We at City Wharf Private Wealth are passionate about highlighting, celebrating, and supporting female entrepreneurs. Introducing #WomanAlpha, an exclusive series of business interviews to inspire and empower others.
Discover successful businesswomen who have taken control of their future to provide for themselves, their families and for others. We were lucky enough to interview one of these inspiring individuals. Introducing…Victoria Ann Jenkins from Unhidden.
Hi Victoria Ann Jenkins, let’s start by getting to know you. Can you please tell us a little bit about you and your background before starting your business?
Hi I am Victoria, and I studied fashion design at Istituto Marangoni (London campus) graduating with a first in 2008. After interning for a few months I got my first paid work as a pattern cutter at Goddiva. Over time I began to include elements to my role that a garment technologist would do so when I left to work for a supplier it was as a garment technologist.
A garment technologist is responsible for ensuring the fit, construction and measurements of a garment are correct before instructing the factory to start production. I worked for suppliers and then moved over to brands working with Jack Wills and Allsaints. My last permanent role was at Victoria Beckham.
In the background, I was having severe health struggles. In 2012 I nearly died after an undiagnosed ulcer burst in my stomach, and since then I have had multiple treatments, surgeries and hospital stays. It is these experiences that lead me to create Unhidden.
Thank you Victoria Ann Jenkins, that was a great introduction. Can you please tell us in your own words how and why did you decided to change direction and become a founder?
I decided to become a founder to manage my own health and pursue my idea. I knew I couldn’t work for someone else full time, and it was the only way to avoid the stress and pressure that exists in the fashion industry. I didn’t want to continue to perform regardless of my health issues. I couldn’t find anyone doing what I had thought up, and knew I was perhaps best placed to execute it well.
What has been the story behind your success and what led to your ‘aha’ moment?
I was in hospital in 2016 and on the same ward there was an incredible woman, who had started a cancer survival group for women. The woman donated her spare colostomy bags to Africa. She generally had an air of such positivity even though she had so many tubes on her body. These tubes meant that she had to get naked every time the doctors came to speak with her. She was also uncomfortable in almost all clothing.
I wanted to help and I needed to manage my own health better to do that, so I went freelance and founded Unhidden in 2017. It has been a slow pace to get to this point because of my health and needing to work for others but Covid has given me the time to focus and the time not spent commuting meant I’ve had more energy as well.
What’s been your biggest hurdle so far and how did you overcome it? (Please kindly tell us about some of the challenges you’ve faced, what happened, how did you overcome it, what did you learn, and would you do anything differently?)
Sourcing a manufacturing partner was a challenge. We simply couldn’t afford to make in London as the sample prices were fair but of course very high. Thanks to the contacts I made during one of many courses I took this year, I found the perfect partner who had close ties with Bulgaria and things have all worked out so far.
Another hurdle has been fabric. I did not want to contribute to the fashion industries’ dreadful pollution of the world. So this has taken time to find the right solution. We are using dead stock cloth so we will not be having MORE fabric made we will only use what we can find left over from other companies.
Unfortunately another hurdle was how to shoot our samples during a pandemic with potentially immunocompromised models. We asked for volunteers and I was so humbled to have been able to get twelve people able to attend. We took all precautions and no one got sick thankfully. However it did present a number of challenges not least getting everyone safely to and inside the studio.
If there was one piece of advice you would say to another founder or someone thinking about starting a business, what would it be and why?
Outsource what you can. Learning to code so you can design your own website is all well and good, but it’s also best to lean on your strengths and skills that are needed for your business. You do not need to do it all, in fact it is exhausting to try. It’s more empowering to work with others so you can focus on the areas you are most knowledgeable in.
We’re nearly finished this interview so let’s throw in some quick ‘inspire’ questions. 1) What has been your biggest achievement and proudest moment so far and why? 2) What is your favourite quote? And lastly… 3) What motivates you on a daily basis?
1. Seeing the collection on real bodies, bodies that have never been considered by the fashion industry, and seeing the smiles and the fun on the models’ faces as well as seeing the adaptations really did work and help them- that is a memory I will always treasure.
2. My favourite quote is…
Success isn’t about the money you make. It’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.Michelle Obama
3. My community- Every day I get closer to helping more people access stylish and comfortable clothing so they can live with dignity and self expression that has been denied from them too long.
And last, but not least…What have you learned from the year 2020 and what do you look forward to in 2021?
Setting dates is a brilliant motivator! Always having a goal to work towards makes achieving it easier. Investing in myself to learn things I knew nothing about has made me much more confident in so many areas of my life. I managed to build a website and integrate it with elements. This all was a foreign language to me in January! 2021 will hopefully see our reach increase and even begin to meet people for real life discussions about the best way to help them live in comfort.
“Thank you, Victoria Ann Jenkins for sharing your story.”
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