With an online magazine and e-store, OXOSI champions the continent’s most exciting young designers
When you think of modern African identity, Akin Adebowale and Kolade Adeyemo want you to think of OXOSI. The pair previously ran a creative marketing agency in New York, but in January last year created OXOSI as a platform where African fashion designers can not only sell their clothes – they can tell their stories.
Adebowale explains that OXOSI was born from a realisation that a lot of emerging African and black creative talents were not being seen by a wider global audience. “We saw brands that were creating high-quality design: really creative, and really energetic. And there was no middle ground between connecting that supply and that demand, and making it commercially viable.” While some big, Europe-based labels have recently created films and shoots in Africa – there was Kenzo’s film on Nigerian youth directed by Akinola Davies Jr, shot by Ruth Ossai and styled by Ibrahim Kamara – Adebowale and Adeyemo want to nurture and support local designers, showcasing African talents who take pride in their culture and connecting them with potential customers worldwide.
“It’s about who we are, and who we represent across the world” — Kolade Adeyemo
The result is not only a curated collection of some of the best of African design, stocking brands such as Daily Paper and Maki Oh, but also an online magazine that celebrates African creativity across the world. From editorials to films, its content is wide-ranging, which Adeyemo says is central to exploring the vast creative wealth of Africa and all of its varied communities. “Part of our commitment is making sure that we represent the whole continent, and (that) we include the diaspora. It’s about who we are, and who we represent across the world.”
From Nigerian skateboarders and youth culture in Mali to interviews with African creatives spread across the globe, the articles celebrate the multifaceted nature of modern African identity. Adebowale and Adeyemo are very aware that colonial narratives about Africa convey ideas of darkness and mystery, and so in a sense are always trying to break through that. Their magazine seeks to enlighten, to educate, to satisfy curiosity. A particularly intriguing series of videos called ‘Getting Dressed’ depict intimate portrayals of the morning routines of African creatives. An insight into the most personal of moments: the silence of sleep punctuated by a phone alarm, the process of transformation in front of a mirror – these videos reveal rather than hide, and foster closeness rather than distance between viewer and subject.
As Adeyemo and Adebowale are both of Nigerian descent, they see this recognition of the complexities of African identity as part of their commitment to being a truly pan-African brand. As Adebowale puts it: “Africa is really, really big, so there's a lot of learning that we had to do.” The duo collects these diverse identities under the term ‘Afromodernism’, which they use to describe the current social and creative renaissance in African identity. Adebowale relates it to the Pan-Africanism movements of the 60s and 70s, as well as Afrocentrism in the 90s, but says that it can easily be over-intellectualised. “It’s our take on African modernism. Being African in modern times and African around the world is what is actually means.”
Their latest project seeks to broaden their reach, as part of establishing themselves as an iconic African brand. A sweatshirt with the slogan #vivaAfrica is part of a campaign starring model Ajak Deng to involve and foster their community. Adeyemo emphasises the importance of creating this sense of connection and the nascent space around Afromodernism. He feels they need to “give space to that group, and we're really excited to be at the forefront of that movement.” “It’s like a subculture”, Adebowale believes. “It's very creative, it's artistic, it's really energising. The community is a huge part of what we do.”