Clothing fit for young princesses and vibrant textile designs that celebrate the liveliness of Africa on authentic shweshwe fabric are the cornerstone of JenniDezigns, a contemporary South African clothing brand for kids that creates unique 100% cotton pieces made by local seamstresses in Cape Town. Director Jenny Collen and her daughter Sam, who’s in charge of marketing and is based in the UK, shared with us the company’s story and vision.
Tell us about your professional backgrounds and how they’ve influenced JenniDezigns.
Jenny: I’ve always been a designer at heart. As a teenager, I used to make my own clothes, which were always rather different to standard teen gear because I’ve always loved bright colours. Then I moved on to designing children’s clothing when my daughters were born. But due to the financial constraints of raising children and living in the modern world, this passion was put on the back burner to allow me to help my husband in his consulting company. I also compiled the odd contract for corporate clients in my time.
Sam: Before embracing motherhood, I worked in corporate consulting before moving on to work with business start-ups with brands such as Cancer Research UK and Virgin. I think my mom and I make a good team because of our different but complementary skills.
With Sam based abroad, does travel influence the brand in any way. If so, how?
Sam: Being based in the UK has positives and negatives. I get to see and experience the international kids’ fashion market close up, and have access to opportunities that might take other brands longer to access given the cost of travel. Unfortunately, I’m unable to actively participate in all that the local South African fashion sector has on offer. To counter this, I’ve been networking with some up-and-coming local brands.
Why did you choose to go the route of handmade garments with locally sourced shweshwe?
Jenny: I’ve always loved African print fabric, as well as local textiles, including some found further north in Africa. When deciding to launch JenniDezigns, the idea of establishing a Proudly South African product steered us in the direction of shweshwe. These prints have a rich heritage and an evolving story that we feel our businesses aligns well to.
Sam: It made sense to partner with local producers to deliver our boutique range, given the importance of knowing how your clothing is produced – following initiatives like #whomademyclothes – and with ethical production being a principle value of our brand.
How many local seamstresses do you employ and are there plans to expand locally or into other markets?
Sam: We’ve partnered with people who have the right expertise. We focus on what we’re good at, and use local CMT (cut, make and trim) partner AheadGear to make up the larger orders. The actual number of seamstresses varies per order, but it can be anything from six to 10. Sourcing a second CMT partner is part of our growth plan, which we hope to kick-start at the Source Africa trade show on the 24 and 25 May in Cape Town. We’ve also partnered with a local seamstress in Knysna, in the Western Cape, who supports Jenny during new design phases to test our patterns and create master samples.
Our ambition is to be a credible, authentic brand in the children’s boutique clothing sector, with established distribution in key boutique stores both in South Africa and abroad. Expanding our footprint in South Africa is about partnering with new boutiques aligned to our brand ethos. We’re also experimenting with opportunities abroad through selective trade shows focused on kids’ boutique fashion.
The last piece of the puzzle is to make sure our range is available to customers via an online store, providing local and international delivery.
What’s been the biggest challenge in gaining a foothold in the expanding, diverse market of African print clothing?
Jenny: Our biggest challenge – which I think will be ongoing as we grow and introduce new styles – is less about gaining a footing and more about ensuring that we deliver a consistently high-quality product. Choosing to partner with others to deliver on your brand promise is a risky but necessary strategy, and establishing good partnerships with good collaboration is vital. In the early stages, ironing out even the tiniest issues is hard work but well worth the effort.
Growing our footprint is also about being bold – if you don’t ask, you don’t get! But you can only do that confidently if you’re supported by a solid production partnership and have confidence in your product.
What’s the inspiration for your garments?
Sam: Inspiration for each design starts with the fabric – the vibrant, colourful prints bring a smile to your face and you can’t help but be inspired to create magic! Combining these with classic children’s styles that are comfortable and easy to play in is also taken into account in the design process. Picturing how children will enjoy wearing the style is important in influencing the little surprises we add to every piece and accenting a feature on the chosen print.
Each design is given an African name. To select these names, we start with the design, looking at the style and colour of each item. Then we picture how children will enjoy wearing it. For example, Umoya is the “wind” dress – you can imagine a little girl enjoying a light afternoon breeze on her skin as she plays outside.
My mom is the principle designer and has the final say in this area, but I research trends and offer feedback during the design process. We collectively agree on the design names.
The other girls in the family (my sister, and our daughters – her 14-year-old twins and my four-year-old daughter) are full of ideas too, with one of the twins determined to study design and business so she can one day take over the reins of the business.
Are any new developments for JenniDezigns underway?
We’re launching additions to our girls’ range at Source Africa in May. This includes more everyday jumpsuit styles and an expansion to our party dress range. This launch will also see more clothing sizes being offered, now from one to nine years old (rather than only two to seven years). A girls’ winter range and boys’ styles will follow soon.