Growing up on a sheep farm in isolated Southland, Emma Ponsonby had limited opportunties to shop. So when she did get a chance, she tackled the task like a pro.
“We used to take a whole day off to go shopping,” she recalls of childhood retail missions with her mum, fashion designer Linda Ponsonby. “I remember coming back home and being so tired I could barely walk.”
Now resident in London, the 31-year-old has turned her love of fashion into an online business that she wants to take global.
Ponsonby is the founder and managing director of Myshoppingsecrets.com, an e-commerce platform designed to give luxury fashion brands reach into markets in all corners of the world.
“When you go to somewhere like [department store] Selfridges, you’ll walk into a little Louis Vuitton store or Dior store within Selfridges,” she explains. “We’re looking to create that online ... We’ll have resident brands on our site where you can get the full brand experience, the full collection that they have available — which is difficult for other online retailers to offer when they hold stock — and you’ll be able to purchase multiple brands through one checkout with one payment.”
Ponsonby started the business in 2008 and so far around 100 brands are on the site, with visitors coming from 180 countries. She describes its current incarnation as “a really simple directory”, but she has been pitching for ₤1.5 million of investment to rev up technology for the launch a new site in early 2013.
“If I’m going to do this, I want to do something with it that’s never been done before in the world.”
Born in Rangiora and growing up in Southland, Ponsonby later went to boarding school in Dunedin.
In her last year at high school an encouraging teacher gave her the keys to the graphics room, where she started dabbling with computer programs they didn’t teach during school hours. She began creating work for paying clients.
Bold enough to take a punt, she eschewed university to take a job as a graphic designer at World Class New Zealander Ian Taylor’s Dunedin company Taylormade Media.
There she also started learning to code and create websites.
After a chance move to Wellington she worked with design agency The Church. Paul Soong, managing director of the company, recalls Ponsonby’s drive and “nothing is impossible attitude”; he cites her ability to excite and inspire people towards a cause as a factor in her success.
Ponsonby moved to the UK eight years ago with the aim of working for the biggest advertising agencies in the world. After six hard months she scored a role as project manager with one such agency, DLKW.
Her experience with technology helped her catch the nascent digital wave, initially helping bring digital capability into DKLW and later other top London agencies as a consultant.
Ponsonby reckons she spent all her pay on shoes and travel — and it was her love of shopping and all things digital that prompted the idea for Myshoppingsecrets.com.
“I spent so much time trying to find all these cool shops online I felt it would be really great if they were in one place.”
She started visiting London Fashion Week three years ago to partner with designers and began with a basic website.
The company, based in Kensington, now has seven staff. Twelve more hires are on the cards once investment comes through. When Unlimited spoke with Ponsonby she was about to fly to Dubai to set up the company’s first international office.
And she’s soaking up London’s startup scene.
“There’s a really cool startup culture here,” she says. “I think in three or four years’ time it’s going to be interesting to see how these companies shape the UK economy. It’s exciting for us to be part of that.”
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