WITH each stitch and loop of her crochet hook, Reneka Fowler is not only weaving yarn into beautiful clothing, but she is creating a bright future for herself. But just like even the most intricate crochet patterns are made by repeatedly pulling the thread through loops, so did Fowler have to learn to pull through — not just for her art, but for her survival.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic came to Jamaica, I found myself out of a job because I was working in the hotel industry,” Fowler, who hails from the rural St James community of Johnson, told All Woman. “I was home and I had nothing to do, so I started to crochet again. I started watching YouTube videos to see what current trends were. Soon I was making pieces for my family members and friends, and then I thought that I could do a business out of this and earn from it, seeing that I wasn't employed.”
It was not the first time that Fowler was using her crochet skills to rake in some disposable income for herself. While she was reading for her undergraduate degree in integrated marketing communication (IMC) at The University of the West Indies (UWI) Western Jamaica campus, Fowler had her peers hooked on the cute crochet chokers that she would make and sell for pocket change. She thanks her primary schoolmate for showing her how to truly 'turn her hand and make fashion'.
“While I was attending Glen Stuart Primary School in Maggotty, St Elizabeth, a dear friend of mine taught me how to crochet,” Fowler shared. “Her grandmother had taught her how to do it, and she brought her hook and thread to school and showed me how to do the basic stitches of crocheting.”
Fowler would then graduate to Mount Alvernia High School, where she fancied herself a budding media practitioner. After high school she earned an associate's degree in the humanities at Montego Bay Community College, before enrolling at The UWI.
“Growing up I had different desires, but I really wanted to work in the media, because I loved to talk,” she said chuckling. “So I did IMC, with a minor in entertainment and cultural enterprise management. Having left UWI, I got an opportunity to work with Sandals hotels, where I was a part of their entertainment programme. I was an entertainment manager at Sandals Negril for a little over a year, and I got the opportunity to travel to countries like St Lucia and Barbados to work at other resorts.”
Fowler also dabbled in education and marketing, as she worked with the iCreate Institute as the general manager for their first and only branch in Montego Bay, before returning to the hospitality industry to do sales and events at S Hotel.
Ren Ten Designs (IG: @RenTen_Designs) was born out of necessity for Fowler in 2020 — not just to earn a living, but to express herself. In less than a year, Fowler has grown from making simple chokers to designing runway-worthy apparel for both men and women.
“I mostly make crochet clothing pieces, especially swimwear,” she said. “I do bikinis, monokinis, crop tops, shorts, hats, bags… anything clothing related.”
The designer explained that clothing, especially lightweight pieces, are bestsellers in our warm climate, but she also uses her hands to whip up just about any accessory or functional household item that she may need.
Like the rest of us, Fowler is eager to see the back of COVID-19. She is optimistic that her new business will pick up some wind once we settle into the new normal... but she is not waiting by idly for it to happen.
“Ideally, I want to have my own events company where I provide rental, catering and planning services for parties, weddings, and other events,” the daughter of two agricultural entrepreneurs said. “But I also want to let people see what crochet can do, and the beauty of crochet. I also want my pieces to be in boutique hotels and such, especially the bikinis and cover-ups.”
Crocheting has taught Fowler many valuable life lessons, such as patience, persistence and the great impact that even the smallest details can have on a project.
“It takes practice and dedication,” she said fondly. “You will have times when something is not perfect and you have to rip it out once or twice before you get it right. Just as it is with life, so it is with crocheting. You can't adjust what is already done. You just have to keep trying again and again until you get it right.”
She is confident that opportunities to create beautiful things are infinite, not just for her designs, but for the masterpiece that is her life.
“What I like most about crocheting is that you can literally turn thread or yarn into anything,” she said smiling. “You can have a roll of yarn and turn it into absolutely anything that you want to. That's the most impressive thing. The possibilities are endless.”