Let kids be kids
EAST London-born Jenny Collen may have only recently launched her label, but has always been a designer at heart.
“I made my own clothes as a teenager which were considered ‘different’ largely due to a love for bright colours,” says Collen.
When her children Shannon, Samantha and Ivan were born she started designing children’s clothing. However, due to the usual financial constraints of raising children and living in the modern world, her passion was once again put on the back-burner until about two years ago.
“After years of working in the corporate landscape in Johannesburg, my husband Reuben and I decided to move down to Knysna to live a quieter lifestyle.
“Knysna really offers so much beauty and interesting, quirky and inspiring places to frequent.”
Just before they made the big move, Collen purchased a large quantity of the isiShweshwe fabric (a traditional African print fabric) to play with.
Her daughter Samantha, who is now her business partner, said: “Mom, I think it’s time!”
Jenny Collen in her studio
“I knew exactly what she meant as we had been chatting on and off about my ‘JenniDezigns’ label which had been on my mind for many years,” says Collen.
At first their plan was to run a small online business where moms and grannies who wanted to dress their little girls could purchase classic, bright, African-print clothing.
Very soon, however, it changed gear and they found themselves playing in the tourist retail market.
“It was a huge learning curve for both of us. Many sleepless nights, but so much excitement and fun to go along with it. Without Samantha and her incredible business acumen I would be lost,” Collen adds proudly.
As a mom, and now granny, she always wanted to dress her little girls in beautiful clothing that made them feel like princesses. But over the years she found it increasingly difficult to find age-appropriate and comfortable clothing for her girls.
“Sharing my frustration and ideas with my daughter, Samantha, sparked the birth of the practical JenniDezigns brand,” she says.
Jabula ‘Happy' dress - navy & white and Jabula ‘Happy’ dress - pink
Collen also draws inspiration from the fabric she uses, saying that vibrant, colourful prints just makes her smile! Combining these with classic children’s styles – which are comfortable and easy to play in – completes her design process.
“Picturing how children will enjoy wearing the style is important in influencing the little surprises we add in as well as accenting a feature on the chosen print.
“Each design is given its own African name to share this inspiration.”
“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.
And of course, feel like their dress was made just for them,” adds Collen.
She describes her designs as “classic and quirky children’s clothing for every occasion”.
“If my youngest granddaughter is anything to go by, there is always a JenniDezign item suitable for every occasion, even if it is just heading to the park on a Saturday afternoon,” says grandma Collen.
She’s always had a love for African print fabric, local and others found further north in Africa. When deciding to launch JenniDezigns, she wanted to establish a Proudly South African brand. This pushed them in the direction of our very own, homegrown African print – isiShweshwe.
“These prints have a rich heritage and evolving story that needs to be shared across cultures and countries,” says Collen.
The isiShweshwe three cats prints they use is produced locally by Da Gama Textiles outside King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape, which is the sole owner of this print brand since 1982.
“We have had incredible and patient guidance and advice from our manufacturing partner and principal wholesale buyer,” Collen adds.
What are the highlights of her JennizDesigns journey so far?
“Getting an amazing contract to sell to tourists and finding that my clothing was being worn by little girls all over the world – it still makes me smile when I think about it.
“We received a photo from a very proud South African granny with her granddaughter in Australia wearing one of our designs.
“Being part of the African Fashion Week London, 2016 was quite an experience as well!” she says.
They will soon be adding something for little boys to their collection because they’ve had so many requests from the public for them.
The Dlala ‘Playful’ Qulotte set