HJK Knitwear — designer Hannah Jenkinson
I am from a very small village in the north of England (only 5 people in my class at school!) I always loved art and making things while growing up and followed that as I went through my education. Textile classes were my favorite, so it was pretty easy step-by-step to continue to do what I liked. I did textiles at A-level and then an Art Foundation, which is a 1-year pre-requisite in England before going to university. It allowed me to try many different creative art forms throughout the year, and I was exposed to more fashion as well as painting, drawing, sculpture, and photography. I went on to attend Brighton University to earn my BA in Fashion and Textiles Design with Business Studies specializing in Knitwear – I guess I always had an idea that I might like to run my own business one day! I was drawn to knitwear especially because of the uniqueness of the process – you create the fabric as you create the garment, rather than cutting out an existing fabric and sewing it together. I loved the creativity the process allowed - from the fiber selection to stich and texture, right through to shaping the silhouette and finishing details. It felt more personal and interesting to me – like you could put more of yourself and your ideas into it.
I worked for a few years in London for a knitwear swatch design company. We would work on the knitting machines to make ‘swatches’ or ‘knit-downs’ – coming up with new stitches, textures, techniques and silhouette ideas. After a few years, I missed doing my own work and applied to Parsons in New York to study their MFA program in Fashion Design and Society. I was accepted with a full scholarship and spent 2 crazy years really defining who I was as a designer. I was thankful to have worked for a few years beforehand, as I had so much more to offer and so much more direction than if I had gone straight from University. I worked for a few fashion houses in New York following the MFA – including Calvin Klein Collection – and then headed out to California to develop textiles for St John Knits.
I decided to set up HJK in order to have more creative freedom, more flexibility, and more time to actualize my ideas. I feel like I can be of more use to the world by following my own vision rather than someone else’s; whether that is creating beautiful things for people to wear so as to make them feel empowered, or creating income generating models for women in the workplace.
Tell us about your laser cut process and how this reduces waste during the design process, "I do not use laser cutting– ‘fully-fashioned’ knitwear. Tell us about your knitwear processes and how this reduces waste during the design process.
Fully Fashioned knitwear is naturally a zero-waste process. There is no wastage, as you shape each piece of the pattern simultaneous to making the fabric and garment itself. All of the hand-knitted, hand-crocheted and machine-knitted pieces are made in this way, making up a majority of my collections each season. Additionally, I have a bin in my studio where I save all of my fabric scraps. I am planning to do something fun with them one day, maybe a recycled textile installation!
Tell us about your process.
All of my original samples are made in studio here in LA. I develop all of the stitches myself (by hand) often making the entire sample. I like to also work closely with the trusted and highly skilled women in the local Los Angeles area. Being connected to the ‘making’ aspect of a garment is a big part of my process when developing the collection. I love this aspect of what I do – being in the studio (or on the couch) and focused deeply on making something from start to finish. I find it incredibly satisfying to be able to say, ‘I made that’.
Some of your knits are made in Bolivia. Why this area, and what are the positive aspects of taking some of your business there?
Once a design reaches the production stage, the hand-knitted and hand-crocheted styles will be made in Bolivia through a women’s cooperative. They are also very skilled in the techniques that I use in my collections. Women are able to bring their children to work as needed and are able to make their own living, enabling social and economic independence. Knowing that they are treated well, paid well and have help with childcare is very important, as these are values that I strive to support in my business.
Your designs are handmade, and they are very intricate. Why was it important for you to hand-embroider, instead of sending your designs off to a factory? How does this add to the environmental responsibility of the brand?
I used a lot of hand-embroidery in my MFA collection at Parsons. Part of my design inspiration there was looking at traditional techniques and combining them with modern materials or silhouettes to create something new and unique. My designs make reference to age-old ‘women’s work’ – tactile objects and techniques that are very familiar to us as a society, but get overlooked in our modern age. How everything is made is a very important part of what I do, and handwork brings a quality that cannot be achieved by a machine. When human hands have worked on a garment, sometimes for many days, that piece is given a truly unique feel. The connection to real people putting in their time and skill is much more important and valuable than acquiring something done by a machine in a factory. Hand craft is the epitome of luxury to me and makes each piece truly special and timeless.
Tell us about your partnership with Nest.
We are currently working with Nest through their vast network of incredibly talented artisans from around the world. Nest’s focus is to ‘alleviate poverty, strengthen families, and preserve endangered cultural traditions,’ which marries our company ethos here at HJK. More specifically, I am very invested in the preservation of hand craft, much of which has artisan origins, so I am proud to support Nest’s network of women run artisan groups. Keep an eye out in 2018 for special pieces made through our artisan partners in Bolivia.
How do you build sustainability and environmental consciousness into your brand and your business principles, and why do you think that this is important?
We use beautiful, luxurious Italian yarn, which really adds to the quality of the garments. These are pieces that will last forever. I get my woven fabric from the USA wherever possible - I used an organic cotton twill from the USA for the Spring/Summer 18 Collection. I use factories in LA for the woven and machine-knitted pieces, supporting local businesses and jobs. Everything is designed in a way that doesn’t pay attention to ‘trends’ - instead being inspired by a beautiful yarn, an interesting technique, or the desire to see an idea come into reality. This results in timeless pieces that will be worn again and again, and not fade out of style in a year. All of the aspects of HJK are just as important to me as what the designs look like. To deeply consider our impact, responsibility and transparency for how we do things is essential for creating a modern brand today.
What is your mission with HJK Knitwear, and as a designer more generally?
My mission is to design beautiful, unique and timeless collections that lend a fresh perspective to craft and traditional textiles. I strive to provide work opportunities for people, in order for them to have social and economic independence. My mission is to see every aspect of the business as important as another, and make choices that benefit everyone involved, while not adversely impacting the planet in our process. But mostly, I aim to love what I am doing each and every day.
By Bailey Calfee