Web summit: Lily Cole on the journey from modelling to tech

Model turned entrepreneur Lily Cole is hoping to leave the catwalk behind for a more worthwhile pursuit.

Cole was in Dublin for this week's Web Summit and spoke on stage today to the Financial Times’ Matt Garrahan about her latest venture, Impossible.

Her foray into the world of small business has been largely positive and she is full of praise for the “very generous” start-up community.

“I’ve probably got more friends now in tech than in fashion because it’s taken over so much of my life in the last three years and I find it a very welcoming environment.

“It’s such an innovative space filled with people trying to come up with new ideas and realities. It’s really hard thing to try and do, to have a start-up and I take my hat off to all the different start-ups I see here. Because there’s so much risk and it is so difficult, I feel like it is a very generous community.”

She describes Impossible as “ecommerce meets product journalism”.

“It’s a community of people who buy into their philosophy and help each other by giving objects, giving skills, giving services,” Cole explained.

“Every time someone gives someone receives.” The social giving network has already become more successful than Cole anticipated.

“We have a very global community. 73 countries signed up over the last year which is not something we necessarily foresaw or planned, but it meant that a lot of the trade is online.”

Although the majority of transactions are services and advice which can be shared easily online, Cole is keen for the community to share physical items when possible and free ourselves from our dependence on money.

“There is arguably an abundance of skills, services, time and even more resources. We’ve become so dependant as societies on money we lose the medium by which to exchange things.”

Impossible is not a charitable organisation, instead Cole describes it as “a social business”. “It’s I’m a big supporter of a lot of charities but I think that ultimately this is very powerful and it’s more sustainable.”

“The main idea that I’m excited by and focused on is gifting products and being paid for products, and creating a platform that will exist in parallel to Impossible where people will be able to buy physical objects and get physical objects.”

The objects being traded, however, must meet certain criteria as Cole wishes to “create positive social environments”.

“We will only sell products that have powerful stories behind them. “Business is a real force for good in the world and it can fix a lot of the problems we have.

“There’s a huge number of really fascinating companies that I would like to champion and support through Impossible and alongside what we’re doing with the non-monetary gifting platform.

“There’s a huge number of companies in that space, everything from the jewellery made from guns taken off the streets and melted down to this designer Eden that I’m wearing. They get all their clothes manufactured in Africa to support trade.”

Cole believes her start-up will be a success, not because of her fame but because of the idea behind it. “The product will only work if you have a good product, if the design is useful for people. At the end of the day we are a start-up with a small team working and listening, looking at data and trying to get by with what we do. ”

“I could count on one hand the amount of modelling things I’ve done in the last year. I do a small amount to shine a light on things like this and occasionally pay bills, because I’m not making money from it.”

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