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Meet the Judges: Pip Jenkins, Head of Design, John Smedley

29 June 2016 by Roger Tredre

Pip Jenkins, Head of Design at John Smedley, has joined the judging panel for Texprint 2016. We spoke to her about her work.

It’s one of the world’s best-known knitwear companies, with a reputation for quality and creative design. John Smedley was established in 1784 and has the oldest manufacturing factory in the world based at Lea Mills, Derbyshire. The firm’s creative energy is emphasised through its participation in London Fashion Week and London Collections: Men.

Here, Pip Jenkins explains why we need to develop new talent. Jenkins herself joined John Smedley straight from university – and never looked back.

 

How important is it for you to support the next generation of designers?

The next generations represent the future of the fashion industry. Without them, we won’t be moving forward, so it is incredibly important for people in the industry to invest time and pass on knowledge when working together. This will ensure we get the best from young designers coming into the industry.

We have many work placements coming through the design studio at John Smedley. In fact this is how I got my permanent job here. In my final year at Kingston University, we took part in an industry project with John Smedley, which I won, and I had the opportunity to work with them for two weeks to develop the final designs of my project into their latest collection.

I was then offered the year placement and later offered the men’s designer role – and now I’m the Head Designer. So I truly see the importance of working with the next generation.

Every year we also sponsor a Qest scholar to future their education. We make sure we have a close relationship with the scholar and support them throughout the development of not just the collections but also their brand, and how they represent themselves.

 

What do you look for in great textile design?

It’s got to be fresh new and existing, something that’s testing the boundaries of age-old processes and brings textile design into a new light.

Why is the UK educational system so good at producing design talent?

I personally feel it’s because the courses are well rounded and the tutors in many universities are from the industry. I know when I was studying at Kingston all of my tutors were still working in the industry on their own lines or for high-end brands. The industry in the UK is also very open to students studying – so many brands and designers offer work placements, so you can learn as well as being hands-on in the industry.

Can you explain the parameters of your job?

As Head Designer at John Smedley, I oversee the men’s, unisex and women’s collections working with the Marketing and Design Director on the creative concept, then filtering this out the rest of the team. I also work very hands-on with product as the design studio is based in the factory. That is a great development plus, as I can see and tweak my designs at every stage of development. This flexibility and close relationship with production really allows us to push the boundaries of traditional knit techniques.

I oversee a team of three alongside many design placements and we produce six collections a year so we’re always busy! Another bonus of working within a smaller team is that I am able to attend and contribute to our campaign shoots and shows at London Collections: Men and London Fashion Week.

 

What’s a typical day like for you?

Every day is quite different and my role can depend on where we are in the season but at the moment we are currently in the development stage of the AW17 collection. Building spec packs, swatching new textures and patterns, colouring up the collection, working with production on price point and making sure the designs are as high quality as we expect, ordering the new colours and yarns ready to go in the sampling.

But every week is different – two weeks ago I was in London launching the men’s SS17 collection at LC:M.

Where's the growth coming in the business at the moment?

At the moment we are seeing growth coming from our newly introduced unisex collection ‘Singular’, with limited colours, unisex fits and a simple honeycomb texture in our extrafine merino. This product is almost seasonless and translates well for every market we work with around the world. The collection has sold over 3,000 units since its launch in June 2015 and is stocked by the likes of Harrods, Beams, Harvey Nichols, Liberty, Selfridges and many more the world over.

What are the specific challenges of designing for John Smedley?

It’s about pushing the techniques and fibres to the limits and making sure we bring the most luxurious and timeless products to our customer. Fashion can be seen as becoming too throwaway. We are here to make knitwear that goes beyond trends where true craftsmanship is everlasting.

Where do you find your inspiration?

We find our inspiration from a range of things. The latest collection, just about to launch in stores for AW16, draws inspiration from the passion and craftsmanship seen throughout the British abstract movement and in particular the work of pivotal artists Peter Lanyon, Patrick Heron and Victor Pasmore. 

Following that we have our second creative series, ‘The Architecture of Knit’, which recently launched at London Collections: Men and took inspiration from the hard lines and attention to construction of the British Brutalism style of architecture.

We are always looking to champion our brand pillars in new and exciting ways, with attention to British craftsmanship in its many forms at the core of what we do.

 

 

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