By Tatenda Mark
Jenny Collen talks about how as a mom, and now a granny, she has always loved dressing her little girls in beautiful clothing that makes them feel like princesses. But over the years, it became increasingly difficult for the South African mother-of-three to find age-appropriate and comfortable clothing for her girls, inevitably sending her to the material shop to find the right print and pattern to make up what she wanted.
“Sharing my frustration and ideas with my daughter, Samantha, sparked the birth of the JenniDezigns brand,” says Jenny. “At first our plan was to run a small online business where moms and grannies could purchase classic, bright, African-print clothing that little girls would love to play in.”
Very soon, however, the business changed gear, and Jenny and Samantha found themselves playing in the tourist retail space, which was a huge learning curve for both of them with many sleepless nights, but so much excitement and fun to go along with it.
“I remember recently receiving a photo from a very proud South African granny with her granddaughter in Australia wearing one of our designs!”
Jenny is quick to acknowledge the people who helped get JenniDezigns to where it is today. “Our manufacturing partner, Ahead Gear and principle wholesale buyer Tourvest have provided so much support and been incredibly patient, providing guidance and advice.”
Jenny goes on to mention how the business continues to grow as she and Samantha introduce new styles to their collection. “With this growth, we need to ensure we deliver a consistently high-quality product every time, which involves partnering with suppliers. Choosing to partner with others to deliver on your brand promise is a risky but necessary strategy, and establishing good partnerships that collaborate well is vital. In the early stages, ironing out even the tiniest issues is hard work, and even though it has been challenging to outsource certain processes, the pay-off is that the quality of JenniDezigns products are trustworthy and consistent.”
“Talk about your brand to everyone because you never know which conversation will be the one to open a new door or market for your product, and keep top of mind why you started your business in the first place, as this will influence the markets you seek out.”
Jenny and Samantha also go on to mention the difficulties faced by some of the small SMEs in South Africa when it comes to finding funding. “We have self-funded the business, as the current financing options in South Africa for small SMEs require a lot of upfront planning and detail – which in a new start up is often hard to actually have all the detail. And they can take 3 to 6 months for the funding to actually come through, by which time we would have missed out on some key opportunities. We have noticed that now that we are a little more established we are in a better place to access finance for growth.”
Running the business continues to be a rewarding experience. All of the hassle and challenges, and overcoming them, has been worth it for Jenny and company. For instance, now JenniDezigns has acquired a contract to sell to tourists and the mother-daughter team have pride in seeing their clothing being worn by little girls all over the world. “Being part of the African Fashion Week London, 2017 was also a great achievement and such an incredible experience for us!”
Samantha takes pride in seeing the great response to the JenniDezigns collection, and the feeling of being able to support her mom in achieving her dream of starting the business. “Along with this, having people come up to me at exhibitions in the UK to tell me how much they love the collection, or that they’ve purchased a dress for a little girl in their life is a real win for me!” Samantha goes on to say.
“As a small team, we have to constantly check in with each other on what we are going to focus our energy on – otherwise it would be overwhelming, which it has been at times.” Jenny and Samantha believe that setting out upfront what you believe in, and who you are as a brand is key in making the right decisions about production partners to work with. They also advise to keep regular contact with production partners.
They also learned that you never know where an idea will take you – and that it is easy to get caught up in the allure of an idea – but when there are limited funds, you need to always be very focused on not letting these ideas or opportunities distract you.
“Critically evaluating your return on any investment – and rather stopping investment sooner rather than later – this is much harder than it sounds as you can get emotionally attached to idea which clouds your judgment.”
We wish Jenny and Samantha all the best as they are in the process of getting their ProudlySA Tick for JenniDezigns.
Tatenda Mark is the Founder of alumnivalley.com, an online platform that supports, features and promotes entrepreneurs, ranging from small business owners, activists to artists. alumnivalley.com aims to empower, support and inspire people who follow their true passion, and believes that these are truly the minds that will change the world. For more stories and information, visit alumnivalley.com and be sure to like us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/alumnivalley. Any questions? Please feel free to email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.