Letter from the Editor - Shophoppingmap is back!
When I first had the idea for Shophoppingmap in 2007, I had a grand vision and the blind confidence that only an entrepreneur in their 20s or younger can have. I was going to build the world's no. 1 quality online shopping guide and nothing was going to stop me. I saw no obstacles in the way despite the fact that I did not even know how to build a website. Having spent over 3 years studying fashion design, I was well used to the path of independent learning by trial and error and so I spent a year learning how to code and copied and pasted hyperlinks and square boxes together to eventually create the first version of Shophoppingmap.com, which did what it said on the tin - it led people to the best online shopping destinations. I cringe when I think back to that primitive website that I introduced to CEO's and marketing departments of the most famous luxury brands in the world, and anyone else who would listen. Saying that, most websites were fairly primitive in 2008 and the response I got was generally very supportive.
Shophoppingmap was simple and that was its USP - a series of maps that amounted to a simple portal to the best online stores and designers who had opened online boutiques (many hadn't, especially the French and Italian ones...). I designed it as a simple tool to serve as a reminder and discovery aid when seeking the best online shopping options across a wide range of sectors; men's and women's fashion, childrenswear, homeware, jewellery, accessories and lifestyle. Of course, search engines are great (where would we be without them?!) but they're not much use if you don't know where to start and Shophoppingmap was to bridge some gaps when it came to online shopping.
People thought it was a great idea. There was nothing quite like it at the time... I was offered investment from a few sources but I refused. Although I had the confidence to launch an idea, I lacked the self-conviction to make it succeed as a business and certainly did not want the responsibility of other people's money because I just never thought it was good enough. And so I worked various jobs, mainly as an English teacher, to fund the development of the website and Shophoppingmap blog, which became my main hobby. Although traffic increased significantly to the point where it was getting nearly 100,000 visits a month, I always felt out of breath keeping up with the website's development and there were other bloggers, editorial sites and online shopping guides that were catching up and passing me out. I still didn't think the site was good enough to monetise and it was a part-time endeavour for many years but because of the skills I had developed running the site, I started working with clients in the fashion and luxury sphere and launched my communications business, Project Parlour 2012. It was a natural evolution from Shophoppingmap but I didn't recognise that at the time.
I have had the pleasure of working with so many talented and creative people over the past 5 years (nearly 6 actually!) through Project Parlour but sadly Shophoppingmap took a back seat, especially when in 2014, I had an extremely tough year on a personal level and there was simply no energy left to develop new things. While 2014 was a year just about coping and survival, 2015 was the year of rebuilding. I had a spiritual awakening through meditation and started producing music. My ego fell away and I regarded Shophoppingmap with something of disdain - it seemed so materialistic and empty to want to become a successful fashion blogger or tech entrepreneur. I faced the hard reality that the initial vision I had for Shophoppingmap was a mammoth I did not have the resources to reckon with, let alone steer. It was a constant reminder that I was too small, not fast enough and I just never felt it was good enough. It had become a hopeless source of unfulfilment rather than fulfilment. Thus, I let the site fall to the wayside and concentrated on my clients' projects and the music for the following couple of years. I was not quite ready to let Shophoppingmap go though.
What I realise now is that I had lost sight of why I started Shophoppingmap in the first place. While I had always wanted to become a fashion designer (it seemed more viable than being a dj in the 90s), once I was studying it, I became disillusioned with the industry. Ideas were being regurgitated to serve an over-saturated market... I felt that there were enough clothes in the world... Why add to the pile? What was fashion anyway? I realised that I was more enthralled by the storytelling around clothes, than the clothes themselves. In the studio at fashion college, my classmates would spend hours concentrating on their pattern drafts, hand-embellishing garments, sewing up toiles and I would float around the room, stopping at various tables to chat, to discuss the concepts behind their work, to tell them about the latest restaurant, fabric shop or club I had discovered... I loved information and I loved sharing it even more. And so, upon graduating with a degree in womenswear, instead of pursuing a career in design, it felt more natural to build a structure through which I could share the things I was most excited by... And although fashion had lost its lustre for me, I found the emergence of online shopping very exciting.
Having moved from Canada to Ireland when I was 9 years old, I had grown up with a sense of missing things that were in faraway places. There were so many things I took for granted in Canada that we couldn't get in Ireland (Oreo cookies being the most important!) and so I made do without them but online shopping was removing many geographical boundaries when it came to the pursuit of goods, which triggered some sort of emotional response within. The world had opened up and I wanted to be part of this movement. As an avid fashion magazine nerd, lifelong style observer and general aesthete, I had built up a catalogue of brands and shops in my head over the years and while friends and relatives were always asking me to style their outfits for special occasions or where to get things, I decided that I had to build a website to share this information. I wanted the website to exist for my own reference as much as anybody else's and the notion was that it would provide guidance but also a practical tool and opportunities for independent discovery. I didn't build it because I am a shopping addict or I believe in replacing your wardrobe or wallpaper twice a year. I, like many others, am quite worried about the unsustainable pace of fast-fashion consumerism and abhor the pressure that the industry places on the market to keep up with fleeting trends and replace things unnecessarily. However, I do believe in clothing as a creative medium, a form of self-expression, as a source of comfort, memories and associations and I believe in creating a beautiful home through great design and beautiful objects. I also love the story-telling aspect of branding and the creativity involved in creating a great product and a great brand.
Shophoppingmap is not about telling people what to wear or what to buy. It is simply an island floating in the vast ocean of the world wide web, with a few signposts aiming to nudge online shoppers in a few good directions, with the underlying hope of encouraging conscientious consumerism. By that, I do not necessarily mean ethical or ecological. There is much debate about fast fashion and the corporate giants of the high street and their surrounding environmental concerns and obscurities around supply chains and factory conditions. If you are in an economic situation where you have the luxury of choice, it is of course, better to seek out brands or craftspeople with transparent manufacturing systems and ethical values that they live up to. However, I have tops from some of the high street giants that I have been wearing since I was 15 and I still love them. I think if you love something enough and the quality is there to wear it beyond the season it was churned out for, then it is somewhat okay and these huge international companies (who also create a huge amount of employment on the plus side) can offer an affordable means to an end. What I do not believe in is buying something just to wear once or if it is just for one special occasion, at least make it a high quality or designer piece that can be resold or passed on... There is already too much stuff in the world and there is too much stuff constantly being made, that's for sure. However, if Shophoppingmap can celebrate great design, showcase emerging brands and encourage consumers to be more discerning and only buy the best (and by that I do not mean the most expensive or luxurious although sometimes, that is the case!), well then I think the site has a valid contribution to make.
Having recently regained sight of the motivational roots of Shophoppingmap and the connection between that and my communications work for various brands, I decided to relaunch the site. And rather than wait until it is completely perfect, I will rebuild the maps page by page over the coming months and add them as I go and of course sharing observations and finds across fashion, home and lifestyle categories on the editorial pages in the meantime. I now appreciate that the entrepreneurial journey I have been on over the past 10 years all started with Shophoppingmap and it deserves to be resurrected at the very least.
I would like to thank all of you who have been visiting Shophoppingmap and supporting me over the years and a warm welcome if you're new! I hope you like what unfolds and of course, feel free to say hello or make any suggestions in the meantime!
All the best,