Jane Sews

Amy Venter's womenswear line is slow fashion at its best

By Samora Chapman

Amy Venter is the creative fire behind Jane Sews, a Durban-based label amassing likes and loves for its individuality, timeless style and superb sensibility. Specialising in handcrafted clothing, shoes and leather accessories, all made at her bright and busy studio at The Commune on Station Drive – a hive of local artists and entrepreneurs.

At just 27-years-old, Amy’s not your typical businesswoman, and after greeting me with a warm smile and a handshake I notice that her hands are as hard as nails. These are the hands of an artisan, and a testament to how she handles her business.

Wearing one of her own designs, a reversible dress with a low scoop neck that can be worn front or back, Amy guides me through the Jane Sews shop-front and into her studio. In the centre a large table is covered with patterns, to the left the machinists are busy sewing and to the right sits Amy’s desk, below a vision board plastered with inspiration.

It’s an inspired space, where creativity, passion and hard work keep the cogs turning – the heartbeat of Jane Sews.

“This is where we develop the ranges and where everything happens,” Amy tells me as she outlines patterns and cuts fabric. “We make a lot of the clothes here and use the shop-front as our retail space. I design and my small team of product developers assist with the pattern cutting, sampling and taking my ideas from concept to product. We’ve got two machinists in-house and then we partner with local factories for our footwear and other leather goods.”

An online store complements the brick and mortar and Amy has gathered a large Insta following in the five years since she established the Jane Sews brand. While these online aspects of her business are impressive, it's walking about her working studio - where soft light catches clothing and the calm mood is enhanced by a colour palette of blues, whites and ‘jungle’ green - that the real magic is evident.

Awfully shy in front of the camera, Amy admits that she’d rather be art directing than modeling, and so we head out for freshly squeezed carrot and ginger juice so that she can unpack her entrepreneur story. 

“I studied at LISOF in Joburg and in my final year I began selling a few pieces,” she tells me of her first ventures into the working world. “I took some of the pieces from my collection, made a few more sizes and stocked a local boutique, focusing on wearable pieces and nothing too dressy or avant-garde.”

From the outset, Amy had a clear vision and an entrepreneurial spirit, establishing Jane Sews in 2011 and beginning the scary task of building a brand.

“I wanted to move to Cape Town, but I ended up back in Durban and it turned out great! There’s a lot of manufacturers here so we’re close to our supply source and being close to the harbour is also good for importing when necessary. And Durbs is cool – it’s really laidback, the people are awesome and we enjoy the lifestyle.”

The "we" Amy refers to includes her husband Zak Venter, owner of Sergeant Pepper Clothing Company, and the two are forging a fashion empire that reaches beyond the famously quiet salty city.

Specialising in womenswear, Jane Sews focuses on classic silhouettes and then also does a number of pieces that are gender fluid. The label recently launched a kids line and there are plans to incorporate some classic men's styles in the near future.

“I’m inspired by the authenticity of nature and the concept of ‘slow fashion,’” says Amy. “Back in the day there used to be four fashion seasons in the year and now there are 52 micro-seasons, so it’s something new every week! We want to do something completely different. The idea is that the palette is very neutral, and that we use colours, shades and tones that can be easily mixed and matched and can slot into any wardrobe, so that people can build their wardrobes over time. Take something from the 2012 collection and pair it with something from the 2016 collection. We make pieces that are suitable for layering, and versatile pieces that aren't so season driven. More timeless, classic pieces that you can wear throughout the year.”

I can’t help notice how the fabrics have a lovely natural quality to them, and ask Amy which she prefers to work with.

“I’m drawn to fabrics that feel good, and anything that’s going to offer durability and be long lasting in terms of quality and style. I love working with linens and linen blends – fabrics that are natural, breathable and comfortable. Tencel (aka lyocell, a sustainable fabric regenerated from wood cellulose that's similar in hand to rayon and bamboo), is also an amazing fabric that I like to use.”

Back in the studio, Amy shares some banter with the machinists, both of whom have their portraits stuck on the wall with the message “I made your clothes”. 

“We’ve been going on a journey with our branding and identity,” explains Amy, earnestly. “We partner with local factories, so we started investigating what goes on behind the scenes, working our way through the supply chain to the source so that we can highlight the people that actually make the clothes, because they’re the heartbeat of the industry. There’s a hashtag going around called #whomadeyourclothes, which is all about a call for transparency and better, more ethical ways of making clothing. I want to do more documenting of how our clothes are made and who’s making it. Buying local is empowering. People are becoming more in tune, consumers are becoming more comfortable with asking where things are made and how they’re made.”

Outside her studio a train chugs by – the sound of steel on steel resonating with the sewing machines’ hum. I take a walk around The Commune and peek into the other workspaces – a jeweller’s workshop, an art studio and a photography studio - it’s a vibrant space inhabited by people with shared values.

“This space was too big for us alone, so what we decided to do was create The Commune – a place where people can come and see how and where their product is being made,” explains Amy. 

“The Commune is about celebrating a community of creatives. It’s a shared space between makers where we open our doors to the public, inviting people to come and experience what we’re about at events like First Thursdays. It’s so awesome how this whole area comes alive!”

The Commune is located on the first floor of The Design Factory, which is central to the Station Drive precinct, an exciting community of makers. 

“I love coming to work here, and every time I pop my head around the corner there’s something new happening and there's such a good energy and vibe. It feels like all the makers and creators, small business owners and entrepreneurs have been drawn together. It’s tough doing your own thing, so to be rubbing shoulders with people in the same space as you is encouraging. You don’t feel so alone.­­­­”

It may seem that Amy Venter is sometimes alone in carving this brave new path, however, she’s built a strong foundation by investing in people, relationships and ideas. In a world dominated by fast fashion she’s slowing things down, striving for authenticity and longevity, and will, ultimately lead the way for more to follow.