Jota-Kena [joe-ta-kee-nuh] /ˈhōdə/ kē/nä/. A combination of no-nonsense, hand-tailored garments – understated detailing and ready-to-wear-and-wear-again planet-friendly fabrics as well as local manufacturing put Jota-Kena firmly on the slow fashion map. Or, as the label’s founders call their ethos: comfortable, conscious, intentional.
“Our grandfather grew cotton in the Northern Cape and our dad has a background in agriculture – for this reason it is natural for us to consider all the aspects and people involved, from the farm to the finish,” says Tanith Swinford, cofounder and creative director.
“We always ensure that our garments are not produced in any way that takes unfair advantage of people or the environment. Our goal is not just to make beautiful, quality clothing but to produce carefully made clothes, as we like to acknowledge the value of every person involved in the production process right up to the women who buy the garments.”
What’s in a name?
Jota-Kena is Tanith and Keziah Swinford – cofounders, creative directors and designers. Behind the scenes are Annette Steenkamp (admin and production) and John Swinford (cofounder, general manager and proud dad) and Sonia Hoffman and Fatima Ajam, their very much hands-on
Their combined backgrounds in commerce and marketing (Tanith) and interior design and graphic art (Keziah) as well as a desire to bring their values to a traditionally cut-throat industry and create long-term employment, led them to Jota-Kena.
The name “Jota-Kena” is made up of the names of the four cofounders, John, Tanith, Keziah and Natasha (who has since left the company to be a stay-at-home mom). “Jota” also happens to be the name of a Spanish dance and “Kena” is Estonian for “kind”, which Keziah says, fits perfectly with what Jota-Kena stands for.
Their logo, the fan palm, signifies praise, peace, celebration and rest as well as resilience – “palm trees remain upright even in the midst of severe storms,” explains John. Choosing a natural element also ties in with their eco-friendly commitment and Jota-Kena uses environmentally-friendly fabrics made predominantly from wood pulp that, Keziah says, breathe more easily,
making them a healthier, more comfortable choice.
To offset the fact that their fabrics are currently still imported from Europe and India – and to provide employment in the greater Cape Town community – all their clothes are made by hand by seamstresses in Cape Town.
Jota-Kena’s AW17 collection draws inspiration from the Ivy League lifestyle. The colours – white, chartreuse, burnt orange and tan, as well as forest green, navy and black – are reminiscent of the ’70s but the lines are softer, the clothes more flowing and the fit more comfortable. There is a tailored shirt with a wide collar embroidered with the Jota-Kena logo and a velvet slip dress to be worn over a polo-neck sweater and paired with ankle boots, both of which have oodles of retro appeal.
Their attention to detail is evident in the embroidered designs, hand-drawn by Keziah, such as the white on white or black on black logos on the shirts. The JK Jumper (available in chartreuse and Berlin blue) sports an elaborate design using South African flowers – “a statement piece and not the jumper you wear to sit on the couch at home” – and the Leila midi and maxi dresses and Berkley blazer have embroidery on the sleeves, back and chest respectively.
The fabrics range from cotton sateen to rayon twill, linen and honeycomb Tencel that have been overdyed, treated or crafted to make them ultra wearable.
“We are extremely particular about fit and a lot of attention goes into making each garment the perfect fit. For example, our Origami pants are made to flatter all figures,” says Tanith. Fit also equals comfort, as does the soft wash process all their shirts undergo.
Because everything is hand-sewn, the styles are available in limited numbers, making them all the more exclusive. Bettering lives through fashion Jota-Kena donates 10% of all profit to a non-profit organisation called Hillsong Africa Foundation (HAF). In addition Tanith, Keziah and John also volunteer some of their free time at the foundation.
HAF is dedicated to community upliftment through feeding programs, orphan care, women’s shelters, disaster relief, wheelchair distribution, substance abuse programmes, job-skills training centres, prison programmes and education.
The Swinford family are firm believers in getting involved where one can to help improve the lives of others and this viewpoint is fundamental to Jota-Kena’s core values.
Where to buy Jota-Kena
Their clothes can be ordered online at www.jotakena.com or purchased at their Cape Town studio.
“To visit our studio is to experience some of the in-house production process. You’ll get to meet our in-house seamstresses and see the machines they work on, our rails filled with patterns, the cutting table, mood-board and core team at work. In other words, you will meet the Jota-Kena family,” says Tanith.
“If you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of something new we’re working on for the coming season, or find a special once-off garment that is not available online.”
Sizes are a standard 30 to 40, making it easy to order online. They also offer an alteration service, if necessary Delivery is free anywhere in South Africa for orders of R500 or more.
The team has been working on “something very exciting, involving denim and customization” that is set to launch in the next few months. “It will take our embroidery concept one step further and places that extra value on the client by bringing them into the process and offering a truly unique, tailored experience.”