15 Mar Say Less
Symbols are a big part of both culture and identity, they create a connection between experiences and concepts without needing any further explanation. In Washington, D.C., one of those symbols is Helly Hansen. Many of us have our own stories of the Norwegian outdoor brand and what it represents in the city, but we can all agree that seeing the iconic double H’s is an immediate sign of respect. Whether you like it or not, in the end we are defined by our own experiences and roots run deeper than you could ever imagine.
As children to immigrant parents living and carving out a life here, we’d struggle to define what we truly identified with on a daily basis. We never understood why our school lunches looked so much different than everyone else’s. Why we couldn’t go to our friend’s house on the weekend because we had classes for a language we didn’t use in school. We’d act in ways that were different from our peers and adhered to different norms with seemingly no rhyme or reason. When we were kids we couldn’t understand or appreciate these differences. Over time, we’ve come to realize that these symbols are actually a part of our identity – it’s what makes us who we are. Not only has it laid the foundation for what we believe in today, but it has also sparked a rediscovery of pride in our roots.
Right from the jump, Helly Hansen had an immediate impact on how people perceived and thought about DC identity. Starting from the early 2000s, it gained a heavy association with the city. Fusing technology with bright colorways made for the perfect marriage of function and fit. With the frequent cold fronts that permeated DC during the fall and winter, combined with the city’s infatuation with technical wear, what more can we say – it just made sense. Helly Hansen pieces weren’t cheap and were hard to source, even though there used to be a retail presence for the brand in and around the city. During that period, demand kept spiking and eventually this led to some incidents including a fatal stabbing and robberies at gunpoint for the gear. At that point, outlets like the Washington Post, were scrambling to fully explain the connection between Helly Hansen and the city, but were met with little success. Most people couldn’t understand the lengths that people would go to in order to secure a piece. DC tends to be a pretty transient city, one in which many people spend a few years in and move on. Helly Hansen serves as the exact opposite of that mentality and has a staying power that rivals what the norm is for the city. It’s organic, sparked by the vibrancy of local culture and wanting to stand out from the rest. It’s unaffected by outside trends, and is passed on by example through the city’s own hometown heroes. Many wonder how Helly Hansen came to be in the city, and like any symbol, it transcends words.
We all love to travel, and when you travel outside of your city, you’re always asked the same question “Where are you from?”. In these moments, you’re able to communicate and share the things you represent. You’re able to share symbols from your life. Symbols such as your personal background or like what Helly Hansen means to DC. What you choose to share with others about your collective experiences, gives them an important frame of reference when they think about your city or where you’re from. These moments offer an opportunity to wear your identity on your sleeve. As an individual, you yourself are a symbol of where you come from – taking on the form of ideas, words, sounds and gestures.
Creative Direction: Charlie Duong
Writing: Joseph Wang
Photography: Kevin Wilson
Models: Charlie Duong, Tony H.