Jennifer Callinder, Fashion is her business
“That’s a nice piece of fabric, I wonder is how much a yard”. How often have you passed a store window or gone into a store and said this very same thing — or something similar — especially about a piece of print-
Many of us tend to shop for a nice piece of fabric to make an outfit for a wedding, funeral, party and/or other occasions instead of buying a ready-made outfit. Even then, when we buy the ready-made dress or suit, the style is important, but so, too, is the fabric.
Look down on whatever you are wearing. Have you ever stopped to wonder how that piece or pieces of fabric were created. How did the pattern get evolved-
The shapes, the flowers, the many colours that drew your attention- Have you ever given any thought to how the fabric came together to give you a light cotton or heavy linen, crushed satin or thin sheer, not to mention the variations of knitted fabric, plain printed — or floral — ribbed among others- Somebody designed this fabric from scratch, weaving strands of thread together, so that so many could buy it and make it their own, designing their own creation — a long dress, a sleeveless shirt, baggy pants or shorts. Jennifer Callinder is one such designer.
Jenny, as she is lovingly called, constructs knitted textiles, and creates knitted fabric in interesting forms.
“My work is more to do with ideas, creations and techniques. I can make clothing, but I was taught to freelance, to create ideas. I never got too caught up in making a dress or a suit,” she says of her craft.
Instead, Jennifer does what may be termed design samples. A design sample shows all the facets of the design, giving the manufacturer all the information needed to reproduce it on a large scale, whether he is reproducing it for a bolt of fabric or wallpaper or using the design to make garments.
Doing samples enables the designer to give vent to his or her artistic inspiration without worrying about a finished garment. But there are other benefits.
“You produce on a smaller scale it is easier to access gaves a quick turnover.
You can do more work in a day, than making a garment,”she points out.
Although the size (which is usually 12 inches by 12 inches) — and the technique being employed dictate the length of time it takes to produce a sample, Jenny will work 16 straight hours to produce two simple designs and as much as two days to produce a sample with a more complicated design.
“If I have a collection to put out I will not sleep I just want to get my work out,” she says. The many hours spent knitting do not include the time Jenny spends dying her yarn to get the varieties and the variations of colours she uses in her designs. Working primarily with natural yarns like cotton, and chenille that accept dyes readily, Jennifer also steam presses her work to get the desired look.
Once Callinder finishes a set of designs she sends it to an agency which forwards it to manufacturers, mainly in Asia, Hong Kong or America.
However, now that she is back in Jamaica (having spent eight years in England) that could prove difficult.
“Jamaica is so far from everywhere,” says Jenny explaining why she is no longer attached to an agency, but market opportunities are here. I am looking at home-ware,” she says.
She continues: “My work is interesting and when you look at the pieces, they areappealing. I can see them in the stores.”
Born in Jamaica, more than 35 years ago, Jenny has always been in the fashion business. She opened her own dressmaking shop in 1984, one year after completing a short certificate course in fashion designing at Jamaica Industrial Development Corporation (JIDC).
In 1992 she left behind a thriving dressmaking business — to visit England with no particular aim other than to see what the mother country was all about.
She intended to stay for three months but soon realised that there were opportunities available to her there.
Having done previous studies in pattern-making, grading and fashion designing under Stephanie Warner at JIDC and with years of experience in manufacturing garments, she met the requirements necessary for further study in those areas. Impressed by the English fashion scene, Jennifer decided that this was her chance. She decided to do a fashion degree but found out it was not going to be an easy road.
Unable to call on family and friends for financial support, Jenny worked to pay her way through school. The lack of finances meant that she had to start school one year after she preferred. During that time Jenny worked and saved for university.
Jennifer cleaned offices and stores, and waited tables while she did a basic course in art and two other courses.
When she got through to study at University West of England in 1993, she got a job at a chocolate factory where she worked afterclasses, full time during the summer and on public holidays.
“It was hard, especially in my second year. I could have turned and come home because it was hard to work and concentrate on my studies,” Callinder shares.
Jennifer left university with a bachelor’s degree in Fashion and Textiles and a postgraduate certificate in Knitted Garment Construction. Her initiation into knitted textiles occurred during her first year at university, where she had to do a project on textiles.
Although her piece did not win, it went to the final round where it was modelled in a fashion show “It was quite awesome, she says. Convinced, Jenny declared a major in knitting.
It was going to be a challenge for her, but striking out into unfamiliar territory and an unpredictable future was not new to the confident young woman.
“It’s just awesome that from a bit of yarn you can create a whole garment, she says.
“Not only the garment itself but creating the fabric, the initial phase…and you can print.”
Some may wonder why Jenny would returned to Jamaica with this particular skill, as there is very little need for warm clothing in our tropical climate.
“When I finished my degree, I knew initially that I would have to return to Jamaica, because of my status,” she points out. She thought to herself, “if this is where God is directing me, this is what I’m going to do, I will come home and take one day at a time.”
Jennifer was determined to avoid the anxiety of returning home, far away from the countries that could most employ her skills.
“I know there is no limitation selling my work abroad and here. I can teach, there are things I can do,” her tone matter-of-fact.
Jennifer’s confidence is based on the fact that as a Christian she looks to Jesus for direction.
“All the strength I have comes from God,” she says.