About the Founder
Henry, from Beaumont, Texas, graduated from McNeese State University in Lake Charles with a degree in visual arts. When he was studying he never thought he would ever start a clothing line, let alone see it grow. He had other dreams. At university Henry played on the football team. He broke the single season record for receptions at McNeese State University in 2004. His work ethic, his passion and his love for the game was consistent, helping him do something that had never been done before at McNeese State University, that is break the record for catches in a season. That alone inspired many younger football players to work harder on their game.
Henry’s real passion is art which he started since he was 8 years old. After graduating from the university he taught high school art and coached high school football. However he wanted to do more so he started to do his own thing. At first he did a little bit of everything – painting, drawing etc. and he posted some of his artwork on Facebook. He got a lot of positive feedback and people started to buy from him nationwide. He had confidence and faith in his abilities and he enjoyed his work.
Henry’s advice to anyone who has a dream is “Trust in God and obey what you are prompted to do. You will be amazed what God can do for you when you obey. So take that leap of faith.”
The Birth of CHIDI
When Henry drew CHIDI he simply wanted to connect with his roots and give back to the people. He didn’t even have a name for the black woman that he painted. At that time he was going through a lot mentally in terms of his career and other parts of his life. He prayed and asked God what He wanted him to do with the piece of art. Within 5 minutes of praying he received this deep inspiration to look up African names. Out of the thousands of names, the name “Chidi” stood out. He clicked on “Chidi” and learned that its meaning was “God exists” in Igbo, a major language in Nigeria. To Henry this was profound, considering that he had just prayed to God. That was enough for him to call his painting “Chidi.”
The Black Lives Matter movement inspired Henry Art Smith to research more on his African roots. He learned that the Igbo tribe in Nigeria (where the name Chidi comes from) made up 40-60% of the Africans that were shipped over the Atlantic during the slave trade. He learned that his African ancestors had a very strong spirituality before they were abducted and brought to America. They remained strong and spiritual during slavery. He learned that it was that spirituality, and their inner strength and faith that helped them to survive the harshest treatment from the slave masters. To him his ancestors were real people with real roots. He understood that indeed black lives matter. With that appreciation he felt the need to express himself more through his art.
Since the day that Henry obeyed the inspiration to choose the name “CHIDI” for his painting of an African woman, everything has been working out smoothly for him. That he was guided to look for an African name and found the name Chidi was enough proof to him that God exists. The name Chidi is very powerful for the African American people. The knowledge that God indeed exists gives the people a strong foundation to face all types of challenges knowing that they are not alone and to grow from those challenges.
Henry’s art created a strong following on social media. He received a message via Instagram from a woman in California who asked him to put CHIDI on a T-shirt. He did that for her. It was not long before Henry’s T-shirts were noticed by celebrities. The R&B singer J. Holliday noticed the original CHIDI piece worn by Henry’s first customer. He shared the news on social media and soon many people were asking him for the T-shirts. Transitioning to clothing designer was not difficult for Henry considering that he majored in visual arts.