In Conversation With: Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein

28 Jun 2019

Photos by Flavia Catena and story by María José Contreras


Judith Achumba-Wöllenstein is the founder and creative mind behind HAJINSKY, an online fashion psychology magazine that provides insights into the human experiences within the fashion industry. Over the past decade, she has been involved in many beautiful and inspiring projects, including a sustainable jewellery label which aimed to raise awareness around human trafficking. Her creative eye and exquisite taste are major goals for us, but what we definitely admire the most from her is the warmth and humbleness that surround every project she gets involved in.


On a very rainy London day, we visited Judith in her new London apartment to talk about starting a new life in London, building a home, and keeping a healthy balance in between projects.


Below, our conversation with Judith, the perfect wrap up to the first season of our Conversation Series. 



I remember that day we were both at The Maiyet talking about our experiences moving to London - but how was life before London for you?


I was born in Germany. The first time I moved I was three months old, and I think that from then on, we moved every three years on average because of my parent’s work. I lived in Belgium for a while and we then moved to the United States when I was a teenager. I came back to Europe to do my undergrad in European Studies in The Netherlands and went to work for the European Union straight after graduating. I wasn’t happy there though, and realised that politics were not for me - I was still interested in social justice, but not through politics; I needed something more creative but I had never been encouraged to pursue a creative career. Since I was a kid, my family encouraged me to pursue something that would give me security and stability. I know we complain a lot about how abusive the creative industry is, and how many jobs are unpaid, but in my opinion, it was exactly the same working for these big political institutions. So I thought “if it’s going to be unpaid, why am I doing something that I don’t love?”. At that time, I was writing a screenplay to help me process some things that were going on in my life, and decided to turn it into a film. I got an internship working for a film agency in Berlin, and I ended up working in the film and TV industry for about two years. It was also during that time that I went to my first fashion weeks and started taking small steps towards a career in fashion.



How did this career evolve and led to fashion psychology?


Whilst working at different agencies, I started my own business - called Redemption Collection - with a friend. The idea was to raise awareness around human trafficking, and the way to do it was by using materials that had been thrown away and repurpose them into fashion items. It was meant to be a thing we’d be doing once a year, but it got picked up by an investor who had a property in one of the main shopping streets in Berlin, so we set up a one-week pop-up - which ended up being very successful - and we decided to make it an actual business. One of the things that came from that venture, is that it allowed me to explore more around the subject of sustainability, which back then - around 2013 - wasn’t the buzzword that is nowadays. I felt that because I was running this business, I couldn’t consume fast fashion; so I didn’t buy at all because I couldn’t afford anything else, and went into an entire year and a half without buying a single piece of clothing. I had never been someone who spent a lot of money on clothes, but clothes had always been a huge part of my identity. One day, close to my 30th birthday, I found out about this course on Fashion Psychology in London. I had never heard the term ‘fashion psychology’ before, but I just had a feeling that’s where I wanted to be. Funny story, my husband and I had agreed we were open to move anywhere, but we had also agreed we would never move to London. I spoke with him about it and he told me to apply, and if I was accepted, then we would deal with it, because you cannot make decisions on opportunities you don’t have. So I applied and got accepted. And we moved to London.


And you moved your lives to London...


We had built our lives in Berlin, and we had a great community of people there, but I never felt it was for me - which is something I didn’t realize until I moved to London. When I moved as a child it was never my choice, and again, when I moved to Berlin is was partly because I got a job, but it was also a way to run away from a bad relationship, so I somehow didn’t have a choice. But moving to London was something I wanted, it was a move I decided to make. And yes, he had very close friends in Berlin, but I look at it now, and we are still very good friends, but they are in a very different season of life, and we have a feeling that if we had stayed there, we couldn’t go down the path that was right for us. So I loved moving to London and we love to live here. However, I think London is a very difficult place to live. It’s amazing in terms of work, because everyone’s working really hard, the energy is great, people create opportunities from themselves, you benefit from these opportunities, and they benefit of your opportunities; so in that regard it’s been an amazing experience. But I think it’s a very lonely place. It’s not that easy to find and build meaningful relationships here. It’s easy to know a lot of people, but to actually make it into the inner circle of another person, you need to be very persistent. And you have to work so hard because everything is so expensive, and then you have to travel one hour and another hour back to see somebody, which is very hard when you have a full schedule. Also, because the city is so expensive, people live in houses that don't really feel like their homes, where they are not allowed to change anything, or that are already furnished with pieces they don’t like. So people don’t have a home they want to share with other people. When you create a home, you create an atmosphere that allows for people to be themselves, and be authentic. My friends in Germany, they all rent, but they all spend a lot of money into making their houses look nice, they’re proud of them. But I have learned that is up to me to change this; I can't sit here and just complain about the fact that I'm lonely. It's my responsibility to be there for other people and build real and meaningful relationships that will stand the test of time.




Let's talk a bit more about your house. What an amazing and beautiful place you've built. Was it easy finding that balance so both you and Tim felt represented and felt this was home?


Before I got married to Tim, he didn't care about interiors - it simply wasn't a part of his culture. Whereas my mum, no matter how many times we moved, she still made sure every room had matching curtains, and matching pillows. She really made it a home and changed the decor all around the house every season. So to me, it was normal to do that. Tim has just gone to IKEA one day and bought everything from one of its series - chairs, table, coffee table, sofa. When we got married and I moved into his bachelor flat, he went to work one day and I called him and asked if it was ok if I gave all the furniture to a family who had just moved from Sydney and didn't have much with them. We refurnished the whole place afterwards with under one thousand pounds. I got stuff from eBay, and I'm good at thrifting furniture so that kind of started it. The thing about a home is that yes, it's his style and it's my style, but it's also the location and the architecture. When we moved to London we lived in a very industrial building, which isn't my preference. So you need to work with the building and with what you need. At that time we were both still working from home, so our space was set up as a co-working space that fitted this industrial vibe of the building. Now, when we bought this house, it was a real investment and we put a lot of thought into it. I made a lot of mood boards before we moved in, and 3D renders and sketches of how I thought we should work with the space using things that we already owned and just adding some things. Tim gives me a lot of freedom because I care more about it, but he always makes a lot of suggestions and we end up agreeing together. I think he would like to have more technology integrated into everything, so I allow him to have a google home in every room of the house (except for the bathroom, because there's no electricity).


So there's a lot of teamwork in building a home


It's a lot of teamwork definitely. I think in the home, I have more of a say, but we work on everything else together. We always do the design and website for anything I'm working on - such as Hajinsky.  When it comes to imagery and editorials that's my language, but when it comes to the design that's his. I would explain to Tim what Hajinsky is about, for instance, and how I want it to feel, and I would give him a couple of inspirational pieces, and he would work from that. His visual language is so strong that he always exceeds what I could imagine.


Tell me more about HAJINSKY - Was it born as a project within your course?


Right before moving to London, I was supposed to launch PHAEDIS, based on the idea of using last season's stock. I kept doing that during my master and by the end of it I realized that PHAEDIS would have needed investment in order to become a tech company so brands could upload their own products. I didn't feel it was the right thing to do so I decided to pause it. I thought that if I got a job with a big name my family would understand my choice to work in fashion and it would also give me the security. During my master, I had the opportunity to meet people working at very big brands, which made me think I could potentially get a job there, but after graduating these people ghosted me, which was very disappointing. So I kept looking and applying for jobs, and in the meantime, I started HAJINSKY on the side. Tim and I started working together on the website and I decided to partner with some people from my university. I'm very intuitive and I knew there were two people I trusted and shared a vision with. They had very different backgrounds and very different research interests, which made their input into the psychology of fashion so interesting. So we joined forces. We actually got a lot of PR, which was great - we would have never expected to have these big magazines approaching us and requesting interviews. But it was very demanding and the idea of doing that and having a job on the side became less and less feasible. However, it's now got to a point where we cannot keep working at it for free. We actually need money to invest on it make it grow and take it to the next level, but the problem with HAJINSKY is that is a content platform. We can sell research, and workshops, but not a product per se and fashion psychology is such a new subject that no brand feels that they need us. We are still educating people and trying to find a way to monetise it, but it is very difficult. So we decided to take a step back and think of ways to do it part time, which is why I recently started working as an interior designer. I wasn't really trying to get into it, but I was helping a friend who had bought a house last year and they recommended me and people started booking me. And I'm actually loving it. HAJINSKY is great, but interior design is something more tangible were I feel how I can help somebody to solve an immediate problem, knowing how long is going to take, and what they are going to get. However, it's very exciting to be doing HAJINSKY - there's only one university in the world teaching fashion psychology at the moment, and there's only been five graduate years so far. There's maybe three other platforms doing fashion psychology, but they have a very different approach to it so it's exciting to be part of a pioneering movement and know that we could be informing culture through what we do. But until then, pioneering is very exhausting and it's necessary to have a balance and have something where you can see more immediate results.



I really admire your entrepreneur energy and how you don't get afraid of starting new projects. 


I do get afraid, believe me. I went through a really bad period of anxiety earlier this year. I have always had lots of projects, but I always had a job on the side, which isn't necessarily healthy and means that something is going to be compromised. I have been able to do this with HAJINSKY for two reasons. One is that I have a husband who believes in me more than I would ever believe on myself. I didn't want to start HAJINSKY because of all the insecurities that came with it. I had the project, I had a website, I had everything, and I just needed to launch it but I didn't want to do it. So having someone there who fully believed and supported me was decisive. I'm very privileged to have that. The other reason is my faith in God and having a sense of purpose about the things that I do. I don't want to live this life to be saved; I want to live this life to leave a legacy. I want to make this world a better place and these are the tools that I have to do it, and I believe that God is my security and will carry me through. At the end of the day, I believe in the Bible and the Bible says that God takes care of his children, so I know that he will take care of me no matter what happens. That's my motivation, but it's not an easy road and there's a lot of pride involved as well. I consider myself a feminist and I want to raise my children with those feminist principles in mind, but at the moment I'm fully depending financially on my husband. That's a huge pride thing for me, and I feel ashamed of that - even though I know he doesn't feel that way. But I think this situation has also taught me that feminism isn't necessarily about being independent but about doing this together, and building a life where we succeed together.




Judith is wearing the Helmut top in ivory, the Frederick top in black, the Karl trousers in ivory, and the Waldermar jacket.


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