A Tea Party With . . . Sophie Cornish MBE

In the second tea date of our International Womens Day series is our interview with the co-founder of notonthehighstreet.com Sophie Cornish MBE.

Here Sophie talks to us about her mother, empowerment and confidence.

What message would you give to the young women of today wanting to fulfil their aspirations?

I’ve always been inspired the following quote from Lily Tomlin: “I said somebody should do something about that, then I realised I am somebody.”

I loved its sentiment so much so that I included it in our second notonthehighstreet.com book ‘Shape Up Your Business’ and that spirit is a message I would love the young women of today to listen to. My message to young women – especially now my daughter is one of them – is that you are 100% pure potential. Listen to that voice in your head – the one that sees a need, and an opportunity to meet it, allow yourself the moments of inspiration and most importantly, act! Your time is now, listen to your ideas and make them count.

Before we founded notonthehighstreet.com, I worked at becoming attuned to listening to my thoughts, ambitions and dreams. I carried a notepad with me whilst I was pushing my then-tiny son and daughter around the local park so that if a moment of inspiration struck, I could jot it down and remember it.

Those notes were vital in keeping my focus, my passions and ambitions at the fore, even when consumed by the demands of early motherhood, and I think that allowing myself time to observe and think played a very significant role in achieving the ambitions and aspirations that I harboured then.

In short, allow yourself time to think, time to spot those little problems in life and time to feel excited that someone has to solve them, so it might as well be you!

Which women have most inspired you?

My mother, the author Penny Vincenzi, has been a great influence. Growing up around someone so passionate about their work and with such drive definitely coloured the way I look at the world and my attitude to professional success. She and my father, also a businessman and an inventor, made my sisters and I feel we could do anything we set our mind to.

Before becoming a novelist, my mum was a successful journalist on women’s magazines and I spent my childhood summers playing in the fashion cupboard at Honey magazine. It was the era of glam rock and such an exciting time in the world of publishing and for women generally. I would be busily sorting out rows of platform boots, Biba dresses and flares whilst listening in to the features team discussing upcoming issues and copy dilemmas. Being exposed to all of that creativity was so exciting and made me want to work in magazines. I went on to achieve my dream when I joined Cosmopolitan magazine as Fashion and Beauty Assistant straight from school in the early 1980s – it was my first job and a dream role.

My time at Cosmopolitan also allowed me to work with some of the most talented female writers of the era, as well as with the most respected stylists and photographers. There was a real feeling that we were creating something important and exciting. The legendary American Cosmopolitan Editor in Chief and ‘Having It All’ pioneer, Helen Gurley Brown, was still leading the Cosmo Girl vision, and she was also hugely inspirational. She empowered her editorial teams – we all felt we could achieve anything we set out to do.

The throat chakra is all about communication, what do you think are the most important challenges women face today that prevent them from voicing their views?

I love to see how confidently really young women – teenagers – can express themselves. Speaking from the heart, with passion, and with knowledge. It’s a pleasure to witness. I think we can lose that as we enter the workplace, though. A lot of the challenges for women finding their voice stem from a lack of confidence. When there’s an absence of that all-important feeling – of being empowered to stand up and voice our views – it can be traced back to the culture around work, business, office life, that, despite decades of progress, we haven’t yet resolved. But I believe we’re getting there.

I was very fortunate to grow up in a household where my opinions, ambitions and dreams were encouraged. And at Cosmopolitan, I felt that my opinion and my voice as a woman were absolutely valued. Even then, I have an ever-changing relationship with confidence – what woman doesn’t?

Over time, your relationship with confidence changes depending on the situations you find yourself in, but by learning how to read your attitude towards yourself and consciously recognise, adapt and believe in your abilities, you can positively improve that relationship and find your voice.

Positivitea is all about balance, how important is a work life balance for you?

Being a working mother is an incredible challenge, as any working mum will tell you, and it doesn’t get easier as your children enter their teenage years. Trying to find the optimum balance between home life and work commitments is an ongoing challenge and one I am dedicated to solving, one of these days!

I plan ahead to ensure I am dedicating the time and effort I need in both areas of my life. It’s incredibly important, particularly as my daughter Honor is working towards her GCSEs and my son Ollie is doing his A Levels, and soon leaving home for university – teenagers need parental support as much as ever.

It’s an area where we’re committed to helping our small business Partners at notonthehighstreet.com to address; selling through the site allows our Partners to juggle life in a way that fits their individual lifestyles, especially during those early start-up days. For entrepreneurs like them, just like me, there’s no 9-5. But even though our Partners are incredibly busy, they’re more able to structure their working day around their home lives and families.

What inspired you to start notonthehighstreet.com?

Back in 2005, my career in marketing, advertising, brand development and journalism was leading me to a strong awareness that consumers were looking for something unique, personal and an expression of themselves – just as the high street was becoming very homogenized and the impending recession meant the traditional retail landscape was increasingly geared against independents. The rapid and transformational growth of the Internet was also a constant theme.

At that time, my co-founder Holly Tucker had founded Your Local Fair; a series of design-led fairs held in several locations in and around London. These fairs provided a base for local, creative businesses to sell their products in one place. Although the practical and commercial demands of the business had huge downsides, the feedback Holly received from sellers was incredibly positive – they loved being surrounded by other local sellers of a similar standard, but who were facing the same challenges. She was convinced these small businesses had huge potential, and was looking at taking them online. She asked me to get involved. I jumped at the opportunity – I could see how customers loved these events as a way to discover things that were completely fresh and new. We put our heads together, and Holly and I gradually arrived at the solution – what if we were able to create an online retail environment for all of those talented designers and makers to trade more efficiently, and provide them with the technology, marketing and business support to realise their potential?

It was then that notonthehighstreet.com was born – an online marketplace with a curated product offering. We believed so absolutely in our plan, nothing could stop us.


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Jade Massoutier