customers really cared, they wanted to know where their products came from, the provenance element and yet businesses, it just wasn’t matching up so I think that’ probably the early phases of it but it didn’t start when I was, you know three, I suddenly thought, “This is what I need to do.” 

Elliot Moss

And in terms of the piece around sustainability, I mean obviously as a researcher as you said you bump into mega trends and brands are really interested in mega trends either because they are worried about them and need to address them or because they want to jump on them, you know, proactively make more money, let’s be honest, but sustainability is a different thing.  Were you an eco-warrior?  Were you someone who kind of really cared about the environment or again was this more of an intellectual curiosity that you went hold on a minute, there’s a gap here. 

Flora Davidson

I would like to say I was an eco-warrior but it wasn’t that, I think what I have always be, and this always sounds a bit of a fluffy statement, I’ve always been interested in people and what makes people tick and what worries people, I am quite empathetic, I feel people’s emotions kind of personally and so for me the sustainability conversation and feelings was actually more of a human one and really as we were travelling, living in India, and we can obviously talk about that in a bit, it started human and then became environmental, it’s kind of part and parcel of that.  So, yeah. 

Elliot Moss

And in a nutshell, how do you describe your business to someone who hasn’t heard of it?  In your own words. 

Flora Davidson

This is something I sometimes struggle with, how I kind of would describe it to my mum who actually can describe it very well, is we essentially call ourself a production platform and really what we mean by that is that at the heart of our business we have this software that makes it easier for brands and manufacturers to find each other and work together but then underneath that, and this is where the complexity lies in describing it in one sentence because I’ve failed there already, is that we have this…

Elliot Moss

I wouldn’t have… I mean I didn’t point it out, I didn’t need to.  You just did it for me.  You are right, utterly failed on the one sentence but that’s okay, you’ve got another chance.  We are in the elevator and your pitch is?

Flora Davidson

In a nutshell, as you kind of read out in the initial intro, we are combining software with community and an ecosystem that share similar values and think that the solution within supply chains is that the two work effectively together.  Great people with great mindsets and that’s factory owners, suppliers, brands, kind of working together through a standardised system which is our software.

Elliot Moss

Wasn’t one sentence but it was pretty good and you’ve also burst the bubble of the Wizard of Oz behind the thing, you said reading, as if I’d read anything here on Jazz Shapers, I mean honestly.  Okay, maybe occasionally I do but not when we are in the middle of the conversation but you are absolutely right, I don’t mind anyway we’re being transparent.  What’s your title?  Are the CEO or something?  Have you got a good title?

Flora Davidson

No, I’m not… it’s actually, I’ve kind of struggled to find the right title.

Elliot Moss

Well, Chief Commercial Officer.

Flora Davidson

That is it.  

Elliot Moss

That’s a good title.  So, it’s businessy. 

Flora Davidson

It’s businessy, I sit in the kind of sales, marketing positioning strategy side of things.  I think it’s quite hard when you are not the CEO as a joint kind pair running a company to find your title but I’m not too fussed about it actually. 

Elliot Moss

Well it’s about what you do, right? 

Flora Davidson

Exactly.

Elliot Moss

And we were talking before about, you know, you describing the business and evidently complicated things and complicated worlds are not, you can’t redact them into one sentence, or if you can it probably means there’s lack of nuance, right?  Let’s just say that.  You don’t lack nuance Flora which is why it took you so long to describe your own business.  But in terms of the two of you setting up this business, did it very quickly emerge who was going to do what?

Flora Davidson

Gus was always the CEO and that suited me fine.  I think I quite like being the kind of next to a leader, I find that there’s less pressure and you kind of have the freedom to maybe think a bit differently and there’s no expectations on your role which I quite liked so I think really from the outset, so I mean our roles have evolved over time as the business has grown and there’s new parts of the business like I’d never, ever run a sales team before and that was a whole new, I’ve had to learn a lot of skillsets and what I have really done is since the start I basically be, I am a function and then we work out that I am not amazing at that but it’s enough to set it up and then we hire people in so I basically set up each team and then remove myself and find people who are better than me and that’s, I’ve really liked because I’ve basically learned a lot of skillsets from doing it quite well. 

Elliot Moss

And the bit before hiring all these people, how many people are now in the business?

Flora Davidson

We are nineteen of us now and a year ago we were four of us so the last year has been quite overwhelming particularly at the start suddenly bringing on a lot of new people but now I really enjoy it.  But I do, when we were just two of us in India, there were two back in London and two of us in India, it’s a really exciting phase of the business and if we really think about what the funnest part and the most exciting and un-kind of-chartered, it’s that part. 

Elliot Moss

Yeah, and what about the raising money bit?  So, talk to me a little bit about that because you are a young business, you’ve obviously, you needed some investment if you wanted to grow and it’s the classic conundrum, how do we do this, we haven’t got enough money, who is going to give me the money, now that we go and find the money.  Tell me a little bit about the experience of that and the honest truth.  She’s smiling slightly here because I’ve got a feeling that it’s not much fun.

Flora Davidson

It’s, I think fun would be the wrong word, yep, to describe it.  I think unfortunately that Gus I think finds some perverse fun in raising funds.  I think it’s definitely the part that you don’t, I hadn’t really thought about in running a business, was where are you going to find money, I preferred to make that money ourselves but I think from the outset we really saw that.  To make the change happen that we need to make, we have to be big and to be big we’ve got to compete with people who have got a lot of money and so we have big ambitions therefore you need the money in the initial days to go with that.  Raising money, I generally now get involved later stage in the process but it’s a full-time job finding that next raise really and we raised our first round about three years ago and it’s, if I was to say the one thing that really keeps me up at night, the thing that makes me anxious, it’s running out of money and that was an anxiety that I hadn’t really kind of felt before because when you are employed by someone else you have your paycheque, if you then lose that job you can go and find another job but if it’s your money and you’ve got all these people you are paying salaries to, that’s, it’s nerve-wracking and I don’t think people talk honestly about it enough. 

Elliot Moss

And if that’s the one worry which is a huge worry, I mean that would define all worries I imagine if you are in a business.  What’s the one bit of advice you would give to anyone who is thinking about raising money?

Flora Davidson

Don’t worry about it until it gets really last minute.  If you are three days away from running out of money and you haven’t closed investment, you can start to get a little bit worried but not until that point when you really, like there is nowhere else to go but I think what we’ve realised is that as people running a business, getting really close to the bone is what sharpens us as a business and has made us do better at the back of it so, yeah, I think be comfortable with this comfort all of the time because that is something that I think the resilience aspect which everyone talks about when you are running a business, you cannot underestimate how important that is because it’s, it’s exhausting at times and you do just sometimes have to kind of laugh it off and ride it through. 

Elliot Moss

Stay with me for my Business Shaper who laughs it off and rides it through, it’s Flora Davidson, she’s the Co-Founder of SupplyCompass.  Lots more coming up from her shortly but right now we are going to hear a taster from the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions which can be found on all of the major podcast platforms.  Mishcon de Reya’s Suzi Sendama and Emily Dorotheou talk about how fashion brands can be more sustainable while maintaining profitability and what consumers should be doing to support sustainable fashion. 

You can hear all our former Jazz Shapers and hear this very programme again with Flora by popping Jazz Shapers into your podcast platform of choice or if you have a smart speaker you can ask it play Jazz Shapers and there you will find many of the recent shows but back to today, as I said, it’s Flora Davidson, Co-Founder of SupplyCompass, the end-to-end fashion – see if this works for you – the end-to-end fashion software changing the way brands and manufacturers work together.  That doesn’t really say it was does I suppose, that’s just about change. 

Flora Davidson

No but I think you need to let it.  You can come and work for us. 

Elliot Moss

Well, I think it’s more Stuart.  That’s the… as Flora so delicately said, there’s bits that I read.  Occasionally I do read things but not very often.  Most of it is just us having a conversation and me going what am I going to ask her next but it’s okay because there’s so much to ask.  In terms of moving to another country, pretty radical thing to do when you set this business up and you said, you know the thing that sharpens you is the thing that you’re being close to the bone.  Living in India and I did that many years before, I think you were eight at the time, at the end of the 90’s, there you go just showing my age and yours.  It’s a fabulous experience and you do feel like your senses are sharpened every day because it is so, stuff happens and even now I imagine it’s a very different place, much modernised in many ways, it’s still unpredictable.  Is that unpredictability, was that unpredictability important in shaping the way you thought about your business as you lived in India then?

Flora Davidson

Definitely and I think we, I don’t know what it’s like to start a business based in the UK.  I think being so fully out of your comfort zone really, I didn’t care what people thought, you know when you start a business people, “Ooh that’s quite risky”, “Ooh, I don’t know if that’s a good idea”, being out of London away from this kind of, you know, all of your friends and family and your kind of safety net but also your biggest critics, we were just, people just thought what are they doing over there and then maybe they’d see something on Instagram in you know a few months and say, “Oh they’re just visiting lots of factories and I don’t really know SupplyCompass is doing” but I think what the biggest thing that we didn’t really expect was how the kind of entrepreneurial mindset of people we met across the country, all of our factory owners, most of them, were essentially entrepreneurs, they had set up their own factories, a lot of our factory owners aren’t kind of third generation factory owners so basically everyone we were meeting was entrepreneurs and we didn’t classify ourself as that but I think when everyone you are meeting is trying to build something and trying to kind of keep it afloat and get something off the ground, it was, we learnt a lot more than I think we would have done, I mean there is no doubt about it, you couldn’t have done what we were doing from a desk in London, you know it would be hypothetical so I think that research and we were like just get out there so two weeks of every month so we had this tiny little co-working space that was actually a club in Banga in north Mumbai and at three in the afternoon the music would start getting really loud just as the UK was coming online and so we would have kind of thumping beats in the background that was our office for two weeks of the month and then the other two weeks we would be on the road in factories all over the country literally just, you know, researching, speaking to people and then rocking up and I don’t think they, they were just like who are these guys, this is the most random business but I think we, you know, we found the people who bought into our vision and they are still with us. 

Elliot Moss

And being a woman in business in India, again, it’s not an unusual thing but it’s less usual than a man in business in India.  How has that been because we talk about sexism in this country but of course it’s a very different situation across different parts of Asia and knowing India a little bit, it can be really, really tough being a woman there.  What was it like?

Flora Davidson

I mean, I can’t speak on behalf of what it’s like to be an Indian woman…

Elliot Moss

No, but for you as an English…

Flora Davidson

For me, it really depended in which part of the country I was in.  In Mumbai, a lot of my Indian friends were single females who were renting flats on their own which again is hard to do and you know they had to get their dad to say that they could rent this flat on their own and they were quite feisty and fiery and I learned probably off of them but I think some of our factories are run by women which is very, very unusual, you know the factory scene is quite dominated in a senior role by men, I think I got quite used to me and Gus would appear at factories and the first kind of twenty minutes, you know, they just wouldn’t, the eye contact wouldn’t come to me it would be, what business would you like to be doing with me and Gus would be the person they would be doing business with but I just, I think after a while, I mean we’ve met some amazing business females across the time so I don’t… I think what was interesting is actually from our tech team who are based in Hyderabad finding female developers is something that we are really trying to focus on at the moment but yeah. 

Elliot Moss

We’re in month eight or something of this extraordinary time of this pandemic.  I understand that it's actually been, if there is a… without this sounding weird, it’s been incredibly positive for your business, there’s been more enquiries than you’ve ever had before and more things are going on.  Why has that been do you think?  What’s happening?

Flora Davidson

Yeah, so I mean, I think it’s worth saying that it’s been positive for us as a business, it could not have been a more challenging time for our factory owners and also the brands that we work with but I think for us, I kind of reflected on this a lot when it was kind of peak, peak lockdown and really what my feeling is, is that everyone being from home, working from home and having a lot more time to reflect I think the fashion industry moves at such a pace, it is new, new, new, new all the time and that is the unsustainable part of it or one of the unsustainable parts of it and I think we often have to speak to businesses and say “yeah this sounds great but I haven’t got time.”  The self-reflective period that everyone, us as a business we’ve gone through and really honed what we care about and what we want to focus on, I think people who otherwise hadn’t taken the time to think and now thought right it’s now or our business is probably going to die unless we take this direction whether it’s dying in five years or ten years or in a year, I think it’s like, it also makes business sense now to be doing this. 

Elliot Moss

So, in terms of approaching you, has it been the brands that have been approaching you mainly, are those the people that have gone hold on how do we do this, we need to be more transparent, we need to get our supply chain right.

Flora Davidson

Yeah, it’s mainly, our customers are brands and manufacturers though our factories don’t pay to use our platform so ultimately our paying customers are brands.  There’s a few things, there’s the kind of the sustainability is we don’t kind of sell sustainability it’s just part of, you know, what we are about as a business so really why a brand would come to us is to save them time to make it easier to have access to better supply chains but a lot of it is around efficiency and there’s a lot of furloughed teams out there and redundancies and these businesses need to keep doing what they were doing before with less people and you can only really do that if you are supported by an efficient process and people often haven’t made that quite unsexy marriage of technology and efficiency with sustainability and often it’s, you know, there’s a lot of focus on supply chains and materials which is really important but a lot of it is down to really, really poor process, really bad buying practices so people buying, committing to something and then pulling out but there’s no official contract if you have got technology in the middle then it makes people be more rigid and more structured about they behave with their supply chains as well. 

Elliot Moss

Stay with me for my final chat with my guest today, it’s Flora Davidson and we will be playing a track as well from Kenny Garrett and that is all coming up in just a moment.

Just for a few more minutes, my Business Shaper is Flora Davidson.  We’ve been talking about her business, SupplyCompass which is all about supply chains and transparency and doing it the right way, making sure that the right values are adhered to and the right processes are in place in this fusion of technology and people.  I touched on the pandemic and we talked about what’s been going on into the business but within the business itself how have you handled it in your leadership position, in your ownership position?  Has it changed the way you treat your own people?  Were you always really nice and fair before or has it given you a keener sense of what’s important?

Flora Davidson

I think that the period since March has been, from what I am sensing from the team, probably our most, our kind of happiest period in terms of level of connectivity, weirdly obviously none of us being together but we all now actually speak much more regularly and much more often and I think something that we kind of didn’t think about was that, so we’ve got three offices and we didn’t, we were quite disconnected between the three of us but now because we are all online, the whole company feels much more connected.  I think that it’s been a more human time where people have felt more open to be vulnerable.  We, you know, with everyone’s homes in the background, life comes into your work a bit more and we’ve really encouraged our teams to work from wherever they want to in the world so one of our teams has been based in Athens for the last six weeks, she’s just come back and we want to celebrate that and I think what it’s really made us do is since the start of lockdown we’ve been having these conversations about our new working setup and what we want it to look like and it really seems that this kind of 9 till 5, 100% of the time in an office, we will never return to that so I think it’s, I feel like it’s brought us closer together, everyone has been working harder and that’s something that we also have to be careful not to burn people out but I think that almost people are able to lead their lives a bit more around the outside and I think this obviously isn’t something that’s unique to us but it’s made running, I don’t know, sometimes I think it’s harder running a company through a computer screen, you can’t pick up on cues of how people are doing but at the same time it’s brought everyone, I think, more connected and closer together.    

Elliot Moss

And just think about the next few years and assuming that more and more businesses get it and they start to address the issues that your business is focussed on.  What’s the shape of this business going to be?  Are there going to be 300 people?  Is it about the size of it?  Is it about where you are covered or in your own mind what’s the vision as it were? 

Flora Davidson

I think the vision is, it’s not necessary to be massive in terms of our team size but massive in terms of influence and network and, you know, at the heart of our business we are a software so we can scale hugely without necessarily needing to scale our team massively.   I think what it may look like, and this could well change, it’s quite distributed teams, ultimately you know we need to have presence in the countries that our manufacturing is going on and that will never disappear, you need to have people building relationships face-to-face, you cannot build a relationship with a factory over the phone so that is something that we want to scale that kind of clustered approach anywhere that we are producing in and then maybe give that freedom for our teams to be moving around those places wherever they see fit, like ultimately being flexible as an organisation is going to be increasingly important to attract good people I think. 

Elliot Moss

And just before I ask you your song choice, it just occurs to me, your own life has been a researchy one, you said “I was almost a film-maker”, you know you have that, well no in the sense that you were thinking about it, these are the things…

Flora Davidson

I wasn’t almost a film-maker…

Elliot Moss

In your head, in your head you were almost a film-maker, you even thought, “Should I pursue that?” but you’ve ended up being an entrepreneur.  Are you a reluctant entrepreneur?  Are you just one that sort of bumped into it or are you actually going, “Do you know what?  I really like the freedom and I like… this is me.”  Have you discovered the thing that actually makes you happy?

Flora Davidson

Yeah, I think, I hadn’t kind of thought when I was fifteen, that’s what I want to be.  My mum actually says otherwise.  She said that I wanted to go to art school and my parents said, “No, no, you must get a real Degree” and I said, “But that is a real Degree” and they go, “Okay, you go and get a Degree from a different university and if you still want to do art out the back of it, we’ll support you in that” but I think I realised that all the jobs I had, the things that I was dissatisfied about really now makes sense to me that it’s because in my heart I don’t like to have something set out and charted for me, I really, I get excited and I revel in the unknown and being out of my comfort zone and my parents always said this to me when I was growing up that I always used to want to change when I felt comfortable, I left a school before I’d outgrown it and I said, “I need to move schools because I think I need to be a smaller fish in a bigger pond” and it’s weird for a thirteen year old to say that, my mum was like quite taken aback but I think that now that moving to India and I lived in Paris for a year and I’ve done quite a few things on my own and I think that really maybe that’s at the heart of what an entrepreneur is that you, and I don’t classify myself as that, I think I find I can’t feel comfortable with that term but I don’t know how I would go back to working in an organisation where everything was kind of set.  I like to not know where we are going and then plan that route to get there. 

Elliot Moss

It’s been great chatting to you, Flora, and that makes sense and have fun not knowing what’s going to happen next and living on the edge a little bit, it sounds like that keeps you happy and keeps you focussed.  Just before we say goodbye though, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Flora Davidson

Yeah, so this song was, it was a clear choice for me, Kokoroko, Abusey Junction.  I mean some people may not call this pure jazz, it’s got lots of different influences but I came across this song and within, I think within about thirty seconds of hearing it, I thought this, I got addicted, I couldn’t stop listening to it but I listened to it first when I was a long train journey in India and it was on the Gilles Petersen, We Out Here kind of album compilation that he pulled together and then I went on a trip this January to Senegal and had an amazing few weeks there and listened to it again on repeat and it would crop up in different cafes down the coast and so it really, it makes me think even there is no connection to India at all, it makes me think of these long winding, never-ending journeys that we really would have… just on all the time all around India so, yeah, I think it’s amazing and I got to see this song at Glastonbury last year and missed the entirety of their set but managed to get this last one, I’m glad they saved it till the end, it’s amazing. 

Elliot Moss

That was Kokoroko with Abusey Junction, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Flora Davidson.  She talked about being comfortable with discomfort, really critical if you are going to run your own thing, about when you are close to the bone it sharpens you; I really like that.  Time to reflect, she said, this has been a time to reflect and it’s been a really good time for everybody out of this very difficult situation when you can actually start thinking a bit more deeply about the big things that really matter.  And finally, about her entrepreneurial traits, she’s never liked having something set out for her.  It all makes sense, doesn’t it?  That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a lovely weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers.  You’ll find hundreds of more guests available for you to listen to in our archive.  To find out more just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to Mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Their cloud-based software is transforming the fashion industry by digitalising product development, sourcing, and production management processes. Their mission is to make sustainable sourcing easy and cost-effective, and to enable brands and manufacturers to produce better, together. SupplyCompass has also built a network of over 200 supply chain partners, visiting, vetting and handpicking only the best manufacturers, mills and suppliers to join. The majority of their network is in India, with some strategically placed partners in Portugal, Nepal, China and Spain.

Flora and her co-founder, Gus Bartholomew, met at Bristol University in 2009 and subsequently spent two years living and working in India to build the foundations of the company in 2016-18. They worked directly with manufacturers and factories in India to ensure a unique grasp of this side of the business, before launching SupplyCompass in January 2018.

Flora heads up commercial, product, and sustainability strategy, and hopes SupplyCompass can be a catalyst for positive, systemic change in the fashion industry. She started her career in global innovation and strategy in the fashion industry, working at advertising agency Publicis in Paris followed by strategic insight consultancy Flamingo, on brands such as adidas, Stella McCartney and L’Oreal.

Highlights

I’ve always been interested in people - what makes people tick and what worries people

For me the sustainability conversation was actually more of a human one

I’ve had to learn a lot of skillsets

If I was to say the one thing that really keeps me up at night, it’s running out of money…I don’t think people talk honestly about it enough. 

Don’t worry about raising money until it gets really last minute.

Getting really close to the bone is what sharpens us as a business

Be comfortable with discomfort all of the time

The resilience aspect which everyone talks about when you are running a business, you cannot underestimate how important that is

It could not have been a more challenging time for our factory owners and also the brands that we work with

The fashion industry moves at such a pace, it is new, new, new, new all the time and that is the unsustainable part of it

We’ve gone through and really honed what we care about and what we want to focus on

I don’t like to have something set out and charted for me

I get excited and I revel in the unknown and being out of my comfort zone

I like to not know where we are going and then plan that route to get there

How can we help you?

How can we help you?

Subscribe: I'd like to keep in touch

If your enquiry is urgent please call +44 20 3321 7000

COVID-19 Enquiry

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your enquiry
Please enter your email address
Please enter your phone number
Please select a contact method

I'm a client

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your enquiry
Please enter an email address
Please enter your phone number
Please enter a value

I'm looking for advice

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your enquiry
Please select a department
Please enter your email address
Please enter your phone number
Please select a contact method

Something else

Please enter your first name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your enquiry
Please enter your email address
Please enter your phone number
Please select your contact method of choice