Design is in Jenny’s blood; indeed she’s been creating garments and artworks most of her life. “My mother taught me to sew when I was very young and I did lots of sewing courses during school holidays,” she says. She also won bronze in a Chinese art competition when her teacher submitted one of her artworks.
Federation, which caters to both men and women, is based on quality construction and quirky, hand-drawn illustrations. “We were always focused on the bigger picture even though I began by sewing the samples at home on my machine,” says Jenny.
She also started the children’s label Minti with her brother Nick [Joblin]. “We started doing Minti because we always laughed about being trapped in children’s bodies and what we would wear. A lot of the time it was not what we saw kids wearing, thus our point of difference.”
“When we started Federation we needed to hold down jobs to sustain it,” remembers Jenny. “I had completed my fashion degree and was already working in the industry and had been for some time, so when we began the brand I was also working in pattern making and holding down a retail job. Then, after the days work I’d work until 3am on Federation.” Two years in, the business was able to stand-alone. “We went from working at home to having a workroom and a small team,” says Jenny.
When we started Federation we needed to hold down jobs to sustain it
NEW ZEALAND FASHION WEEK
Federation hit the runway in the New Generation category at New Zealand Fashion Week (NZFW) 2002 where Selfridges picked them up. “They were considerable orders and it was great verification for us,” says Jenny. “It was amazing, but it was also about taking the right direction. I believe you’re only as good as your next season so we had to make no calls as well as yes calls.”
Returning to Fashion Week this year to show the 2017 Winter collection was a significant occasion for Federation after six years of not showing. They received rave reviews and the support and reception of the upcoming collection for next year puts them on a best foot forward.
business and babies
While the business was growing, Jenny also gave her first ‘baby’ a sister and two brothers: Ryder (11), Monty (9), and Dusty (7). “It’s hectic but I feel so blessed to have them,” says Jenny. “In hindsight I probably didn’t end up having any time off - I remember doing costings in hospital! However, having my children was very much a deliberate decision and I’ve made them as much a priority as possible. It’s one of the most important reasons I wanted to be in business.”
As any entrepreneurial mother will know, the plate spinning is definitely there. “At the end of the day I have these little humans, staff and a business,” says Jenny. “As women we think we’ve got to be perfect, but it’s tricky. Some days I think ‘oh yes I’ve got this #girlboss thing down perfectly’ and others days I definitely don’t. And there are days when I feel like I’m the best mum in the world and others the worst. There’s a layer no one talks about. Massive. Frickin’. Responsibility. That said I’ve always known exactly what I wanted. I wanted a business, and I wanted to be a mother.”
“Maybe that’s why women’s coffee group never really worked for me,” says Jenny. “I did go along to one and the group included a lot of stay at home mothers which is absolutely great if you can do it. However, I’d find they’d be really stressed because their children were getting a tooth.” She couldn’t relate. “I felt so far removed from that because I was thinking about lots of others things beside the children’s teeth. Most of my friends worked in jobs where they were paid a sum for a set time when they had children. Other women I met in business tended to be older with older children so I didn’t have a lot of motherhood camaraderie.”
As women we think we’ve got to be perfect... Some days I think ‘oh yes I’ve got this #girlboss thing down perfectly’ and others days I definitely don’t
a perfect storm
For Jenny, there have been many times the Federation journey has been a sometimes smooth, sometimes bumpy rollercoaster ride. But the most challenging times emerged in 2014.
“We had 12 years of blood sweat and tears, but during that time we made a lot of really good decisions. Sales were good and we had low overheads,” says Jenny. “Then my first marriage ended in 2012. We continued to work together until end of 2015, but in 2014 customs held onto a container of our stock and we had to give them funds to release it, which ended up having effects we couldn’t control.”
Unknown to Jenny the shipment had been undervalued and the duty underpaid. “The ship contained the winter line and we had to meet orders, so the bank gave us a temporary loan of the value of the shipment,” says Jenny. “We all assumed it would be resolved a lot quicker than it was. However, 18 months later it was still under review and the bank required repayment. At the same time there had to be an end point to my husband and I working together. All of these factors found us in ever decreasing circles and we decided putting the business into voluntary liquidation was the only option, with a focus on doing the best for everyone”.
“It was a crazy time,” remembers Jenny. “I was in China seeing suppliers as well as dealing with the bank and the lawyer back here. We knew we had to draw the line somewhere. It was the first winter collection I’d designed alone and we had the best sales we’d received in years. But at that point nothing we tried could make the numbers work. It was difficult.”
Having made the decision to liquidate Jenny focused on paying her staff and creditors. “I worked with the liquidators to keep business as usual until we found an outcome. I felt a huge sense of obligation – we’re on this journey to do the best we can - and I was working for the best outcome for the brand,” she says. “We put it up for sale and there were 35 interested parties. A business is about the intellectual property, fixed assets and stock but a lot of the offers involved me working in the business, which I was open to but it wasn’t ideal. I started to feel like a bit of a chattel. The serious options were looking slim and the liquidators asked me if I’d thought about buying it myself and I said, ‘Maybe, its looking like it could be worth a try’.”
“Whatever happened I had liabilities so I sold my house. It wasn’t a good time to have a mortgage and a couple of our friends are real estate agents so they showed people through on the down low. We got some amazing offers, but it was heart-wrenching as it was a house I’d designed myself,” says Jenny.
The money from the house sale went to purchase the business and cover Jenny’s personal liabilities and creditors too. “I became an employee of the liquidators,” says Jenny. “I was focused on making it as positive as possible for everyone. The staff were coming to me after reading certain articles and asking if they were going to get paid and I’d say of course you are, it will all work out somehow. I’m so proud of achieving that and reducing debt during the time prior and during liquidation too.”
In the end Jenny worked with the bank, liquidators and accountant to put in an offer. “I realised how strong the brand was and how passionate I still was about it,” says Jenny. The outcome was successful and saw the birth of Federation 2.0. “We had great relationships with our factories and we were able to turn our winter order around quickly so we didn’t lose momentum,” she says.
It seems that one of the mistakes the company made was not cross-checking supplier invoices with the customs invoices, which would have shown a discrepancy. “The factory sent invoices directly to the shipping agent and post the transaction would come back to our accounts department who, in hindsight, should have been reconciling them back,” says Jenny.
“Business has four different pillars: finance, creating, marketing and systems and I now believe it’s crucial to be au fait with them all. I also feel it’s very important to have a constitution in business, particularly when you’re in a 50 percent partnership. We’ve got an advisory board now and we have quarterly business reviews without fail.”
You learn lessons you can’t learn in a book. There were very hard days but there have been good times too... like marrying my amazing husband Ben
you can do it!
It’s been a rough few years but Jenny is philosophical. “I have had quite a few moments in life I didn’t think I could live through and I did. For example when my Mum passed away when I was a teenager I wished time would stop, but it doesn’t and you do go on though its not easy” she says. “When things were so tough with the business I thought to myself I lived through that so I will probably live through this. You learn lessons you can’t learn in a book. There were very hard days but there have been good times too. Last year I married again to my amazing husband Ben. I’ve got my wonderful children. I’ll have a house again or not. I’ve learnt things are just things. I’ve got a business that I love. I’m just focused on enjoying the things that drive me and enjoying the journey.”