How Bandana Talismans Became This Entrepreneur’s Homage to Her Heritage

How Bandana Talismans Became

This Entrepreneur’s Homage to Her Heritage

What they fail to tell you as they send you to a therapist and put you on anti-depressants, is that you may actually figure out how to live a rich and authentic life. But it may not fit into the life you’ve already constructed for yourself.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a fairytale. My parents sang songs and made out in the kitchen. My sister got straight A’s and lettered in three sports. I had an extended family that got together to eat supper and play UNO often. While this was a lovely environment to grow up in, it hardly prepared me for the “real world.” They just made it look so easy.

I was an artist and creator from an early age. I made clothes for my Barbies and the neighborhood kids. then held intricately planned fashion shows to reveal the new season for both. I started trends in high school by cutting apart my clothes and sewing them back together in different ways.

I was headed off to my first year of graduate school in costume design for theatre when I met the boy, perfectly on time for the fairytale I was crafting. I was so sure I had it all figured out. I was only 22 (feel free to snicker). 

We married the next year and started the journey of moving around the country for his medical training. Somewhere over the next five years, in that blur of packing, unpacking, navigating new towns and giving birth twice, I gave up my voice. I didn’t realize it at the time. It was a slow progression, but I lost myself. I stopped creating. I stopped dreaming.  

Jenni Hopkins, Founder of jenni earle, wearing one of her bandanas. I’m not selling a secret elixir that makes people brave; I’m giving them something to hold onto to discover how brave and strong they already are"

As he progressed in his training, he became less open to any opinion, but his own. I let my self-respect and worth fade away. Our home was a tense place where I was wildly misunderstood and repeatedly falling short of expectations.

In January of that year, I was admitted to the hospital for severe depression. A friend visited and said matter of factly, “You just gotta find a way to make your outside self match your inside self.” She said it just as simply as Elle Woods tilted her head to Warner saying, “What? Like it’s hard?”

But what she said made perfect sense. I was living someone else’s dream life, the one I thought I was supposed to live. But it was not my own.

Depression then led me to the life I wanted to lead. I was prescribed medication and a weekly visit to the therapist, and I began to heal. I started to paint again. My life was changing. Oh, how powerful it felt to hear myself again, my own opinions, and to pay attention to them. My heart started beating again. I was making choices based on how things made me feel, not how others would perceive it.

Another two years went by and the marriage ended. I made a pact with myself at that time. I vowed to only work in creative capacities from then on. I was determined to live my own, authentic life. I did things like paint the interior of a church. I worked at a local farmer’s market and in a hospital’s flower shop. I even rented a studio space in which I created art. This was a big deal for me to place value in my work enough to have a space in which to do it. When I was handed the key to that studio, it felt like I was being handed the key to a whole new world.

As I was doodling and playing around in my studio, I came across an image of my grandfather, Earl, and his car.  This old photograph sparked a memory in me that changed my life. The bravest, most aware and confident I’ve ever been is when I spent time with my grandpa. He is a “do it” kinda guy. Don’t sit around talking about it, let’s do it. “You wanna go pick up the mail; you drive the pickup” (I was 14). “I’ll be right here beside ya,” he’d say, “but you drive.”

His spirit, his knowing that I could do anything, came alive in me. Then I thought of his bandanas. He always has one in his back pocket. I used to sneak and grab them, willing that bravery and strength into my being. Bandanas, I thought, I could make bandanas. I could dye them myself so the colors would be perfect. I could wash them several times before dyeing them so they could feel like the ones you find in a vintage store and my grandpa’s drawer. I could use this everyday object to create that feeling again for me and for others.  I would call the brand Jenni Earle to honor the new authentic life I was creating for myself, along with the love and support of my grandfather.

To be able to make, and offer this product is a dream come true. I’m not selling a secret elixir that makes people brave; I’m giving them something to hold onto to discover how brave and strong they already are.

I designed a bandana that reads, “Be Brave” as a talisman for people to carry to remind them of their own courage. I made 100 of these and 100 of a style that reads, “Explore More,” then took them to a local craft fair. They sold out. People resonated with this product.

What was even more exciting is they came back to me with their stories. One woman came back for four more “Be Brave” bandanas because the women she sat with every week at chemo each needed one too. I cried with a woman who was sending one to her aunt who was going through a personal trial. I had a mother buy one for her son who was going to college, the first one in their family to attend college.

Throughout this past year, my children, parents and amazing friends were right beside me, helping fold, package and ship bandanas, while I kept up with the dyeing and design work. I was able to bring on an operations badass to keep production and sales organized and have added a few part-time employees. “I” is now “We,” and I am so grateful.

"Bandanas have always been a symbol of the rebels, not the conformists"

In the past year, the story of this company has reached further than I ever could have imagined. I have traveled to craft markets and wholesale trade shows, I’ve done pop-ups around the country. It doesn’t appeal to everyone, and that’s ok, I’m not making it for everyone. Bandanas have always been a symbol of the rebels, not the conformists.

The real beauty in all of this is that my inside self now matches my outside self. I am wholly me. I get to wake up and put my feet solidly on the ground. I am humbled daily by the strength and understanding of my children. Those boys are the sweetest part of my life, but I acknowledge openly that they are not the center of it. I need my work and my art to feel whole. They will know to always trust the twists and turns in their story because they have a mama who trusts hers. 

It turns out life is hard. Actually, life is damn hard. We will all get our hearts broken over and over again, but we are strong and brave and capable.

Right now, while I’m making hay in all this beautiful sunshine, I am unaware of what the next chapter will hold, and that’s ok. I know for sure that there is light after darkness. I know for a fact that I am stronger than I ever imagined and you are too. I promise you that. 

When I was deep in my depression and again going through my divorce, I mourned, hard. But I also discovered how strong I was. It’s like when you go into the kitchen, but you know you have nothing to eat, then you find that dusty can of lentil soup in the back of the shelf.

We all have that can in our soul pantry. It’s a can of kickass. We don’t know we have it until we are desperate, But it’s there. We are all infinitely braver and stronger than we know. 

Jenni Hopkins

Jenni Hopkins is the founder of jenni earle. She creates handcrafted bandanas and hankies that are not only stylish but functional. Each one is printed with an inspirational quote, such as, “Be Brave” or “Blaze a Trail.” Today, the products are cut and sewn in South Carolina and then dyed by hand in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where Jenni lives.

  1. I’m glad you decided to “go deep” in this feature! This is a relatable and empowering story to share!

  2. I resonated deeply with this story. I’m so happy you found your way back to your creative self, and that your talisman serves others. What a wonderful image!

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