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Talent Emerging: Beni Huwa

Beni Huwa, translated ‘Tribe of Him’ is a conceptual London-based streetwear label that has come to redefine what the term independent in the context of fashion means all over again. With many young brands today, the word independent is often thrown around to no avail, yet Beni Huwa have ensured this is one concept within their aesthetic that remains indefinite. Bound together by their love for Hip Hop and culture, the label was founded in 2011 by Basil Burley and Beni Lii.

Beni Huwa began – like most other cult streetwear labels – by selling T-shirts and has continued to elevate since, with statement hats and sweatshirts also under its belt. In a short space of time they found themselves opening a pop-up store in Birmingham’s retail space, the Mailbox, and have continued to grow a steady following of loyal wearers ever since. Their organic process, namely referring to projects released on their own accord when they feel the time is right or necessary, has meant the production of timely strategies such as Project Halo: The Dark Light, which experiments with reflective materials. All based around a certain theory, Beni Huwa is centred on what the people need in a functional way.

We caught up with Basil from to group to find out why not having a typical design background can – in this case – be an advantage.

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Planet Notion: Beni Huwa – how did it all begin?
Basil Burley: Our friendship was built on us having similar tastes in Hip Hop and clothes so Lii and myself were bound to do something creative together at some point. We were at university in 2008 and a lot of brands that we grew up admiring were going under, X-LARGE even did a collection called ‘Streetwear is Dead’. That collection inspired us to feel like we could save it, which was slightly childish and ambitious but it pushed us. We agreed to get Beni Huwa started once we finished university and that’s when KB joined us. We printed our first T-shirts in 2011 and sold them out in a few days and just kept going from there.

PN: You don’t have a typical design background (LCF, CSM) do you feel this has helped or hindered you?
BB: Neither did Ralph Lauren or Tom Ford – and Thom Browne studied Economics. At first it was scary knowing that there was and still is a lot to learn but it’s coming along. Creativity comes from the same place and any skill or trade can be acquired, as long as you have ideas and drive. We also operate as a creative research and design agency and have already had designs we’ve done for other brands sold in places like Harvey Nichols, so it hasn’t been a hindrance at all.

PN: Do you have any brand signature(s)/ pieces that define Beni Huwa in particular?
BB: True streetwear is utilitarian first and fashion-minded second. We are committed to this with ‘Project Halo’, which began with a 5-panel cap that we made entirely out of 3M reflective materials. The aim is to introduce products that will fit into the modern urban landscape and be highly functional. So with that particular piece we wanted to solve visibility issues for joggers, cyclists and pedestrians who are out at night.

PN: In which ways do you all combine your different skills and how does this benefit the brand?
BB: I give the brand creative direction and brand strategy, Lii deals with the technical aspects of production and business management and KB is in charge of sales and promotion. Then we have a few other members of a wider collective that help us carry out other tasks. It’s quite simple but that helps get things moving in terms of decision making.

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PN: In your opinion, what’s the difference between streetwear and fashion?
BB: It’s debatable but streetwear is supposed to be utilitarian led but this has changed over the years. It’s relatable clothing for a generation that were born post-1960 and it’s always been pegged to sub cultures such as Rock, Hip Hop, Surf and Skate to name a few. Fashion follows fashion, streetwear follows culture.

PN: How much support do you feel independent designers have from the fashion industry when it comes to launching their own brand?
BB: The fashion industry is extremely organised so there is (surely) support systems set up to help designers launch their brands, but we didn’t take that route.

PN: What have been the struggles/highlights so far?
BB: We started off selling T-shirts to our direct circles and on the street, literally! That was probably the biggest struggle we’ve faced so far, but as a result we managed to open a pop up retail space in Birmingham for 9 months. It was great to learn the retail side of the business at such an early stage and do a lot of ground work.

PN: What are you currently inspired by?
BB: When clothes don‘t fit how they should. Even more so we are inspired by energy. Like the ambitious DIY amateurism of 90’s Hip Hop, it was so raw and rugged. Groups like the Wu Tang Clan and movements like Master P’s No Limit Records really influence our current aesthetic and mind frame. It’s minimal, straight to the point and honest. We want to recreate that feeling where something was shabbily put together for a circle of friends but ended up all over the world by mistake.

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PN: What kind of advice would you give to other emerging designers?
BB: Enter the realm of ‘DO’! Don’t wait, just get moving and work with what you have. Form follows function.

PN: How important is it getting the balance right between design and business?
BB: It’s so important. It’s the rag trade, if you are not turning what you create into a business then you are not going to be able to continue doing what you love. You can’t ignore the fundamentals of business. So you have to get the balance right.

PN: What do you want Beni Huwa to achieve?
BB: To add onto the culture, make good clothes and never sell out.

PN: In the digital age, how important has social media been to leverage your brand?
BB: Social media and the internet at large can be very useful. If you can capture an audience, no matter how big or small that audience is, as long as you occupy them you will benefit. Look how long it takes to bring a brand to market and distribute it the old fashioned way, the internet speeds things up. That said, you still need to do a lot of ground work in the real world before you can really see it translate online, you can’t ignore building a foundation and get carried away only worrying about your social media presence.

PN: What designers/labels do you guys look up to?
BB: Top 5 dead or alive are: Yves Saint Laurent, Hiroshi Fujiwara, Ralph Lauren, Tinker Hatfield, and Marc Jacobs.

PN: What sets you guys apart from other independent labels?
BB: We try to be very honest with our designs and go with a back-to-basics approach. We are a small team so we stick to what we know and would rather build a strong foundation and earn our place, as opposed to just throw a heavily branded garment on a celebrity and crash our brand into the ground. We are running a marathon not a sprint.

PN: Where do you see yourselves in 5 years?
BB: Opening a permanent flagship store in Soho, staying independent and taking one day at a time.

- Hardeep Gill

www.benihuwa.com



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