Hannah Jenkinson showcased her knitwear collection at GFW08 and since then moved to another continent, undertook further studies, and worked for many established brands, while developing her own work. We caught up with her for a quick interview where she shares with us how focusing on her craft and skill allowed her to be highly employable. In the hugely competitive fashion industry, it seems as Hannah found a perfect recipe for combining her passion for knitwear with practicing self-care and generating an income.
What University did you attend, and what is the most valuable thing that you learnt there?
I went to Brighton University and studied Fashion and Textile Design with Business Studies, specialising in Knitwear. The most valuable thing I learnt was how to innovate through trial and error and how to actually make knitted garments. That knowledge and skills have carried me through my whole career so far, and enabled me to offer something niche to the companies I have worked for. I went on to do my MFA (equivalent to an MA) at Parsons School of Design in New York. There, I learnt how to really delve into my skill and creativity and dig deep to create something unique and meaningful. Working for a few years between doing my BFA and MFA were really beneficial, I got so much more out of it than I could have if I had continued straight into further education.
GFW provides a platform for emerging fashion graduates to showcase their work regardless of specific discipline. Which area of the industry have you chosen to pursue, and what informed your choices?
I specialised in Knitwear because I loved it and felt excited when creating new ideas on the knitting machine. The process of development that comes with knitwear was fascinating to me – the ability to design the fabrication, silhouette and garment all at the same time. There is so much opportunity for creativity and problem solving.
Tell us a bit more about your career journey since showing at Graduate Fashion Week?
Following Brighton University, I worked in London for a few years for a Knitwear Swatch Studio where I continued to apply and hone my knitwear skills. I applied to Parsons in New York for their MFA in Fashion Design and Society and got a place, and a scholarship, so I moved to the USA in 2011 to study there. I worked for Calvin Klein Collection after leaving Parsons amongst some other smaller brands and then moved to California to work at St John Knits. They have an amazing knitwear development facility on site so I was able to work really closely with the machinery developing the textiles as well as the fashion. I currently have a few consultancy projects in Los Angeles alongside working on my own line of made-to-order knitwear pieces and Art. I do projects such as costumes for dance performances and Art shows as well as business with Moda Operandi and private clients.
The Gallery above: Hannah Jenkinson’s collection for SS14 at New York Fashion Week
How have you found life in the industry?
I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to use my skills to travel and live in other countries. The industry has its up and downs and working for a company is very different to just doing what you like at university. As you progress in a job it becomes a lot more about price-points, margins and management, which have a different set of creative problem solving skills to use than the ones you learn at school.
Do you explore any political, social or historical notions through your work? If so, what messages do you hope to convey?
When I was at Parson’s, I delved into traditional time-honoured craft techniques that were essentially and traditionally ‘Women’s Work’; hand-knitting, crotchet, hand-embroidery, lacework. I was also intrigued by spirituality, how someone’s beliefs can be represented and translated through dress or uniform. Like a Nun’s Habit for example tells you so much about her inner, spiritual life. I wanted to combine these old familiar techniques with our modern uniform of the casual sweatshirt and jogging suit. I found the hand embroidery very meditative too. One of the jumpers took me 8 days to embroider, and I slipped into this calm state where time just disappeared with each stitch, and that felt like a kind of spirituality to me.
“IN 5 YEARS TIME, I HOPE TO BE SOMEWHERE I COULD NEVER EXPECT OR IMAGINE TO BE NOW.”
Many say that the industry is undergoing huge change, with sustainability, diversity and responsibility becoming huge themes. Do you have any opinions on these movements?
Yes. I believe designers and companies have a responsibility to acknowledge and be active towards becoming more socially and environmentally responsible. The fashion industry has so many issues. I believe the next big callout will – and needs to be – the use of un-biodegradable fabrics in clothing. Polyester, Nylon and Acrylic are all being used more and more to get a better price point and higher margin, but the effects on the environment will be devastating and long-lasting. Also, the issues of waste, overdevelopment, over-stock, equal pay, working conditions and so much more! Sometimes things need to breakdown before they can be built to be better and I think we are starting to see that.
Lastly, to any students who are reading this in admiration of your career - what advice would you give to the students hoping to showcase this year?
Don’t compare yourself to other people – stay in your lane! There is room for everyone and everyone will find the place they are meant to be.
Don’t ever say no to something because you are scared, or think you might not be able to do it.
Make the most of each stage you are in. There is always more to be learnt where you are now and wanting to progress too fast in your career is not always a good thing. Just do your best at the task at hand and it will pay off.
Support your peers.
You can explore and shop Hannah’s designs here.
Words by Eva Kubacka