Jenna is an inspirational example to women entrepreneurs across Africa that despite significant challenges in personal and business life, with many setbacks and considerable personal heartache along the way, it is possible to find business success.
Jenna’s formative years were challenging and probably contributed significantly to the sheer determination and self-discipline which have been the hallmarks of her life ever since. Her parents were ill equipped to raise children, her mother being only a teenager herself at the time and her father having to stop working as a plasterer due to a skin condition. He was, however, instrumental in preparing her for the toughness of life by teaching Jenna to practice a strict sporting regime as a child. He believed that children who have a sporting endeavour are taught discipline, they learn how to stick to gruelling training regimes in order to reach their goals, and importantly learn how to progress up the ladder step by step as as result of their efforts. Jenna believes that it was this tough early sports training that taught her self-discipline and determination, and which later defined her as a businesswoman and entrepreneur.
“My personal mantra for success is try, try and try again. Once you’ve picked something that you’ve isolated as your passion, it must be all-encompassing. You have to stick to it. You will be met with challenges, good and bad, but the thing is to stay the course.”
Jenna’s foray into the world of jewellery design came at an early age when she was a behind-the-scenes jeweller, learning her craft at Urdang Jewellers in South Africa. She was married with a small daughter at the time, but when her marriage collapsed she began to take control of her own destiny, despite being emotionally distraught. She scooped up her young daughter and started her own small jewellery business. She first established her own small retail business in 1985 in an office in Roodepoort, on the West Rand of Johannesburg, designing affordable, low-end jewellery. Years later, having worked 18 hours a day every day for many years, the Jenna Clifford brand was finally born out of a lasting passion for the art and craftsmanship of jewellery and a love of the power of human expression. Today, Jenna is a highly successful jewellery designer who has worked her way up from almost nothing to achieve the high profile that she enjoys today, resulting in her beautiful and uniquely handcrafted designs being worn by global celebrities including Celine Dion and Venus and Serena Williams.
Established in 1992, Jenna Clifford’s personal world-renowned jewellery brand is today a South African success story that is as much about people who wear her creations as it is about Jenna herself. As a designer of bespoke jewellery, Jenna’s own story is uniquely interwoven with that of her customers. She combines gold, diamonds and precious gems to create extraordinary masterpieces. A trendsetter by design, she has always said that quality craftsmanship and excellent taste is the formula for success in the jewellery design business. She is no doubt a role model to young designers everywhere and is involved in various mentoring programmes for women of all ages.
In the early days when she first started her business, Jenna struggled to secure startup capital from local banks, a problem for many women entrepreneurs when first trying to establish a business venture. She says: “It’s the same old banking story – if you have no money they won’t give it to you; if you have money, they want to throw more at you. Women are very resourceful but they need leaders and mentors like me and material to read to give them information about the facts.” From its beginnings as an exclusive design studio in Morningside, a suburb of Johannesburg in South Africa, Jenna’s personal approach to bespoke jewellery design has set her apart from the rest in the marketplace. She has always believed that craftsmanship starts with conversation and her unique approach of connecting on a personal level with each individual customer is part of her winning formula. Jenna’s ability to put people at ease and to encourage them to open up has always been at the heart of her ability to create designs that speak to the personality, taste and spirituality of the wearer. This is why Jenna has a relationship with her customers unlike any other jewellery designer. Her exclusive clientele each resemble a friend and confidante, more than a customer.
In 2002, a momentous occasion in Jenna’s entrepreneurial journey came with the first Jenna Clifford retail boutique opening its doors in South Africa. Since that time, every Jenna Clifford boutique has followed the same personalised concept and signature style that gave birth to the brand.
Today, Jenna is married to her third husband and business partner, Dex Kotze. Together they set up a studio-cum-headquarters, which has now been going strong for 18 years and employs 70 people. Over time, the pair have together devised eye catching and much talked about campaigns to establish the company as a brand leader in the industry. Jenna’s specialty is remodelling heirloom jewellery that has broken or fallen from fashion. She also produces ready-to-wear collections across a wide range of price brackets, as well as bespoke designs for well-heeled clientele. One of her collections is dedicated to saving the rhino, its profits supporting anti-poaching initiatives led by StopRhinoPoaching.com.
"It's been a long road. Some of the lessons have been painful but they now define me. I always remind myself that things are not always as they seem. I enjoy Eckhart Tolle, who says, 'This too shall pass.' One must remember that it's possible to make the most of every situation. It's been a worthwhile journey and I have a great team working with me — it's our team that makes every day worthwhile. They're so loyal and supportive of each other and the brand — I admire each of them and feel so blessed that we came to work together; that our paths crossed."
Ethics have always formed a large part of Jenna’s business practices, so she uses only conflict-free diamonds sourced through reputable channels. She is also fiercely supportive of local workers, outsourcing some of the manufacturing and promoting her marketing opportunities. This keeps her brand elite, though at some stage she would like to see her designs reach a wider market. “I believe our work should be global,” she says. “We need top international brands to see the value in what we do. A lot of brands copy us, so there must be some value there,” she adds. Increasing the volume of pieces being produced would mean enlarging her own factory and probably outsourcing to other factories too. She says she’s not averse to this, provided such endeavours remain to the benefit of the South African population and that there are cross-training opportunities available.
Apart from Jenna, there are only two other designers on her team, though she has trained many who have since branched out on their own. Her role as a teacher and mentor expanded recently when Octagon, a thought leader in sponsorship marketing, chose her as one of four initial ‘Mould Breakers’ in South Africa. The ‘Breaking the Mould’ campaign is about empowering women by using role models who have risen above their challenges to motivate others. The campaign has seen her lecturing and hosting conversations with students on university campuses across the country.
Today, she may have an extremely successful and globally recognised brand and business, but she still works 16 to 18 hour days and remains passionate about what she does. At least these days she works such long hours because she wants to, not because she has to. Yet with plans to find a distributor to take her creations into more countries, staying hands-on as the head designer and mentoring youngsters, Jenna has no interest in slowing down, and with two of her three daughters now involved in the business, the future looks exciting for this incredible woman entrepreneur.
Visit Jenna Clifford's website here.
Read Jenna' full LoA Profile here.
Why LoA loves it....
Throughout the life of a woman entrepreneur in Africa, there will be great times and challenging times, tough moments and wonderful moments. Stories such as Jenna Clifford’s inspires us to believe that however difficult the journey, through sheer hard work, grit, determination and a never-say-die attitude, anything is possible. Jenna is a truly inspirational Lioness of Africa. --- Melanie Hawken, LoA founder and editor-in-chief