July 13, 2016
Jenny Lemons takes the term “wearing your food” to a completely new level of cuteness! Jennie Lennick is the designer behind this food-inspired, block printed collection of clothing and accessories. The combination of simply patterned fabric with a pop of color makes each piece a perfect statement for summer.
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting story behind it?
When I was in college, a friend of mine sent me a letter but she was unsure of how to spell my name, Jennie Lennick. She addressed it to Jenny Lemons and I thought it was so cute! Over the years I’ve used Jenny Lemons as a pseudonym; I was DJ Jenny Lemons on a radio station for a stint and did performance art in graduate school as Jenny Lemons, an extra cheerful crafty lady. When I decided to start a business, it was obvious what the name would be.
Have you always been passionate about design?
I’ve always been interested in design and building things I want to exist in the world. When I was a little kid, I would sew my own clothes, build huge forts in my family’s yard in Minnesota, and cover my tree house walls with drawings. I was a very artistic and creative child. When it was time to figure out what I would study in college, I moved to study Drawing, Painting, and Printmaking at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. After finishing my BFA, I relocated to San Francisco to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, where I earned a MFA in painting.
Why did you start working in this particular craft?
I started sewing when I was 6 years old. I remember making my first outfit – pleated jeans with a matching denim vest. If you can’t tell, it was in the 90s. Since then, sewing became a passion of mine. As a teenager, I became obsessed with altering thrift store clothing into something different and customized. I started my first business at that time; I created food-themed stuffed animals and sold them in boutiques in Minneapolis.
I’ve always enjoyed expressing myself with the clothing I wear. Sewing came easy to me and I appreciated the freedom it gave me to manipulate fabric to make something new and different.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
I love natural and beautiful fabrics like cotton, linen, and hemp. I also love graphic prints but had a difficult time finding pre-printed fabric that met my standards. I researched textile manufactures and screen printers to reproduce my designs, but my business was unable to handle the large minimums required to order printed fabric. My solution was to create a garment made from beautiful fabric that is individually block printed and hand painted.
All of my garments are wearable paintings or works of art. I have chosen to create clothing that is beautiful and comfortable, with a purposely-boxy shape. It is most important to me that the textile is showcased first and the silhouettes second. All of my garments are entirely handmade by me in my studio. I cut, block print, hand paint, and sew each item one by one, making them entirely unique and full of lots of human energy.
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
I’m fortunate at this point to not have many major failures. My business is so new that I haven’t had a chance to make too many mistakes. However, I’ve created several products and art pieces that no one wants to buy which I end up giving away or donating. Failures tend to be very small since it is just me alone. I’m trying to control my growth; to be slow and very careful.
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?
I have been an artist for my entire life and I’ve been a working artist for the last 10 years. By putting my focus on my business, I’ve had to mostly let go of my fine art and conceptual art practice for the time being. It’s impossible for me to put all the energy, love, and time into creating conceptual art while making beautiful, well thought out products at the same time.
What has been your favorite moment since creating your business?
I love seeing my garments out in the world and hearing stories from my customers who let me know when they spot one of my pieces. One of my customers told me that when they see a Jenny Lemons top on another woman, they feel like they are part of a group of like-minded people: this other person supports local artists and the community. It’s like seeing someone else wearing your favorite band’s shirt.
Additionally, my teaching practice has been growing alongside my business. I love teaching other people how to sew. If Jenny Lemons didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be as legitimate of a sewing instructor. I think it’s super fun to make a traditional craft more accessible to people who weren’t necessarily raised doing it.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
The food culture in San Francisco greatly influences my work. The day I moved to San Francisco from Minnesota, I had a taco from a random taqueria. It was the best vegetarian taco I had in my life at that point. The produce was fresh, the beans were perfectly seasoned, and the avocado was so creamy. It was nothing like the kind of food I could find in the Midwest for $5 or less. I knew I was experiencing something really extraordinary.
I love the fresh produce and food that is all around me and how accessible it is to the people who live here. It is aesthetically beautiful, really special, and should be not be taken for granted. I loved living in Minnesota, but our growing season was only three months long. All the produce we were eating for the majority of the year was shipped from California. I feel really lucky to be in a place where I can enjoy such wonderful local food every single day.
What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?
I’ve been avidly sewing for over 20 years and I have an educational background in art and design; marrying the two was only natural. It’s really important to practice my craft and constantly push myself to learn new things about my trade. I’m fortunate to find a business that encompasses all the aspects of my life that I’m most passionate about.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
I’ve always been an artist and all I’ve ever wanted to do is make things. As a creative person, it is difficult for me to have a “regular” job; I get bored and offer too many suggestions.
A year ago, I participated in my first Renegade Fair and had a lot of success selling my handmade clothing. That experience gave me the confidence to develop my business further. Last winter I took an intensive business course where I wrote a business plan to help prepare for the future. I am ready to give Jenny Lemons all the care, attention, and love it needs to grow.
What are some inspirations for your work?
I’m inspired by beautiful produce and food culture. Throughout my twenties I worked in various industry jobs focused on natural and organic foods, like a worker-owned bakery, an organic food co-op, and a collectively run organic farm. I believe natural food and clothing are good for our bodies, the health of the planet, and the economy.
I also love color and am influenced by children’s clothing. I wanted to challenge myself to offer happy prints to women that aren’t childish and feel as if I’ve come up with a wearable product.
What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?
Talk to each other and be friendly! Your competition may be the person who can answer every question you have and can help build your business. People generally want to help each other and build each other up. It can be lonely to be a artist/maker, and support systems built of people who actually know what you’re going through are imperative. Never stop learning and be committed to improving your craft. Always try to make your product better.