Jenny Evans is inspirational on a number of levels. After trying out a variety of different roles, Jenny decided to start her own business. Her story is as unique as it is inspiring, she started her award-winning business before university and is using it as a platform for change. She celebrates other women that she meets and has a desire to give back, she is also approaching the fashion industry differently – prioritising sustainability over fast-fashion.
If you’re ready to be inspired, read on…
Tell us a bit about your story
I’ve had a very short, random and exciting career so far. I started my working life doing a random assortment of jobs, including working in a pub, working as a painter and decorator, a model, a wedding photographer and in a shop in Australia.
I travelled for a few years before deciding to do a textiles degree. On the train home, I realised I didn’t know how to sew. I taught myself and the first piece of artwork I made, my Mum loved it and asked if she could have it for her birthday. We took it to a gallery to be framed, where the owner asked me for more artwork. Ever since that day, four years ago, I’ve been self-employed.
Now I have my own homeware and fashion brand, two offices and eight full-time members of staff! I’ve also just become the UK Policy Chair for Young Entrepreneurs for the Federation of Small Businesses, as I am a passionate advocate for other young people to set up businesses too.
What made you choose this career/industry?
I think it kind of chose me. I never planned to set up a business, it literally just happened in that gallery one day. I’m a big believer in grabbing opportunities and I’ve just continued to run with this one. Never, for one tiny teeny second, have I regretted choosing textiles and this business.
It’s hard, filled with rejection, disappointment and long hours – but I honestly wouldn’t change this journey for the world.
How did you get to where you are now and did you face any challenges along the way?
A real turning point in my business journey was winning the Santander Universities Entrepreneurship Award. I was in my final year at uni, I won £25,000 and the UK CEO of Santander was one of the judges of the award. Mentally, it was hugely pivotal, if this panel of incredible judges believed in me, why wasn’t I believing in myself?
Before that win, I was Jenny Evans Designs, a future struggling artist. After that award, I rebranded to Jenny Kate, set up a scalable business and let myself finally have ambitions. I wanted Jenny Kate to become a global brand – a goal that I am still working on now!
Along the way, there have been lots of huge challenges. Balancing a degree and a business was hard, getting investment a rewarding challenge, dealing with health problems was draining and continually having to prove myself as a 24-year-old creative woman, motivating and frustrating in equal measure. But I think if I hadn’t faced those challenges along the way, I wouldn’t have the skill set, determination and passion for what I do now.
Can you tell us how you overcame those setbacks?
One of the biggest constant challenges I have is for people to take me seriously. After telling people I have a design company, the classic line I get back is often, “that’s cute, what do you sell on Etsy?”
From day one I had really beautiful business cards made and quickly after that upgraded to some gorgeous catalogues of all my products. I cannot tell you how much of a difference these two things have made to my business. I think having those physical, visual aids of what we do at Jenny Kate, immediately shows people what’s special about us. I never thought I would become an office stationary geek, with a love of velvet touch papers, gold foiling and perfect bound booklets, but here we are!
What is an important initiative that you feel passionate about in your role?
Sustaining the nature that we celebrate at Jenny Kate is essential to me. All of our products are made in the UK, to ensure that everyone who works on our designs is paid a fair wage. We will only release one collection a year to discourage from fast fashion buying habits and place more frequent, small orders to reduce stock wastage. I also have an in-house prototyper, who creates new products from other flawed products, reducing waste further and trying out new concepts.
What’s great about being a female in your role?
Meeting other absolutely incredible women, who are idols of mine and being lucky enough to be helped, mentored and supported by them. I am constantly blown away by the amazing women (and men) I meet every day, but meeting women who have walked the path before me and smashed glass ceilings that I can comfortably step through now is incredibly inspiring. There is still definitely more that can be done and I hope I will one day be able to do the same for the next generation of female entrepreneurs behind me.
As a dear friend of mine once said: “I would be a sh*t feminist if I didn’t help the women in my life succeed, by giving them my contacts, support and help where I can.” I feel so lucky to be part of such a sharing an amazing ecosystem.
Have you ever felt that your gender has brought unnecessary challenges to your career?
Definitely. All the time. I think the combination of being young, a woman and a creative is particularly hard. People speak to me all the time in a manner they just wouldn’t to someone older or male.
Really though, it’s a double-edged sword. For example, when I started pitching for investment, getting through the door was hard, but once I pitched, I ticked so many quotas for investors as a female founder, it really worked in my favour. I also get to ask questions that would never normally be answered, as I am not viewed as competition and therefore can get so much more information from people!
What are some strategies that can help women achieve a more prominent role in their organisations?
Mentoring is key. If you have examples of female leaders in business, more will come up behind them. So many women don’t have enough confidence in themselves, through mentoring I’ve gotten out of my own way – more women need this too!
What advice do you have for women aiming for leadership positions?
The best leadership skill you can have is emotional intelligence. Hone this and you will thrive.
What’s one key leadership lesson you’ve learned along the way?
Sometimes you have to be the bad guy and make unpopular decisions. It’s lonely, so surround yourself with people who are not invested in your or your company’s success – they will be impartial and keep your secrets.
What three tips would you give to young females starting their careers?
If you ask for a favour/meeting/chat with someone, particularly if they are busy, make sure you do your research, go to them to meet and value their time.
Get as much experience in as many fields as you can, work hard and do favours for people – they will come back to you ten-fold.
Keep pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. Go out on a limb, go to networking events on your own, stand out from the crowd. Don’t shrink yourself down to be at the same as everyone else.