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Wekafore AW17Photography Catalina Almada

The Nigerian label using fashion as ‘African propaganda’

Wekaforé Jibril is the designer behind Wekafore, championing accurate representation of the continent’s diaspora

Fashion has a complicated relationship with Africa. While the continent is often cited as an inspiration  remember Valentino’s ‘Wild Africa’ inspired SS16 collection which featured a cast of white models with cornrows? – labels helmed by African-born designers are not often at the forefront of the industry.

One designer looking to challenge that is Nigerian-born Wekaforé Jibril – founder of label Wekafore. Having learnt how to sew in his mother’s basement workshop, he left the country to study fashion design in Bilbao, Spain, in the hopes of following in the footsteps of Cristóbal Balenciaga, who was born there.

There, he learned the importance of having a message within what he creates. “About 70 per cent of what I do is about talking to people, and how to get people to believe in what you’re doing,” Jibril tells us. “The social part of designing, whether it’s through the clothes or images – that’s the most important aspect for me.”

While the label initially started out selling t-shirts – something that the designer still believes is important in communicating his message (“You can say anything you want on a t-shirt,” he says) – over time it has grown to include both menswear and womenswear collections that look to the past for inspiration and have a distinctly Afroretro feel.

Beyond making the clothes look good, Jibril is keen to bring a political edge to his designs. “People don't like when you preach to them, so how can you talk about it from the side of your mouth,” he explains about feeling the need to dilute his message to get it across. “How can I visualise an argument in a less aggressive format? I think graphic t-shirts are the most important part of the collection because I try to put words that say something.”

Contrasting the minimal, more traditional looks, there’s a disco influence, seen via sparkly lurex tops and sunglasses that throwback to the 80s. For the designer, the past represents “the sensation of freedom, pure expression.”

Here, we talk with Jibril on creating Wekafore and how African fashion is both misunderstood and underrepresented.

What was your first introduction to fashion?

Wekaforé Jibril: My mum used to have a mini-workshop, backstreet kind of place that made this particular Nigerian fabric that’s called ‘aso-oke’. She had a couple of workers, a guy who did embroidery. During my childhood, I used to go play football on the streets and then coming back home and help them out in the basement, so that was my first introduction. Now that I look back, I guess it was subconscious because I never really thought about it as something I’d like to do. When I was at that age, I wanted to be a preacher.

What made you want to become a designer?

Wekaforé Jibril: I’ve figured that the clothes are like props in a show and the clothes help the story. That’s how I see it, it’s all about talking and a lot about saying something. I feel like the clothes I design, there’s a story behind everything. The clothes without the context make no sense.

How would you describe Wekafore?

Wekaforé Jibril: It’s pure voodoo, pure magic. For me, it’s a propaganda machine and it’s my sort of African propaganda. Everything I think of is political because that’s how I grew up. Being African and growing up in different places, I’m just experiencing things in different ways – you can’t help but be political.

Do you feel that African fashion is often misrepresented?

Wekaforé Jibril: Usually, when you say ‘blackness’ people automatically think of African American or hip-hop. It’s been going on for so long that people from where I’m from almost lost themselves to Americanisation, they don’t know themselves anymore. For me it’s important to go back to 60s/70s. Before we got confused and distracted by European standards or hip-hop music. Back then, Africans and West Africans were really pushing their own perception and their own opinions of things. I just want to take back that sort of force and put it into now.

What were some of the inspirations behind the SS18 collection?

Wekaforé Jibril: I was reading a lot and researching on Afrofuturism and the concept of counter-past, counter-future – how to think of the future without a European context. Nigerian and West African religion too and how religion, Christianity and Islam, has affected our language and the way we talk.

In Nigeria, it’s super religious so God is in every single part of everyday talk. I have a very political opinion of how religion is the main problem in our society, but I just want to show that in a transparent way. I’m not saying this is bad, or this is good, it’s just transparent.

How did this translate into the campaign images?

Wekaforé Jibril: For this one, we took images with little African kids in Spain. It’s the second generation immigrants, and in all the parts of Europe, it’s a normal thing but in Spain, it’s new. It’s interesting for me to meet these kids and to find out that they don’t speak any English, they speak pure Spanish and they’re from Congo or Ghana. It’s a community of contemporary Spanish Africans, I don’t even know how to define them.

“When you think of African fashion, this is Africa and I’m Africa. Some people say Africa is the future, but no, we’re here now” – Wekaforé Jibril

Why is the representation of African people important for your images?

Wekaforé Jibril: We need to be our own representation and control the narrative. The narrative is being controlled for us and it tells us what we look like. I’ve had arguments with people who’ve never been to Africa, telling me what Africa is like.

There’s still a lot of work to be done. I guess it’s my part of the job to make it easier. It’s contemporary African people who are already sensitised to the modern current culture and modern society.

Have you faced any difficulties over the years?

Wekaforé Jibril: I think just being able to say the things that I want to say without having to dilute the message, so people can feel comfortable. There’s a lot of ignorance and people don’t want to talk about it. When you say ‘my brand is about blackness’, people start looking at you differently – I had a girl call me racist once. She said I kept talking about the differences between Europeans and Africans and I kept putting labels on things. My argument is that a lot of brands are too scared to define themselves and say the truth.

What are your plans to continue spreading that message and trying to make things as best as they can be?

Wekaforé Jibril: I want to continue talking from a streetwear perspective. I feel like there’s more opportunities to affect people from this channel. I just want to keep growing and I want the brand name to be like synonymous to Africa. When you think of African fashion, this is Africa and I’m Africa. Some people say Africa is the future, but no, we’re here now.

@wekafore