Today we’d like to introduce you to Hannah Jenkinson.
Hannah, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Well, I guess it all started when I learnt to knit with my Grandmothers when I was a child. They loved all sorts of handcrafts – tapestry, embroidery, knitting, crochet. I am from a super small village in the north of England and had a very quintessential English upbringing – there were five people in my class at school, which might give you some perspective! I revisited knitting once I got to University to study Fashion and Textiles design at Brighton on the south coast of the UK. I discovered a love of making and was especially drawn to the process of knitting – the technicality of it and the way you create the fabric at the same time as creating the garment – there was something quite poetic about it. The creative possibilities are endless and you never quite know how things are going to turn out and you get the most interesting results when you are in the moment and being open to possibilities.
After working for a few years in London I was desperate to revisit my own work so applied to the Fashion Design MFA course at Parsons and got a scholarship to study in New York. The MFA really helped me to define my own work and what I was passionate about in a creative way – traditional handcrafts, and reformulating them into new, modern ways. I was in NY for three years and then came out to California for a job in Orange County. I have been in CA for five years now and LA for the last 1 ½ years. I continued to do my own creative work alongside working for other people since leaving Parsons. Collaborating with some wonderful Choreographers and Artists has led to lifelong friendships, which has defined my life here in California.
It has been so valuable to work for other companies, but I have always known I need to do my own thing, to find a way to have my work benefit others in ways that goes way beyond how the fashion industry generally works. I really started to question what I was happy with in terms of how to make things, materials I want to use, and how to run a business that can be a force for good for everyone involved – including the earth. I feel like my whole life up to now has fed into what HJK is now.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has absolutely not been a smooth journey. I have felt like this was my life purpose for a long time – to be able to help other women by using my skills and doing what I love – which is creating beautiful, unique and luxurious clothing.
About a year ago, I had a really hard time personally – breakups, loss of work, needing to move house, feeling the struggle of living so far from friends and family back home. It felt like my whole world came crashing down around me, and I had run out of resources to continue doing the business. I had pretty much decided to give up – I couldn’t see any way forward for it.
Through my journey of personal healing, all the answers for how to move forward – both personally and professionally have come through. I had to discover what was really important to me and build the business – and life – around what I believed in and not what I thought an outdated industry wanted me to be. It went hand in hand with me really taking charge of my own life and deciding what I wanted for myself and that allowed me to see what was right for HJK.
Over the last year, I have been able to define the mission of HJK into three elements: Women’s Empowerment, Earth Friendly Materials and Creative Expression. During an unexpected trip to Peru, I met a wonderful Women’s Cooperative called Mothers In Action who I am now working with to develop the Fall Collection. This organization trains women who maybe don’t have any other way of making an income and allows them to work from home giving continued care to their children while they work. It makes me so happy to be working with them and have my creativity give them work and independence. I have committed to using no oil-based, plastic materials – no nylon, acrylic or polyester which contribute to micro-plastics in the ocean. All the materials we use can literally go into the compost once they cannot be worn any longer. The Creative Expression element of the business is a commitment to make things that are truly unique and special. The world does not need much more clothing in it, but I want to create pieces that are unlike anything you can get anywhere else. There will be some interesting collaborations coming up, and reminders that the world needs everyone’s creativity, art, joy and expression in it.
Please tell us about HJK: Hannah Jenkinson Knitwear.
HJK creates ethically crafted luxury knitwear, under the mission of Women’s Empowerment, Earth-Friendly Materials and Creative Expression. The design is unique and special – ethical and sustainable but with a more fun and minimal aesthetic. I spend a huge amount of time developing designs starting with the fiber. The mill that I work with in Italy developed a yarn especially for me – the original had some nylon it in, but I had it specially made using cotton instead. I do all the development and make all the original samples myself – I then pass on the patterns to the women who develop the pieces from my direction. I am really proud of what HJK stands for and how special the product is.
While I was in Peru I was stunned by the energy there – I will be traveling there for an extended trip to work directly with the women and spend time in the country. Going through the process of letting go of attachments and my life in LA to be open to whatever awaits me and the business there, it is a big lesson in trust and staying totally open to what I am being guided towards. I am super excited to have some fun adventure stories to share with everyone!
Do you look back particularly fondly on any memories from childhood?
Proper English Christmas’s.
Zainib Naseer, Arno Nabos, Mia Peru