It’s rare that I don’t use my own words for a post…but then Penny Winter is a rare beast and an endangered species. I first came across her work when exploring one of my favourite Labels Edun – for their SS14 Collection she designed and produced the horn & crystal neck cuff as worn by Helena Christensen above at her workshop in Nairobi and it piqued my interest. So in her own words – because nothing should be left out – please meet the incredible Penny Winter…
‘I was born in Belfast and grew up there through our ‘troubles’. After studying costume design and corsetry at LCF I landed my first job at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford where I was making period costumes and pattern drafting for the theatre.I moved back to London and took a similar job at the English National Opera, before the big move to Kenya.My boyfriend at the time was a journalist and we together with our backpacks moved out without looking back.I fell in love with Kenya, he didn’t and left after a few months.
(Photo Touko Sipilainen)
My corserty came into play thereafter, I started a small workshop making 18thcentury shaped corsets from vintage Africa cloth, Bacuba cloth from Congo,raffia from Ivory Coast, snakeskin,fishskin, and Maasai inspired beaded corsets.We,(Paul, my now husband and I) travelled all over central and west Africa on the lookout for interesting trims and weaves.People heard about these unusual pieces and I produced a lot of them for cool weddings, big parties, and people also just bought them to hang in their bedrooms as art.During this time I worked on films such as The Constant Gardener, The Last King of Scotland,and local tv productions.Since then the workshop has grown and we make clothes for the Kenya jetters and international clients. Our signature coat, the Audrey coat which in it’s original form was handwoven wool/linen with a beaded cuff, has evolved and can be found this season in dark burgundy velvet.We are also known well for our evening dresses which tend to be of a more bohemian style. Our clients include names such as Uma Thurman,Sylvia Fendi, Helena Christensen, and one of our gowns was at Buckingham palace for William and Kate’s wedding evening party.
In 2007 we were approached by SUNO to start their brand here which we got up and running, we produced the first six collections for them. In addition to the fashion label I co-design and produce the Ashley Pittman collection sold in Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, a feat against odds as we are constantly struggling with power outages,water shortages etc, and the day to day chaos of running a large scale, hand crafted business in central Nairobi. I employ around 200 people who take great pride in selling their work I design in top stores around the world.I work closely with our various teams whether it be a horn workshop in rural Kenya, to downtown chaos, busy and noisy, but always fun. I take most pride in the fact I have through relentless efforts, managed to instill the discipline and work ethic it takes, to our teams to work in the real world, providing top notch products which they can take pride in, on time, without any form of charity.We are competing with world known brands, except without any of the advantages, in Africa.
This is my first solo jewellery collection, outside of my Ngong House boutique, which is my husband’s small hotel, on the outskirts of Nairobi, just under the Ngong Hills.
My husband Paul and I have three children.(Charlie, Leyla and Amber). Apart from our work, we have built a clinic and a primary school, thanks to charitable donations in the Kibwezi area of rural Kenya, where we also have a defunct farm and tree plantation.We found the place around ten years ago on a trip back from Kilimanjairo, camped there and now have large safari tents which we use instead of a house.The clinic now has a catchment area of about 70mile radius, there are absolutely no other medical facilities in this area, and we are currently developing a maternity wing. Holidays are mainly at Amber House Lamu, which we restored from a 300year old Swahili villa, in the Old Town Lamu. My passion is sailing so that’s what I do when I go there.’
She is one of those truly remarkable people that inspires just by breathing. I can’t help but wonder when a film of her life will be made…
In awe, Kate x