In an age of stretchy, shiny, machine-washable fabric and imported faux-bling, Jenny Dittmer is staging her own quiet revolution. With a commitment to supporting Kiwi-made wherever possible and an eye for tasteful, natural fabrics, Jenny is slowly growing her business FG Reynolds with a carefully considered range of clothing, casual boots and elegant equestrian-themed homeware.
When West Auckland-based Jenny returned to riding after a 28-year break, one of the first things she noticed at shows was a lot of women wearing ill-fitting riding jackets. With her background in tailoring, Jenny knew it didn’t have to be that way, and so her business was born, offering beautifully tailored, custom-made competition jackets, personally fitted.
“People are all sorts of different shapes and sizes and what you think looks good when you are standing up in front of a mirror is completely different when you’re sitting on a horse,” explains Jenny. “Suddenly your whole back shortens up and you have rolls and folds in your jacket that don’t look so good.”
Clothing is in Jenny’s blood: her mother made wedding dresses and taught Jenny to sew at a young age, and she has worked in her ‘day job’ for men’s suit specialist Cambridge Clothing for two decades.
When she established FG Reynolds Equestrian four years ago, Jenny’s clients were predominantly hunting, jumping and showing riders who wanted a classic wool jacket with a flattering fit. And through her Cambridge Clothing connections, Jenny has access to fine suit fabrics, which are comfortable to wear.
“The stretch competition jackets are fantastic, but for traditional hunting and showing, a fully-tailored wool jacket is still the way to go. People tend to think of wool jackets as heavy, but these are extremely lightweight. Plus, of course, wool is breathable and it really lasts. That’s the elegance of it,” says Jenny.
“We’ve done a really good job of designing the jackets. Even people who don’t have much of a waist suddenly appear to have one, because their jacket is shaped so nicely at the back.”
Classical styling doesn’t mean the jackets have to be boring. Jenny’s show hunter clients tend to be the most adventurous, she says, and one of her own favourites was a striking charcoal grey with a purple check running through and a purple velvet collar. “I wouldn’t describe myself as strictly traditional, although there are a lot of great things about tradition, because with it you tend to get good quality. I do like to put my own modern spin on things, but I don’t ever want to have anything tacky – I like to keep things simple and beautiful.”
And while Jenny has sold jackets to some of the country’s top riders, it’s not all about elite competitors. “We also like everyday happy hackers to be wearing them, people who only do a few shows.”
Jenny also has a range of stocks, which she makes herself. The most popular style is a hunting stock, made from proper Marcella cotton. “I don’t like the pre-tied stocks, which is my love of hunting showing through – traditionally, hunting stocks are supposed to be used for a sling or a bandage if you need one.”
Jenny is passionate about supporting New Zealand-made, and says when the Cambridge Clothing factory closed down in June 2014 it was the saddest day of her 20-year-employment with the firm.
“I knew the people who worked for us so well and I understood how talented they were,” she reflects. “I’m realistic enough to know that people will only pay a certain amount of money for some things and so you can’t make everything in New Zealand, but wherever I can, I make locally. My throws and socks are made by a local knitter, and the illustrations on our t-shirts are by a New Zealand artist and they printed in New Zealand. Wherever I can’t make something locally, I will find the best factory I can, that looks after its staff. I’m passionate about people being paid a living wage for what they do – it makes me cry when I walk into shops full of cheap plastic stuff you don’t need.”
With the closure of the Cambridge factory, Jenny didn’t want to have her riding jackets produced in China. Instead, she uses a specialist tailoring factory in Indonesia, where the jackets are individually cut and made. “I went to the factory in June last year and had a good look around. They are lovely people and they have nice working conditions, so I was happy to have my products made there.”
The homeware is another growing range, and so far includes cotton throws and beautiful cushions made by Jenny, which allows her to express her creative side. “I spend all my time dreaming up ideas – I’ve got notes all over the place! But I don’t do a lot of any one thing. With the cushions, I only make one or two in each style, so you’re never going to see the same ones everywhere.
“We want to give people a little bit of equestrian in their homes, as well as in the stable, but we’re trying to keep it classy. It’s all about the sophistication of the images or the design.”
- This article was first published in the October 2015 issue of NZ Horse & Pony