I love coming across really talented individuals who are from or who are based here in Devon. From my time working on magazines I became accustomed to the design scene being very London-centric. That is, understandably, where everything seems to happen. But over the past few years I have noticed a lot more creative activity coming from these shores. I’m really proud of all of the talent that Devon seems to be producing at the moment and I always have the time to feature these individuals here on the blog. Today, I am extremely happy to welcome textile designer Jenny Evans who has agreed to take to the spotlight and answer my questions. So grab yourself a cup of tea and read on to find out more about this bright young talent.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
Hello! I’m Jenny, a 22 year old textiles student based between Cardiff and Plymouth. I am a big nature lover, a travel addict and I love anything creative.
My background is pretty varied – I started my working life as a professional model in London, doing a couple of fashion weeks and photo shoots. I then went to Oman with the British Exploring Society to do a leopard conservation expedition and then I moved to Australia for a year with my partner, to travel and live in Sydney. When I returned, I realised I wanted to go to University and my wonderful Mum showed me the textiles course I am currently doing at Cardiff Met. It all clicked into place for me after that! I had never actually done textiles before my degree, so it’s been an utter roller coaster since then.
When did you first discover your love of design and when did you realise that you wanted to make a career of it?
I’ve always been creative and when I was at school I did fine art and loved painting. However, it wasn’t until my Mum showed me the textiles course that I found my calling. After I got my place on the degree, I realised I didn’t know how to sew (crazy I know) so I began to teach myself, get help from friends and experiment. The first sewn art piece I made my Mum loved so much she asked for it to be framed for her birthday. We took it to a gallery to be framed, the owner loved my work and asked for some to go in his gallery and as they say, the rest was history.
One other huge driving force for me was when my Dad passed away when I was 16. He did a job he didn’t love and watching that happen at such a young age made me really look hard about what was important for me in my life. Doing something creative, varied and challenging was massively important to me as a result and it’s really shaped my journey. It’s why I tried so many different things early on and now that I’ve found textiles it’s given me a sense of clarity and drive that has massively shaped my successes and ethos for my business.
You are currently studying Textiles at Cardiff Metropolitan University. Can you tell us a little about your course and why you chose it?
I have utterly adored my course from the get go. I chose to study at Cardiff Met because of the emphasis on travel and entrepreneurship and the small size of the course. I’m currently in my third year and the university could not be more supportive of me and my business. I’ve been to India with my degree, had plenty of one-to-one support to help grow my business and I am just about to head off to Borneo with my head lecturer – Dr Keireine Canavan – as her research assistant. We are going to a world textile conference and then we are heading into the jungle to live with an Iban Dayak tribe to learn about their ikat weaving. It’s incredibly exciting!
You started an enterprising textile design business shortly before starting your university course. Can you tell us about that?
So after the first gallery (ArtFrame Solution – Plymouth) asked for my work in their gallery, my business just started to grow – I got into other galleries and started doing artwork commissions for nature charities like the National Marine Aquarium, British Dragonfly Society and WWT London Wetland’s Centre. These commissions were all for my textile artwork, but as I learned more at university, businesses have started to commission surface pattern collections from me – which is where I am currently growing my business at the moment. I will be launching my first homeware collection after I graduate in 2018.
In October you won the 2017 Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Awards. Can you tell us about that and how it will help you to develop your business?
Well it was the biggest and most wonderful shock of my life! By this point I had come Runner Up for a couple of Welsh business awards, but it was a national competition filled with all kinds of businesses – not just creative ones, so I really wasn’t expecting anything. Santander have been incredible during and since the win. They have put me in touch with their incredible network of people and everyone has been so supportive and helpful. Even Nathan Bostock, the CEO, now has my portfolios in his office to show his clients – it’s just so amazing!
As part of the prize, I won £25,000 of equity free seed funding and I will use this to launch the first collection of homeware products that I am manufacturing next year. The support is what is truly invaluable however. It’s been such a positive experience and as someone who started off as ‘oh I’m just an artist’, it’s been a great confidence boost to see myself as an entrepreneur too.
You grew up in Devon. How has this affected your approach to design?
I have so many wonderful memories from living in Devon, ice creams on the Barbican in Plymouth, walks on Dartmoor, beach combing at Wembury, Christmases spent at Dartington and shopping trips in Totnes and Exeter. My childhood was so happy and utterly filled with nature, it’s had a huge impact on my work. If I wasn’t a designer, I would have worked in conservation and I think that passion for nature is the driving factor in all the work that I do. I think growing up where I did, it’s given me a great understanding of who my customer is, where they live and what is important to them. Most people have emotional connections with nature and buying things for your home requires an emotional connection – people want things in their homes that are beautiful and reflect their personality. I strive to make sure my products give that to my wonderful customers.
Who or what have been your main design influences?
It’s incredibly hard to say specific people, because I never ever take inspiration from one artist – as it’s not fair to their original ideas and work. However one of the best new years resolutions I gave myself was last year. I challenged myself to follow as many creative people on Instagram as possible over the year, so that every time I am on social media (which is a lot) it’s productive time, being inspired by other makers and keeping up to date with trends, rather than scrolling through my friends selfies (as much as I love their gorgeous faces of course…)
What is your favourite part of the design process?
Do I have to pick one?! I love every stage, the initial idea, getting utterly lost in the making process and the sense of accomplishment when it’s finished. However if I absolutely had to choose, I think it would be the idea part. I love that feeling of electricity you get when you’ve got an idea that’s so great, you have to stop everything you’re doing at that very moment to make it. My brain starts buzzing with ideas when you get that bolt of excitement running through you and I love the feeling when you feel an idea not only forming, but growing and expanding in exciting ways too.
What is next on the agenda for Jenny Evans Designs? Any exciting projects we should know about?
I’m currently rebranding from Jenny Evans Designs to become Jenny Kate and having a new website made. I am also collaborating with a fabulous ceramist, working with some wonderful businesses on patterns for their products. I am also working with a hotel on a remodel and I am utterly buzzing with ideas for my final collection at university, which will be the first collection I manufacture next year. It will be inspired by my trip to Borneo, merged with my childhood and the wonderful nature we have in the UK and will of course have a conservation spin to it. So lots of exciting things happening at the moment. I can’t wait to share the results of all the projects soon!
What are your long-term goals for Jenny Kate?
Over the last few years as my confidence has grown and I’ve begun to actually believe that maybe I can make a go of this, so have my ambitions. I would honestly love to become the next Laura Ashley or the next Cath Kidston. I want to be able to celebrate nature on a global scale and give my customers quality products that make them excited to come home to a beautiful space. So I have big ambitions yes, but as long as I get to keep on doing what I love every day, no matter at what scale, I will feel I have already won.
I’d like to extend a massive thank you to Jenny for agreeing to be interviewed and for giving us an insight into her journey so far. I am absolutely sure that we will be seeing a lot more from this bright young star in the coming years so watch this space.