Q&A: Henri London

Glasshouse Salon is based in the thriving creative community of Hackney, and as a result we get to interact with a plethora of local, independent brands each doing something really special. Our most recent discovery, Henri London, is housed in a small, yet beautiful space on Hackney Road. Founded in 2016, Henri is a small collection of women’s shirts designed to be simultaneously comfortable and chic, and are all made from ethical and organic fabrics. With a core collection of just three classic white shirts, the minimalist designs balance form with function perfectly. We sat down with the founder, Henrietta, to find out more about the line.

What was the initial vision you had for Henri London?

The initial vision for Henri was to have a small range of perfectly refined shirts that were made with sustainability in mind. It has since grown to hold a deeper understanding of what ‘sustainability’ means to the brand but ultimately the original idea has stuck – timeless shirts and beautiful quality.

What is so classic about the white shirt that it could inspire a whole collection?

I think everything a women’s white shirt represents inspires me. Women in shirts is something I love, a seemingly simple fashion piece that was actually an outcome of social change and equality for women. There’s something powerful in that and also the timeless nature of the garment means it’s something that will be in people’s wardrobes for decades.

Ethical fashion is obviously an integral part of the brand, why is this so important to you?

I think starting as a new brand in this day and age you’ve simply got to be responsible with your sourcing. There are no excuses when you’re a small business, you’re a much more agile machine compared to the huge fashion businesses. Learning about the source of my materials has been a big part in my decision making. I think once you’re educated about the negative impact of conventional cotton and the problems with centralised manufacturing you surely have to run your business in a way that doesn’t support this way of producing.

Do you think the fashion industry can ever be truly sustainable?

This is a question people ask a lot and it’s such a huge topic. I think the future of sustainable fashion is intrinsically linked to the sustainable future of every industry on the planet. Fashion is up there with the most employed and most polluting industries in the world and for real change to happen in the fashion industry I believe it needs to happen in every other sector as well. I don’t think an industry as vast as fashion can stand alone as truly sustainable, it has to also come from agriculture, energy and chemical industries as without all of those industries fashion doesn’t exist. The scale of change needed is huge but it’s something more and more people are working towards.

You speak about your hand-woven manufacturing as though it adds value to the end product, rather than just being something you do to be ‘sustainable’. What is it about this process that is so unique?

The process of hand-weaving doesn’t require energy, just the expertise of a highly skilled artisan. Therefore its environmental footprint is very minimal and it’s a much more sustainable option when it comes to fabric selection. However, when I visited many of the hand weaving units in India I felt that it was so much more than just a ‘green fabric’. It is deeply embedded in the history and culture of the weaving villages and a strong Ganhian ethos drives the organisations I work with. The shared passion for working with this ethos was really quite a special thing to witness and it’s really quite unique to India. Aside from the positive social impact the hand woven fabrics are incredibly beautiful and add so much to the overall identity of a Henri shirt.

As a small brand, you don’t necessarily release collections in sync with the fashion calendar. How do you plan the launch of new pieces? How long does it take to produce a shirt from the original idea to the final product?

I don’t have a rigid critical path I work with, I’m very fluid in how I run the business. The planning and launching of new pieces happens in quite a natural way. Because I produce quite locally I can react quite quickly to demand (the big thing being the weather!) and I recently had a style that went from being a sketch to and item the shop rails in 3 weeks.

The idea is that every shirt is timeless and something you should still want to wear in 10 years. The majority of the collection is also something you should be able to wear all year round and I like the idea of being seasonless but you have to offer some alternatives for the hot and cold weather.

Is there a ‘Henri Woman’ that you think of when designing new pieces?

The nice thing about opening my shop recently is that I’ve been regularly meeting my customers which I absolutely LOVE. They are natural, confident, friendly women who wear their clothes with relaxed elegance. I design for them and for myself and how I like to feel in what I’m wearing each day.

Shop the Henri shirt collection online here or in store at 247 Hackney Road.

Images: Henri London

Words: Phoebe Grace Ede

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