Cottoning on to unique kids' clothes
Jenny Collen is co-owner and head designer at Jenni Dezigns, a boutique children’s label that she runs with her daughter Samantha. She tells Margaret Harris . . .
Tell me about the work you do.
The JenniDezigns label is a Proudly South African product made from the vibrant shweshwe African print produced in the Eastern Cape. I get to play with these amazing fabrics to create classic, quirky children's clothes. Our current range is for girls aged two to seven years. We are on the cusp of releasing our boys' range and extending the girls' range to include bigger sizes. Each design is given its own African name to share the unique story behind the design.
I focus on the design and patterning side of the creation process. I also manage the selection of local suppliers and manufacturing partners to ensure a quality product from start to finish. This includes being on-site with our cut, make and trim partners when required, setting up our designs with their teams. It's tough having your name on a product, and then handing it over to someone else to make it a reality.
What inspired you to get into design, specifically for children?
I have always loved dressing little girls in beautiful clothing that makes them feel like princesses. Over the years, it became increasingly difficult to find age-appropriate and comfortable clothing for little girls in particular, and I decided it was time to do something about it.
Samantha mentioned that she thought it was time to show our "dezigns" to the rest of the world, and this is how JenniDezigns was born.
What do you love most about it?
I get to spend my days playing - whether it's with colours, fabric, textures or styles. There is nothing as satisfying and thrilling as having your designs come together perfectly and then having customers who enjoy wearing them.
What would you prefer to outsource?
We are only a two-woman team, which means that you have to get your hands dirty. Early on, we had to make the choice to outsource wholesale production due to an exciting large order. To grow the business, we are constantly re-evaluating this question, focusing our energies on where our strengths lie and looking to surround ourselves with like-minded people who can step into the gaps. I would love to outsource stocktaking labels and fabric.
What do you keep in mind when designing for children?
Children require freedom of movement. Whether they are wearing play clothes or a special dress, they need to be unencumbered by what they are wearing. I always keep in mind that moms and grannies mainly buy little children's clothing, so I have to remember to cater to their tastes. Always stick with the classic designs - they work, and have been tried and tested.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I wanted to be a ballerina. I also wanted to be a librarian. I just loved books, and still do.
What was your first paying job, and what did you learn from it?
My dad was the manager of an earth-moving equipment company in Kimberley. I went in during a holiday in my teens and helped his secretary do the filing, and I was enthralled. I soon learnt that excellence was expected from all employees regardless of their position and how the simplest of tasks affected the smooth running of the entire organisation.