After been inspired by Ghana’s fabrics during a recent visit, designer Victoria Pettersson Henry, decided to break the monochromatic streetwear look in Sweden with apparel made from African textiles and print.
Branching out from a buzzing jewelry business, Victoria began the Henry Rude line, an independent street label in Malmö, Sweden. The garments are handmade for men and women by tailors and seamstresses based in Ghana. Drawn to the stories embedded in African prints, Victoria connects this color, music and energy to Swedish customers.
Peep the full conversation with Victoria below regarding the genesis of Henry Rude, why young folks across Europe are digging African prints and what’s in store for the line.
ADA: What is the concept behind the Henry Rude design?
VPH: I’ve always been very inspired by color, prints & textiles from around the world. A couple of years ago I started getting more into West African fabrics. The prints just gave me so much inspiration. I really had to incorporate these fabrics in my work. At the time, I was working on my other brand, Victoria Henry Jewelry, but I always had ideas for clothing collections and used to sew a lot for myself. With Henry Rude I really hope to challenge the norms of classic street wear by using African fabrics in a way that is completely new to the European market.
I just got back from my first business trip to Ghana where I sourced a lot of new fabric. I worked with local tailors and seamstresses to produce a limited edition Spring Collection. I want to connect the West African textile industry with the non-African market and help create economic opportunities for small businesses at a grassroots level.
ADA: What informed your choice to use African fabrics?
VPH: In Europe, you don’t see a lot of African printed garments. Sometimes you see these beautiful traditional or festive pieces, but perhaps everyone doesn’t have the courage or style to wear them. I wanted to keep the silhouettes more contemporary and simple, to let the prints speak for themselves. That way it’s also easier to incorporate the pieces into your existing wardrobe. Some customers love the craziest prints, and wear them all over while some are still getting used to wearing a shirt with more than one color.
ADA: Many designer labels across the globe have been adopting African prints for the last few years. What do you think has prompted this interest in African design?
VPH: There are many reasons. The last couple of years, people seem to have fallen in love with geometric and graphic prints. These days, traveling is so common and it’s easier to pick up trends and inspirations that used to never reach us. I also think people are becoming more interested in authentic and handcrafted arts. Many West African fabrics are woven, printed or dyed by hand, which really make them valuable and cherished. It’s definitely time for Africa to claim space on the international fashion scene.
ADA: What makes Henry Rude different from other designers working with African prints?
VPH: As far as I know, in Sweden, there aren’t really any big brands that use African fabrics. I’ve stumbled upon a few other European brands, which is really inspiring and I’m happy to see that more people are spreading the happiness of a good print. We all have our own styles in terms of silhouettes and the kinds of prints we choose for our collections. I’m really into Kente prints which I haven’t seen a lot in other brands. I like how the different colors have their own meanings.
ADA: How do you come up with the names of your products? How does the origin of the fabric influence your design process?
VPH: I tend to name the styles after places or people who have inspired me or been part of the production process. But sometimes I just use names or words that I really like. I have a thing for certain letters and letter combinations.
I love how many of the West African prints are quite humorous – I’ve seen prints with prawns, cell phones and laughing mouths. Sometimes prints are even paired with funny quotes. I want to keep that feeling of playfulness, and I hope that the person who carries the garment will feel as happy and full of energy when wearing it.
ADA: How is Henry Rude influencing Swedish perceptions of African fashion?
VPH: We have gotten so many encouraging compliments and great feedback from our customers. Many people have never seen or thought of wearing African printed garments before, and some have said they’ve been waiting to see more African fashion in Sweden or even Europe.
There definitely must be room to appreciate or pay tribute to other cultures not only to make money off of it. In Sweden, we need to also think about what we represent when embracing these cultures and if we can give something back. It’s important for distributors as well as consumers to consider some aspects before taking on a new trend – what culture/statement does this represent and what is my relation to it?
I would never use fabric with symbols or quotes that I did not know the meaning. Many of my customers work in music and are really passionate about African music like Azonto, Kuduro and Afrobeat. For them, it’s a natural way to express themselves in addition to the clothes they wear. So I think it’s good to welcome and appreciate other cultures, but also remember where they come from. Hopefully, when seeing new sides of another culture, customers will be curious to find out more.
ADA: What are the long term goals of Henry Rude?
VPH: We are still in our start-up phase as the brand is only a little over a year old. I’m really hoping to be able to continue working with small-scale businesses in West Africa and to develop our collaborations and grow as a brand. I would love to be able to open up a store one day.
For now, if someone wants to get their hands on our garments, they can send us an e-mail. We’re always looking for new retailers, as well.