YEVU Pop-Up Store Surry Hills—Meet Designer Anna Robertson

By Susannah George
11th Oct 2013

Although we are spoilt for choice when it comes to amazing fashion events in Sydney, every once in a while one comes along that gets everybody talking. This spring it is the opening of the YEVU pop-up store, located at 302 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills.

YEVU is a passion project created by Anna Robertson, who has spent the last year in West Africa. With no formal training in design, just vision and guts, Anna trawled Ghana's market places handpicking beautiful fabrics. She then worked with local seamstresses to bring this ethically produced, wildly colourful men's and women's range of clothing to life.

There is no doubt YEVU designs will be seen across Sydney this summer. We sat down with Anna to talk about YEVU.

TUL: What is the significance of the label's name YEVU?
Anna Robertson: Yevu is the word for white person or foreigner in Ewe, the language of the Volta region in Ghana. I've been told that it directly translates to 'crafty dog', which is apparently a reference to the 'crafty' nature of white people in their early trade and dealings with the Ewe people, and their tendency to get snappy when they were angry, like dogs do. I don't know how true this is, but I like the story.   

TUL: What's your design background?
Anna: Nil. My background is in international development, which is what led me to Ghana in the first place. That was obviously a bit of a challenge when developing the range, but communicating ideas and using references to explain what I envisioned to the amazing seamstresses I was working with, was really effective. They are extremely talented, and after 12 months, they understood my aesthetic well enough without me having to give much direction. It was a learning process, but I had enough time on my side to perfect the pieces and go crazy with prints.    

TUL: There is an amazing variety of prints in the collection; did you find it tough to choose?
Anna: It was so hard! There are so many prints on offer in Ghana's market places, and buying fabrics every week was really fun, but time consuming because I would spend so long trying to choose. I soon realised what worked well for certain pieces and got pretty good at it—I was taking too much time off work to go to the markets so I had to streamline the process!
TUL: Tell us about how you sourced the fabrics.
Anna: The major markets in Accra (Kineshie and Makola) were where I sourced the majority of fabrics. There were certain stalls that I knew had killer prints. Sometimes I'd see amazing prints in the streets of Accra, carried on the heads of men who were selling, so whenever I saw anything that caught the eye, especially if it was a little less common, I'd grab it. I also sourced some prints from the markets in Togo and Cote d'Ivoire when I travelled there. I loved Cote d'Ivoire, it was so surreal.  

TUL: Do you have a favourite print?
Anna: A few. But the funeral print, which I used for some of the bomber jackets stands out. It's red and black (like most funeral prints) and the motif on the back of the jackets is a picture of a giraffe and some other animals drowning in the ocean, and it reads 'Onipa nii aye' which is Twi for 'man is ungrateful'. It's just so bizarre and I don't really get it, but I love it.

TUL: You said in your 'about' section on the tumblr that you wanted to create "Unique and fun apparel to fit the lifestyle of my friends in Sydney". How would you describe the summer style in Sydney?
Anna: Well, I don't know about Sydney so much, I guess there's a lot of different pockets, but I get a lot of inspiration from my friends. We spend a lot of time at the beach, it's active and liberating and the way we dress reflects that—carefree, low maintenance and bold. I hope that YEVU captures that. There's an energy in Sydney in Summer, that is kind of hard to explain, but we can all feel it. It makes you feel alive.

TUL: What is the fashion vibe in West Africa? Any particular trends you picked up on?
Anna: People are really well dressed and take a lot of pride in their appearance. I think I ironed more in Ghana than I ever have before! The streets of Accra were a great place to get inspiration, because everyone's just rocking print on print all the time. My favourite look was the 'up and down'—matching top and bottom, kinda like a pyjama look.

TUL: Do you have any travel advice for those considering visiting West Africa?
Anna: Go! I think a lot of people go to South and East Africa because of the safaris and all that, but West Africa has so much to offer and the people are awesome. The coastline of Ghana, particularly the Western region, is so beautiful. We stayed in a 14th century castle overlooking a fishing village and banana and palm trees for a few dollars a night, and ate lobster for dinner. It's not necessarily easy to travel around, and landing in Accra is hectic and crazy, but it's well worth it and you'll become an expert at bargaining.

TUL: What's next for YEVU?
Anna: I want to make it sustainable, and go back to Ghana in the next few months to continue to work with seamstresses, tailors and textile producers. I want to develop the ethical side of production. Hopefully YEVU will expand online in January 2014—I'm already taking orders! Stay tuned!!

Yevu Pop-Up Store
302 Cleveland Street, Surry Hills NSW 2010
Opening hours: Thursday October 10th to Thursday October 24th 10am – 7pm

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