Nina Hopkins is one of the few women we have interviewed who can boast not only one but two of the best wardrobes in Britain; she quite literally has two wardrobes (one for dressy clothes and the other for casualwear, of course). Inside Hopkins’ modern, newly renovated house is a minimalist’s dream, with plenty of charcoal grey and clean white spaces that act as the ideal backdrop for her vibrant wardrobe. But don’t expect to find anything “pretty” inside. “Ugly shoes are my passion,” Hopkins smiles, and whilst just what constitutes an “ugly” shoe is entirely subjective, this statement gives fair warning to expect the unexpected when looking through her wardrobes.
As creative director of East London–founded ethical fashion label Jakke, it makes sense that Hopkins’ wardrobes would be full of the statement pieces that the brand is known for. You’ll have almost certainly seen Jakke’s colour-pop faux-fur coats on Instagram, or passed its sleek vegan leather separates in the street, but Hopkins’ everyday uniform has to be just as functional as it is fashionable, and alongside the long coats and shearling are plenty of flat shoes and trainers for a life lived on the go. And a hectic schedule is something that Hopkins is all too familair with.
On the day of our shoot, her kitchen is opened up to the Who What Wear UK crew as well as the Jakke team and her friends and family, and whilst Hopkins calmly sits in the eye of the storm replying to emails and signing off on images from the latest Jakke campaign, it would be impossible to tell just how uncomfortable the prospect of being on the other side of the camera makes her. “I’m going to try and channel Tracee Ellis Ross energy!” she laughs, and channel it she does. And, if her affinity for bold colours and statement shoes doesn’t immediately make you think of Ellis Ross, I don’t know what will.
Talking through Hopkins’ clothes is like diving into a veritable treasure trove of pulse-quickening designer buys, timeless investment pieces and high-street gems, and as we discuss the highs and lows of running a business and her goals for the future, I learned a valuable lesson or two about standing out from the crowd and proving naysayers wrong in style.
You’re a born-and-bred Londoner; what would you say is quintessential “London style” and how does it differ from anywhere else?
Years ago I think it would have been really easy to differentiate between London style and say, American. But now I feel like with social media, everything becomes a bit more blurred. London is still more daring and risky and all about the individual. But when I go to Milan, for example, they’re super polished and well-dressed, and Paris is always really cute. But there’s such a melting pot in London and so many different cultural influences that I think we can be more individual. It makes it easier to just be who you are. Having said that, I love the “quiet luxury” look—it’s like, if you know, you know. Maybe it’s because of the recession, but I’m just feeling like we don’t need to be wearing loads of logos anymore. Instead, Jakke is about being bold, and the Jakke customer would definitely wear a statement coat with her quiet-luxury outfit.
So tell us, how did your career in fashion begin and what inspired you to set up Jakke?
It’s been a long road. I began my academic journey at the London College of Fashion, although my love for fashion was ignited around the age of 8. It all started when my mother bought me a fashion wheel, and I would enthusiastically colour in designs with my crayons, constantly modifying and experimenting. Also, around that time, there was a TV program that may not be familiar to most people now, called The Clothes Show. It aired on Sunday afternoons, and one of its hosts was a Black woman called Brenda Emmanus, and I was in awe of her. I was captivated by everything she did and especially loved when she went behind the scenes at catwalk shows—I was just so obsessed.
I vividly remember telling my mum, “I’m going to be a fashion designer” and her response, which I can now admit without offence, was a somewhat sceptical “Yeah, all right, all right.” Interestingly, I’ve found that the more people doubt me, the stronger my determination becomes. I successfully gained admission to LCF to do a degree, and although I became a mother during my third year, remarkably I managed to graduate the following year whilst juggling the demands of motherhood and academics.
Following graduation, I secured a position with a company that involved cutting fabric. About six months later, an opportunity arose when one of the designers departed, and I begged the company to allow me to try my hand at designing. Once I was given the chance, it didn’t take long before they were selling my designs to H&M. My first order was for 25,000 pairs of pink satin combat trousers. Despite their initial scepticism, I had confidence in my abilities, and I continued to climb the ranks within the supply side of the fashion industry. However, as I matured, I found it disheartening working for the high street and having to rip off the designers that I admired.
It was then that I identified a gap in the market, and that’s when Jakke was born. I had noticed that there were low-quality faux-fur products on the market, juxtaposed with the high-end fur showcased on Gucci’s runways, for example. It dawned on me that there was a void in the premium sector. I drew inspiration from figures like Jane Shepherdson [former Whistles CEO], who was making waves at Whistles at the time, and I saw an opportunity to create fur coats in a similar vein. Armed with a small collection, I managed to secure interest from Urban Outfitters, and from there, Jakke took off, swiftly finding its place in the fashion world.
When you came up with the idea of Jakke, was sustainability a key factor from the beginning?
The main thing for me was my love of animals, so it was always going to be an ethical brand that didn’t use real fur, and being a vegan brand was important to me, too. As Jakke started to take off I’d get emails from people that would say, “It’s great that you really care for animals, but what about the environment?”, and so I listened and did my own research. There’s no brand that can be 100% sustainable—it’s literally impossible—but you can decide to be less harmful. That’s what we try to do with Jakke. I was sourcing materials in China recently and the supplier was getting really frustrated with me. She’d say, “I found this yarn and it’s 40% polyester”, but if it’s not recycled polyester, then no, I can’t have it. We know that even recycled polyester is going to go to landfill at some point and take 200 years to biodegrade, but it’s better to have circular polyester that’s already been used than have fresh polyester being made. We’re now trying to develop fabrics made from biomaterials like bamboo—I’ve found a faux leather fabric that has a bamboo backing which is better than plastic polyester. We’re always trying to do better, without using it as a marketing tool.
Jakke debuted at London Fashion Week earlier this year to huge acclaim. What did you learn from that experience and what can we expect next?
What can you expect? I’ll always make it bigger and better. So whatever I did last season, I want to outdo. It’s growth, isn’t it? But I was so pleased with our first presentation. We’ve already got ideas for our next one, but it’s hard work, and you don’t sleep. [Now], I understand the process so much more. I book models all the time, but this time I had a casting director and she was amazing. The process was awful though. To have 150 models in my office and say, “Yes. No. Yes. No” to their faces was harsh. They’re used to it, but I’m not. It’s those little things. So I think now I know and I can prepare myself a bit better. I’ve got a bigger team now, so more people to help as well, because I was running around like crazy that morning, and I don’t want to miss anything; I need to be present and enjoy it. I just want people to be excited, and I try to think how I would want to feel walking into that room. Chrissy [Ford, fashion and social media expert] said to me, “I’ve just come from three presentations in New York and the models were just standing there, but this is amazing.” That’s the level that we want to be at; we want to be known for doing really cool concepts.
If we looked through your wardrobe on any given day, what would we expect to find?
Mainly staple pieces. I’m one of those people who knows that there’s a gap in my wardrobe for a black blazer, so I’ll go and buy one. I knew that the Jakke Christmas party was coming up, so I went looking for shoes and saw those [Loewe silver bow heels]. But I wouldn’t just buy a pair of shoes in the hopes that I might be going somewhere nice. I prefer a capsule wardrobe, and especially now we’ve got a sustainability officer at Jakke, I’m more conscious of my shopping habits. I try to keep away from fast fashion, and where some of my friends might want 10 amazing but cheaper bags, I’d rather have that one key bag for the season, and I’ll get my money’s worth out of it!
Which clothing brands do you think best represent your style?
I like a bit of everything. Designer streetwear is so me, but I also like the simplicity of like Jil Sander and COS. I’m definitely not a “sexy dresser”; I’m quite masculine in the way that I dress, I guess, but I love to experiment with colour. I’m still trying to get there with prints, but I think I’m more into blocks of colour. I don’t think I’ve even got a floral dress in my wardrobe other than the one I wore to my son’s christening, but I’m just not into “pretty” things. I’m far more dynamic than a romantic.
You mentioned that you were recently in China sourcing materials. If you’re not travelling, what does a typical day look like for you?
I don’t think there’s ever a typical day! It could be anything from having a shoot day like this to sitting in the office all day going through designs. Every day is completely different.
How long does the process take from coming up with the concept, designing the pieces and sourcing the materials, to manufacture and delivery?
It takes quite a while, and to be honest, we’re having to give ourselves more and more time because we’re cutting it to the edge. So at the moment, we’re looking at A/W 24. We started it in July, and we’ll have six months for design, sourcing, getting the samples correct, then we’ll sell it to retailers for three months—January, February and March—before it goes into production and hits the stores in August. The idea for S/S 24 came from moving to this house and finding out that I really liked mid-century furniture. So when I started to look for retro pieces, I realised that I was in a kind of Bauhaus era. From there, that inspired prints on T-shirts and a colour palette, and that’s how easily the concept came together. We came up with the presentation for A/W 23 after a film I was watching. The lead actress was wearing a fur coat and I thought, “Oh my god, this will be great.” So I started looking at 80s and 90s suiting for the collection, and then it fell so nicely into our presentation.
When you design new pieces, how do you want the wearer to feel? And who is the Jakke woman you have in mind?
The Jakke woman has changed since we first started. She used to be quite young, but now she’s in her late 20s into her 40s—still quite a broad range, but we used to be in ASOS but now we’re in Harvey Nichols. Now when I’m designing things, I also work really closely with my wholesale manager because she knows what sells (and often we have a battle because I want things that are going to look good), but we find a happy medium. She’ll always remind me to add a sleeve on because, you know, some women don’t like their arms, and the main thing is you just want people to feel confident and comfortable. So, yeah, when I’m designing I just want people to feel comfortable in it.
If you could wear one outfit for the rest of your life, what would it be?
So boring, but probably jeans and a shirt. It’s funny, because I was looking back at a video on Instagram of me in my final year at university and I’m sitting there with jeans on. That’s genuinely what I always wear. I probably don’t experiment as much as I’d like to, but sometimes I don’t want that attention. So I think jeans are a neutral that I can jazz up with the shoes or the earrings. And coats? I’m definitely a coat person. So I guess that’s a staple outfit, and like I said, I’ll always dress it up with the shoes.
Are there any pieces in your wardrobe that are the most sentimental to you, and why?
There are two, and they’re accessories. When my son got baptised, I wore some Chloé shoes, and they cost a fortune but I just had to have them. I haven’t worn them since, and if I think about why, it’s because they were such a big deal. Even though I’ve just moved house and gotten rid of so many things, I would never throw those away. The other one is a tiny Louis Vuitton bag. It was my first designer purchase and I bought it in my teens. I felt like I was a big girl.
Speaking of accessories, your Instagram bio says that you have a penchant for “ugly” shoes. Which shoes in your wardrobe are your favourite, and why?
I just think the uglier, the better. I hate wearing things that everybody likes. So it’s almost like I’ll choose the ugliest shoes so that no one else wants them, and I love it when people aren’t afraid to be a bit weird. Obviously I’m going to have loads of things that other people have too, but I like to wear statement pieces and “ugly” things. A lot of my friends think I’m just really weird, but it’s a conversation starter. When I wear those silver Loewe sandals, everyone comments on them. But then again, they’re not really ugly, exactly—they’re actually really pretty. But I’m drawn to showstopping shoes.
What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever been given?
I think it’s about delegation. That’s not easy when you’ve started a business and you’ve got no money and you’re on your own. But it’s always good to hire people to do things that you’re not that great at. It’s so funny, because I don’t even see Jakke as a “career”; it’s my business and it’s my baby. Others might say I’ve struggled with my work/life balance, but I know when I need to slow down. I just went on a solo trip, and now I’ve got a much bigger team around me that taught me how to let go and trust that someone else can do the job as well as me. I feel like I’m in a good place and at peace with it.
What’s next for the brand, and for you personally?
I’ve got goals in my personal life that I’d like to achieve. Simple things, like travelling to more countries and things like that. But I’m also really happy where I’m at at the moment. If you’d met me six months ago, I would have [answered] “buy my house”, and now I’m so happy here that I’m work-focused. I’ve worked on Jakke for so long that it’s part of me, so all of my goals are for the brand. Does that sound sad? I’m always thinking about what’s next—we did Fashion Week, which was massive for me, and now I just want to get the brand out there more. We’re still seen as an outerwear brand, which can be frustrating, because we want people to see that we’re more than just faux fur. Now we’ve given it a few seasons, so we’ve just done S/S 24, which looks amazing. In January we’ll have more ready-to-wear, more shirts, more knitwear, the accessories. So the goal for me is to be known as a ready-to-wear brand—something like the next Ganni—but obviously, with a British spin.
Thank you for having us, Nina!
Next Up: The Autumn Issue 2023 Has Arrived, Featuring Charli Howard