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Nest Interview with Hannah Jenkinson, Founder and Creative Designer at HJK Women

In fall 2017, the Nest community fundraised to bring Mahmuda Begum to Nest’s Third Artisan Leadership Summit in New York City. And so Mahmuda made her first journey outside Bangladesh, alongside her husband, Raihan Ali, representing their company Thanapara Swallows.

Not only does Thanapara Swallows produce gorgeous textiles and garments using handloom weaving, sewing and embroidery, the business is focused on generating employment opportunities for women in its community. In a country with some of the highest rates of child marriage and adolescent motherhood, with 48% of Bangladeshi women reporting that their husbands make decisions about their own wellbeing, Thanapara’s work is noble and much needed.

As members of the Nest Guild, Mahmuda and Raihan have been able to make use of Nest’s myriad learning and mentorship opportunities aimed at assisting Thanapara Swallows in successfully scaling its operations to meet brand demand. And brand demand is coming.

Through Nest’s transparent sourcing program, Nest was able to introduce Thanapara Swallows to HJK Women, a young RTW brand pushing knitwear boundaries with its modern use of traditional craftsmanship and unexpected material combinations.

Now, as Hannah Jenkinson, the brand’s Founder and Creative Designer, unveils her Fall 2018 collection to the world, we are delighted to chat with her about her newest collection, working with Thanapara Swallows, and where her experiments with fashion’s limitless repertoire of techniques will transport her next.

Nest: Hannah, what can we expect to see in your fall 2018 collection and how do you want a woman to feel when she wears these clothes?

Hannah: Hi, Thanks so much for having me here. The Fall 18 Collection plays on scale, simplicity and fun: candyfloss effect Italian yarns hand knitted in oversize stitches, minimal dress silhouettes in fully-fashioned fine-gauge knits and luscious chunky hand embroidered textures in modern oversize shapes. I want women to feel elegant, cozy, relaxed and very special putting on every piece in the collection.

Nest: You are known for incorporating a very stunning mash-up of craft techniques in your collections. Which of these techniques do you find yourself gravitating towards time again and which are next on your list to explore?

Hannah: Hand Embroidery is always something I come back to again and again primarily because I love doing it. I enjoy the simplicity of needle and thread and using that to explore and experiment with new ideas. I get a great sense of wellbeing being absorbed in creating new textures and embroidery techniques. I don’t really follow any pattern or specific technique – it is usually a very intuitive combination of material, yarn and stitch until I hit on an idea I like. I love Crochet too for its simplicity. It is essentially the simplest loop you can make, but in combination with repetition and material choice it is very versatile and exciting. Applique is a technique I have not used for a while, but I am planning some experiments with it for Spring!

Nest: Almost every member of the Nest team has a story about his or her first encounter with craftsmanship, and it often begins at home at a young age, watching a mother or grandmother. Do you remember when you first fell for making things with your hands?

Hannah: I learned crochet, knitting and cross-stitch from both my grandparents and their friends from age 4. My Grandma would make these beautiful cross-stitch tapestries, which were all over her house – in frames, cushions and hangings. My other Grandmother was an excellent knitter and I still have some of the Aran sweaters she made for my parents, which I love. I wish they were still around to lend a hand, to create together and to continue to learn from.

Nest: In working with Thanapara Swallows, how did you let their techniques influence your design and what strategies did you employ to effectively translate your design to the artisans? 

Hannah: I felt like working with Thanapara Swallows was absolutely meant to be for HJK. When I first got started I was having a lot of trouble trying to find people to recreate the techniques I wanted to use. This kind of handwork is a bit of a dying skill in our modern world and I really needed people who knew how to replicate the techniques I use. I sent Thanapara some embroideries I had made myself and they were able to reproduce them beautifully. The sweaters take 48 hours of hand embroidery, so they are incredibly labor intensive and, to me, the epitome of a true luxury piece.

Nest: We often talk about the handmade as perfect in its imperfections. Were there any unexpected surprises along the way that turned into “happy accidents”?

 Hannah: The embroidery technique I used for this collection requires many threads of the same yarn to be used at once for the luxurious, chunky effect I was going for. The threads all have to be tied off resulting in sporadic knots, usually hidden in the back of the fabric; however, once I saw the embroidered material, I found that the back was by far the more beautiful side! So we turned it around and used that as the face. I love to be able to see the process and work that goes into pieces like this – and to show that each one is unique in its own way.

Nest: How does the Thanapara Swallows social mission and Nest mission as a non-profit inform your work? Is social impact a factor you consider when you conceive of a new collection or look?

Hannah: Absolutely, the social impact is at the forefront of the design process. I design and develop every piece of the collection knowing exactly where it will be made, and take into account the facilities and skills of the people making them. It is a top priority for HJK to work with Thanapara Swallows and Artisans like them to create special and uniquely crafted pieces, that cannot be replicated by machine. Thanapara makes my work possible, and I am so happy to be able to work with them knowing that the artisans are supported by our partnership. Being able to be proud of how every piece is made is why I started HJK.

Nest: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us!

Hannah: Thank you so much.

For a first look at the HJK Women fall 2018 collection, head to the Nest Instagram as we reveal our favorite looks alongside behind-the-scenes production shots from Thanapara Swallows!


Photography: Carolina Palmgren / @carolinapalmgren

Model: Jennifer Pugh /