South Africans are always keen to lay claim to people who are making it big beyond our borders. One of these is Paula Smail of Henry Road fabrics, and today we’re lucky enough to have an interview with Paula herself. I’m sure you’ll enjoy learning more about this energetic and personable fabric maven, now living in Los Angeles, California. 


Tell us a bit about your South African roots.
I was born in Cape Town, grew up mostly in Joburg and went to university in Cape Town.   One of my childhood homes was on Henry Road in Rivonia.  Naming the business ended up being a lucky accident and has proven to be a wonderful opportunity to regularly take a trip down memory lane as people ask about Henry Road all the time.

The business has become my personal scrapbook and travelogue. The colour and boldness in my textile design, the eclecticism in the items I carry and the music we play in the store reflect my African roots and all the other places I have lived in along the way.

I have ended up in Los Angeles for now and I’m sure that part of my comfort here is that there are plenty of gum trees and much of the foliage in the gardens can be found in Kirstenbosch Gardens.  One major thing missing is that the earth doesn’t smell when it rains!


How did you get into textile design?
I took a long windy circuitous road!  I was thrilled to receive a sewing machine for my 16th birthday, have always collected fabric and was lucky enough to have been exposed to art as a child.  Favorite places included shopping on Diagonal Street and the Oriental Plaza (okay maybe samosas were higher on the list than fabric here), and my artist mother dragged me into lots of art galleries.

I then headed off around the world, funded by au pairing in Germany, Brazil and Italy and crewing on a Yacht in the Caribbean. Public relations and corporate America paid for London, Paris and New York, and then I decided to do something more creative and happily ended up here.


What do you enjoy most about being the brains behind Henry Road Textiles?
I love the freedom of working for myself and being able to bring my dog to work; enjoy the variety and range of things I get to do, and am so excited by the potential and future possibilities.


Where are your fabrics stocked?
Some of our products are available in other stores in the US, but the only place that my fabric is for sale is in our store or on our website.

Breaking news: It’s good for South African customers to know that as of late January, we are selling all our fabric online in swatches, fat quarters and yards. And thanks to paypal, we can accept orders from anywhere and everywhere!chair

Any exciting plans for Henry Road in 2010?

We just updated our website and some of the new Henry Road products include storage sacs, napkins and tea towels.  Some new pillows to come in the next few weeks just have to find time to take the photos!  Also working on a pile of pillows that combine African fabric from my collection and old coffee and flour sacks with my fabric.  Those should be done by end of Feb latest.

And hopefully in the next month or so, a range of glass tiles featuring my designs will become available — a wonderful company has licensed my designs and although I have only seen photos as the tiles just got off a boat, I am thrilled with what I see.

Looking ahead,  I am working on new designs at the moment and hope to have those printed as well as some other new products later in the year.


Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule, Paula!