Behind The Seams: True Soldier
In honour of newly-released ‘Fresh Dressed’, we’re covering the best in Bristol fashion. Grace sat down with Jerry Grocravla to talk about True Soldier.
Designer Jerry Grocravla conceived the idea of True Soldier when he was only 17. It hadn’t become the homemade Bristol brand that we know, but a way of life that promoted a message of strength and courage. Three years later, True Soldier launched for the first time in Paris and was relaunched in Bristol this year. The motto is simple: spread your wings; follow your dreams. It’s a testament to Jerry’s own story and a lifestyle he wants to wear everyone to wear (literally) with pride.
“The name True Soldier came to me and I really liked it and what it represented.”
Tell us a bit about your background.
I was born in Paris and raised in a Catholic School. Over the last of my teenage years I moved to the Caribbean [to] Martinique, a French Caribbean island.
How did you go from going to school and being in Martinique to designing?
I’ve always liked clothes, since I was a little boy, so I wanted to create something to have my own garments… I can’t do it right now but soon I’ll be able to make my own cuts and then I’ll be able to show what I really have in my mind.
How did you go about that if you were only 17?
I wasn’t thinking about it as a brand. The name True Soldier came to me and I really liked it and what it represented. When I thought about doing a brand with it I was 19 years old. I started to go to some conferences to learn about how to set up a business and how to create a brand. I was 20 when I launched it first.
Tell me about the ethos behind True Soldier?
On its own, it’s an expression used in the UK and America. It means that you’re a strong person. I like this fact; I like strong people. I’m a strong person and I want to show people that they can be strong; that they have to be strong. Our motto is: spread your wings follow your dreams. It means just do it. It’s like Nike in another way.
Heritage seems quite integral to True Soldier. What made you use African print?
It was just the Spring/Summer collection, but I keep the bestsellers… People like them and I like them personally.
The first inspiration of True Soldier is hip-hop culture – [it’s] a melting pot. The base of culture is Africa – African culture and roots. But there are also Latin Americans into hip-hop culture, Asian people… European people. Because it was the first collection of the re-launch of True Soldier, I wanted to start with the roots.
“True Soldier isn’t only clothes, it’s a movement.”
You did a show at The Island in May and you had live music…
Live music, breakdance, live painting – there were some really skilled graffiti artists – and the fashion show.
True Soldier isn’t only clothes, it’s a movement. For now, I can’t really prove it because I’m just starting but I want to link True Soldier with some break dancers, some singers; I’m already working with Relly from Bristol, and City Lights from Washington DC and Mickey Trifecta from Philadelphia.
I want to be a bit like Red Bull. They’re an energy drink and they’re in everything that’s related to energy, like extreme sports. I want to be the same with hip-hop culture. And I want to be able to help underground talent. If you go into the ghettos of Europe there are loads of people that are really skilled in break dancing, rapping, BMX, skating and different things that are related to hip-hop culture but they don’t have light on them. And when I’m able to, that’s what I’m going to do – bring light to these people.
What do you listen to for inspiration?
When I’m in the workshop I like to listen to jazzy hip-hop beats because there aren’t any words so I can’t be distracted by what they’re saying and they’re quite chilled… Jazz, reggae, rap music – mainly French. Booba – is number one. I take him as an example of starting from the bottom and going to the top.
So you find inspiration by trying to experience as much as possible?
Apart from the hip hop culture I take inspiration from different cultures on Earth people different countries and the colours they use in patterns. I have my eyes and South America at the moment and the patterns from the Incas and the Mayans and I really love it. It’s colourful it’s bright and it’s old as well. I think things that are old are invaluable. It’s our past. It’s human beings that were here thousands of years ago who created this.
…I take inspiration from different cultures… I think things that are old are invaluable. It’s our past.”
Tell me about the new collection.
The inspiration is Japan. I love Japan and they’re a big part of hip-hop culture. There are even Dancehall Queens in Japan. They have some of the biggest sound systems on Earth, so I wanted to use Japan for their wonderful culture – the Samurai things, the way they dress, the women, the houses – so I’ve made two new prints with Japanese inspiration. There’s two dresses with traditional Japanese fabric and t-shirts with pockets.
People have been talking a lot about cultural appropriation – about people who take their culture and don’t really acknowledge the history behind it. Obviously, you’re inspired by cultures. How do you make sure it’s authentic?
I’m passionate about history so I know a bit about a number of countries on this planet and when I find a country I don’t know about I check what their story is. I’m always checking; getting the meaning. One of Japanese fabric I’ve used… It’s waves. It’s an ancestral pattern. It’s really old in Japan. It’s the way they were drawing waves on paintings. I try to know exactly what I’m using, what I’m doing, what the message is.
What do you want True Soldier to accomplish? Where do you want it to go?
Right to the top next to the big brands the big names like Nike or Adidas. When I reach that, I’d like to help. I don’t understand people who become multi-millionaires and just drive nice fancy cars. I think every human being who has that much money should be giving to the people; not necessarily to people like us in Europe who are complaining but we have everything… I’m thinking about the countries in Africa and South America, China, and some places in Asia when they don’t have access to water, or food or education and so I’ll spend my money on that, more than on fancy cars.
Would you buy yourself at least one fancy car?
I think yes but I think I’ll feel guilty… When you see those rappers and actors they’re driving Lamborghinis… With that money you can build a beautiful for school somewhere and for at least 100 years. Children will learn there and you’re doing something for real. After your death you’re still there. With your Lamborghini, after your death one of your sons or friend or anybody related to you will get it. Maybe the government will sell it and get some money back. It’s useless, so I don’t like useless things.
Have you got a passion for fashion? Or do you have a brand brewing in you brain that you think we should know about? Get at us – @rifemag
If you love design, we’ve got the hook up. Design and build your own BMX with Creative Youth Network.