Start The Riot: Ollie Henderson Interview

Start The Riot

Recently, you may have noticed fashionable young folk sporting political slogans across their chests. Welcome to Start The Riot, the brainchild of Australian model/artist Olivia Henderson. We found out a bit more… 

To the uninitiated, what is Start The Riot?
The aim of Start the Riot is to encourage young people to become politically aware and involved. To spread the message that everyone can do something and remove the intimidation that politics projects. It started with 100 home-made t-shirts with positive political slogans on them “Save the Reef” “Reject Racism” “Welcome Refugees, Save Lives” “Sexism Sucks” etc. I handed them out to my friends and colleges to wear during Australian Fashion Week in Sydney this year and create a stir. And we did! The Start The Riot has now developed and is under the umbrella of House of Riot. House of Riot have bought out a Zine, highlighting current political issues, we have the Start the Riot Facebook group where people can discuss the issues and make plans for action and hopefully many more things to come.

What prompted you to start this project/movement? And where does the name come from?
I was feeling frustrated with the current political climate and didn’t know what to do. Last year I wore a t-shirt at Fashion Week that said “Suck my Cervix”, it got a lot of attention so this year I decided to say something more meaningful. The name… I’m not sure where it came from. I was walking on the street in Brooklyn near my old flat mentally throwing around ideas about the project and it just popped into my head. I usually feel like I’m onto something good if it feels right straight-up, without having to process it too much.

How did you set about putting Start The Riot into action?
It was pretty in the fly, and still is. Ordered some t-shirts online, found some old paint and went from there. I’ve never been great at organising but I’m pretty good at just doing it. Sometime it works, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m glad this one did.

Ollie Henderson start the riotWas it easy getting people onboard? There’s a lot of disaffected young people out there at the moment…
Yes it was, everyone has been really enthusiastic. I don’t believe young people are as apathetic as people say, I think they just don’t have a outlet. It’s hard to know what to do from “I’m upset, I want to to something” to actual action.

It’s snowballed very quickly. Has it surprised you, just how much attention it’s received?
A huge surprise. I was really only expecting a few people talking and maybe a few blogs, but this has been wild! The biggest surprise was how global it has gone, US Vouge, US Harpers, iD UK, French Elle, and many more. I’m still blown away.

Is there a big demand for the T-shirts? And if so, how are you coping with it, considering you hand-make them all? That’s potentially a lot of late nights painting words on white shirts…
Yes, there has been a great demand. My first order from a store, Tuchuzy, was literally six times bigger than I was predicting. I’m lucky that I have great friends because I have roped a few in this weekend to have a paint party, hopefully we can just smash through them.

Have you had people constantly offering up new T-shirt slogans? Are there any that stand out, due to them being especially brilliant/offensive/funny etc?
Luke Sales came up with my current favourite “If I was a shark, I would eat Tony Abbot.” It reminds me of something an 8-year-old boy would say whilst throwing a tantrum. I’m not actually putting this one into production as I’m trying to avoid anit-Abbott slogans. I want this campaign to be more about the issues, not any particular party. But I still think it’s a great tee. Actually most of the anti-Abbott shirts were brilliant! The poor guy, it’s just too easy to make puns from his name.

Tell us about the Start The Riot zine. What’s in it and will it become a regular thing?
The zine was for Fashion Week Australia. I wanted something extra in case people wanted more information on the issues on the T-shirts. The articles were on the refugees, environment, feminism and more. Teamed up with a few more fun things like poems, playlist and collages. I am planning to continue the zine, it was really well received. I’m not sure when the next one will be out but hopefully in the next 6 weeks/whenever I have a spare second.

How can people get involved in Start The Riot?
Join the Facebook group, it’s a great place to see what’s going on and what you can do about it! Wear a t-shirt, start talking about these issues to your friends, raise awareness or just ask a question if you are interested but don’t really know that much. Educating ourselves and others is the first step!

Where do you see Start The Riot in a year’s time? Do you have a longterm vision for it? What do you hope to achieve with it?
I’m going to continue making the shirts, and hopefully other punk apparel. We already have stockist in Sydney, NY and hopefully will move into Europe later this year. Continue with the Zine and raising awareness. I’m talking to UK activists This Is The Future about bring them out to Australia to do some environmental work. Also working with a few local artist and musicians on collaborations.

The project was supposed to end after fashion week, so this is where we are at after only one month. I have no idea what this will be like in a year, but I think it will be big!

You can check out what we are up to at the website

bobby townsend


Interview by Bobby Townsend.