Wardrobe Wisdom: Lee Jenkins, from fashion photographer to organic farmer

On the final day of Organic September I am thrilled to share some Wardrobe Wisdom from former fashion photographer turned permaculture pro Lee Jenkins. 

Lee made him name in the 90s photographing the great and the good for The Face. After travelling the world working in the fast-paced fashion industry for fifteen years he wanted to slow down, and he's certainly done that. His wardrobe wisdom comes fresh from Walnut Farm in Norfolk, the organically certified haven that he's spent the last ten years nurturing. Lee and his team now run workshops from their idyllic home teaching everything from permaculture to pickling and preserving. I was intrigued to find out what insight this former fashion industry insider turned organic farmer could share...

Do you have any top wardrobe and care tips?

Put dried herbs and flowers in the pockets to ward off unwanted creatures, adorn yourself in natures aroma’s - my favourites from the farm this year are lavender, calendula and rose petals.

Walnut Farm, an organically certified farm in Norfolk run by former fashion photographer Lee Jenkins

Can you tell us about a treasured garment or accessory of yours? What is the story behind it?

So many treasures… one my favourites now that the winter is closing in is my beloved 60s red wool poachers coat with an exceedingly large poachers pocket in the back. I’ve had it for almost as long as I can remember. I won it in a game of poker in a mountain cabin near an incredible glazier high in the wilderness in Alaska sometime in the 90s on a photo assignment.

You’ve made a conscious shift to slow down your life – how do you think your relationship with your own clothes has changed since leaving the fast-paced fashion industry?

I am more in touch with the seasons and don't need to pack for hot countries in winter anymore. Also I have over a hundred pairs of incredible socks and, as I don't really wear shoes very often these days, I think I have what some people would call a lifetime supply.

Lee Jenkins doing yoga at Walnut Farm, an organically certified farm in Norfolk run by the former fashion photographer

In what ways can permaculture design principals be considered when designing and producing clothes? Do you know of any fashion designers who have followed that path?

Applied permaculture design is a process that can be applied to anything - people often mistakenly believe it only applies to gardening. We use the principles to guide our design process and at the core are also three ethics - Care of the Earth, People Care and Fair Shares; firstly we would need to make sure these are met. Its a very interesting question - does anyone out there know of any designers who work by these ethics?

On the farm you’re a keen upcycler. Do you have a 'go to' place for clothing repairs or alterations? Or are you pretty handy with a needle and thread?

Yes, I’m pretty handy with a thread and needle, although I have many friends with sewing machines and we often have sewing evenings together where we share fresh organic food and whatever seasonal treasure we have all made (there always seems to be lots of yummy cake!)

Walnut Farm, an organically certified farm in Norfolk run by former fashion photographer Lee Jenkins

Where do you find your clothes? We hear you have a penchant for car-boot sales…

Its more of a how do they find me! I have several rails, a small barn and an attic full with crates of fancy dress outfits that come from far and wide. I have a few favourite local car boot sales which are more like scenes from fairy tales adorned with magical outfits, and all that we need is the imagination and creativity to see how they go together…

Circus skills at Walnut Farm, an organically certified farm in Norfolk run by former fashion photographer Lee Jenkins

Has living and working on an organic farm made you more mindful of investing in organic clothing?

Yes. I am very mindful of investing, however just because clothing is “organic” it doesn't really mean a lot - it just means that in its production no harmful chemicals have been used. It is often just a marketing gimmick which can be misleading. I am always interested in the provenance of any new clothing that comes into my possession and when something seems far to cheap it becomes obvious that someone somewhere has suffered for this to be so cheap. Also I’ve noticed that a lot of organic clothing magically seems to come from the other side of the globe and the embedded energy cost seems crazy.

Lee Jenkins: Wardrobe Wisdom from fashion photographer turned organic farmer

What one main piece of advice would you give to someone who wants a more ethical wardrobe?

Look at the reasons why you don't have one already and see if its possible to move forward with more informed choices.

Who or what is your wardrobe inspiration?

My wardrobe inspiration without a doubt has always been, and will always be, my mum since her clothes seemed to fit me so well when I was growing up.

Pickling and preserving course at Walnut Farm, an organically certified farm in Norfolk run by former fashion photographer Lee Jenkins

Lee is running an Introduction to Permaculture Course this weekend at Walnut Farm.

The next course will be Pickling and Preserving on Sunday 16th October. Booking details can be found on the website or the Walnut Farm Facebook page and attendees can choose between a day ticket or a residential ticket. The accommodation - from bell tents to a beautiful, secluded apartment - looks glorious. Just have a look and you'll be on the next train to Norfolk! 

Bell tents at Walnut Farm, an organically certified farm in Norfolk run by former fashion photographer Lee Jenkins


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Founder and Director of The Good Wardrobe. Lover of charity shops and mending stuff. New to Bristol. Follow on Twitter

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