National Black Women’s Network
Jenny Mein describes herself as an artist and designer first, but used her love of art and Jamaica to launch the elegant and stylish Jenny Mein Designs. In her own words she describes her collection as “Beautiful bone china tableware inspired by fruit & flowers of the Caribbean” which allows its owner to enter a world of gracious living.
What aroused your passion for botanical painting?
As a child, growing up in Jamaica, I was always drawing and painting especially during the long summer school holidays. I would spend most days outdoors with my pencils and watercolour paint box, sketching and painting the brightly coloured flowers, zinnias, hibiscus, morning glory and fruits, mangoes, pineapples and ackee growing in our large country garden. So many colours, textures, shapes. A veritable Garden of Eden to explore. One couldn’t help being inspired in that garden. There were many fruit trees as is typical of Jamaican gardens.
As a child, living on a sugar estate it is a very sheltered, secluded environment. We are miles away cut off from the freedom and excitement of towns, friends, and city life. We entertained ourselves by reading books, and comics, drawing, painting, riding our bicycles along the avenues of coconut trees and cane fields which surrounded the sugar estate and having picnics at the estate staff club. Now and then our parents would drive us to see a movie in a nearby town or to a friend’s birthday party.
What was the inspiration behind your first collection “Jamaican Ackee”?
I was working as a food editor for a lifestyle and travel magazine in London which focused on the Caribbean islands and I cooked and styled the food for the photoshoots.
One summer we were doing a lovely spread and I wanted to style the food on plates decorated with tropical fruit and flowers. Well, I looked in all the best shops and could not find a single plate with a tropical motif. This was the early 1990s. Immediately, realising there was a gap in the market, I decided I would produce my own botanical plates using my hand paintings of Caribbean fruit & flowers.
I decided my first collection would feature the ackee as it is decorative and the national fruit of Jamaica.
What was the reaction to your first collection?
I launched the Jamaican ackee collection at The Jamaica Expo Trade Exhibition held at Olympia in London in 1998.
It was wonderfully received as of course the collection is unique and so attracted a crowd of Jamaicans including the late Hon. Butch Stewart, founder of Sandals Hotels, Omar Davis, former Finance Minister in the Jamaican government and many more to my stall.
Subsequently, there were interviews and features in the Jamaican papers and magazines in London. It was a very encouraging response to the collection and a marvellous moment for me.
Did you write a business plan?
No. I jumped straight in and simply followed my passion for the project. Passion, determination and hard work can get one through the many challenges of a start-up business.
Explain the importance of being part of the Friends of Georgian Society of Jamaica
I believe it is very important to me to be a member of the Friends of the Georgian Society of Jamaica and I also sit on the activities committee.
I am passionate about preserving Jamaica’s beautiful and unique historic buildings, not only the buildings but also the 18th-century historic botanical gardens such as Cinchona in the Blue Mountains and Castleton in Bath, St. Thomas too. These are part of the culture and we should try to restore and preserve them for future generations.
I became a member of the Friends of the Georgian Society of Jamaica at the beginning when in the late 90s, two Jamaicans living in London, Dr Pamela Beshoff a former information attaché at the Jamaica High Commission in London and Patsy Robertson, director of information at the Commonwealth Secretariat founded Friends of the Georgian Society of Jamaica.
Sadly, both have since died but they left a lasting legacy and the Friends of the Georgian Society of Jamaica continue to thrive, raising much-needed funds for buildings in disrepair and attracting many new like-minded members.
You have a strong love for Jamaican Culture, so what made you use bone china to reflect this?
Yes. I do love Jamaican culture.
I use bone china for my tableware collections as I wanted the china to be of good quality and elegant. Bone china is considered to be the highest quality ceramic used in tableware as it is strong and durable for everyday use. It doesn’t break easily.
The hand-painted fruit and flower motifs make the china collections unique and extra special whilst promoting the fruit and flowers of Jamaica and the Caribbean.
What family memories have been the greatest influence on you?
Family is very important to me. My parents, especially my father have been a great influence.
He was a very strict disciplinarian with great intellect. He made sure we read widely and the bookcases in our living room were filled with books from the entire bound volumes of Encyclopaedia Britannica to contemporary literature. He was very keen on us having a good education and sent us to good private schools in Jamaica. With six children, I don’t know quite how he managed it but he was determined that we spoke well, had good manners, and were well-read.
I remember at the dinner table he would encourage us to participate in passionate discussions about any and everything. We each had to share our opinion and speak up. We had to read the national newspapers that day so we could have something relevant to say otherwise he would stare witheringly at us if we sat and had nothing to contribute.
He was an industrial chemist and was in charge of the production of rum and sugar at the estate. He would often invite us to his laboratory taking us on tours to see the sugar and rum-making process. After which, we were rewarded with hot sugar poured into paper cones from an ancient industrial pipe.
You are a bit of a foodie, how have you incorporated this into your business?
Well, it seems to have been unwittingly part of the process.
From writing about food to producing tableware. The perfect creative business for someone like me who enjoys entertaining, cooking and laying a beautiful table with flowers, pretty china and glass for a dinner party.
How has your sector changed since you started?
It has changed enormously. When I started in the 90s there were very few botanical tableware on the market, the most popular then was Portmeirion.
Now you enter a department store and the china department is awash with a variety of floral tableware from small and large companies. It is quite incredible.
Even so, Jenny Mein Designs is the go-to place for good-quality tropical botanical tableware.
What characteristics and habits do you think have contributed the most to your success?
My father was always saying to us "apply yourselves, apply yourselves". ...."Don't let anyone stop you from following your dreams"! He gave me confidence. Growing up in an idyllic although solitary environment far from the mainstream we were always going to be different.
I spent many hours reading as a child. I was a voracious reader, I always had the desire to learn and explore other cultures, and being creative, intuitive, and imaginative, I was not at all interested in the mundane. I wanted things to be perfect in their simplicity. The quest for perfection is always going to be frustrating but I am also determined, have self-belief and I never give up if I can help it.
These characteristics have led me to produce my tableware collections not thinking too much of the price involved in producing them but the satisfaction gained in creating something unique simple, and elegant.
What plans for the future?
I shall continue producing my botanical bone china collections as I enjoy drawing, painting, and designing. I love the creative process.
I am also thinking of producing textiles such as tablecloths, cushion covers, etc. all of these of course will be inspired by my memories of the flowers and fruits growing in my beautiful childhood family garden in Jamaica.
If you’re feeling inspired by the designs of Jenny connect with her on Instagram @Jennymeindesigns or visit www.jennymeindesigns.com to see her wide range of her rich elegant collections.