I consider myself artistic, and The Makehouse is my canvas.
There is a term for people with multiple talents and passions today: the “Renaissance person”. Back in the Renaissance, cultivating multiple skills, interests and artistic pursuits was a sign of good education and a purposeful life. Today, few people get to combine their multiple interests into a single career, but Jenny found a way to use her sewing and design skills, her teaching experience and her business acumen to start The Makehouse here in Victoria, B.C.
Born in Saskatoon, Jenny moved to the United Kingdom at 19 with $3000 in her pocket. She quickly had to find a job in a bakery to make ends meet.
“After a while I moved out of London and I got a job at a hotel where I could earn some tips. I learned that I was too honest on my resume and that I should beef it up, say that I could do things I hadn’t quite done before.
Using that strategy, I got a slightly better position in Brighton. I was a food and beverage supervisor, responsible for 12 people. I was 20.”
Jenny ended up spending 9 years in Brighton, moving from job to job, leading a double life of clubbing at night and work during the day.
However, her low-paid jobs barely kept her out of poverty. “I realized I could work minimum wage jobs for the rest of my life, or find something that I liked doing that would give me some satisfaction other than just a paycheck.”
Jenny’s first business, an indie fashion label called Enamore, was built with the help of The Prince’s Trust, a foundation that gives small, low-interest loans to entrepreneurs under 30. She made clothing and underwear using ecological materials like bamboo and hemp combined with vintage fabrics, a mix of eco-fashion and upcycling.
“I did those two things side by side. During my regular work, I was always thinking about the thing that I loved, which is what got me through. I was thinking about how to better my skills and sell my designs.”
Her first pieces sold through a small boutique specializing in vintage fashion and fabrics. Jenny remembers feeling immense joy when the owners called her to let her know they’d sold one of her pieces. “Months later I heard that somebody stole one of my pieces of clothing. I wasn’t even mad. I was like ‘someone wanted to steal something that I made!’”
This happiness at seeing her work being sold and worn kept Jenny going for a while, but she eventually had to give up on the business. Producing her clothing in the UK made it impossible to compete, price-wise, with other fashion labels. She finally closed up shop after re-locating to Bath.
During her time in Bath, she sewed children’s clothing in a studio owned by a local woman. Soon enough, looking to make extra money, she advertised a “Make your own knickers” course, which was an instant success. But with only 4 spaces, it was a little small for the growing popularity of her workshops.
“A local couple took over a bookstore down the street and opened this place called The Makery, and they asked me to give my underwear class there in this amazing space. It was brand new.
They eventually got really busy, so they asked me to teach more workshops and classes, even kids’ birthday parties. And before I knew it, I was working pretty close to full time hours and I eventually gave up sewing for the children’s wear store. It was the happiest I had ever been in my working life.”
It’s her experience at The Makery that gave Jenny the idea to open The Makehouse. In 2011, she moved back to Canada to be closer to her family. Victoria became her home. She worked as a nanny, in retail sales and at a Hermann’s Jazz Club with the dream in the back of her mind to open a studio of her own one day.
“At first I rented a small space in the back of a building where other artists worked, but it wasn’t the right place. I’ve always been attracted to this building [where The Makehouse currently lives], and when it became free, I just went and asked. I had nothing to lose by coming to find out.”
Since then, Jenny has been building her business by giving classes and workshops, providing open hours for people to come sew as well as selling sewing supplies and items from local artists and makers.
“I don’t have a definitive end goal because I’m always moving the post. The business keeps changing and evolving which keeps and makes me busy and happy.”
“The Makehouse is the culmination of everything that I’ve ever done and learned in my life, good and bad. It’s growing organically, just as my career has grown.”
With two part-time employees and contracted teachers giving classes on topics as diverse as quilting, pattern making and swimwear, The Makehouse is poised to grow as a space for crafty makers in Victoria.