We caught up with Nigerian designer, Wekaforé Jibril to find out how his Dubai-based brand, Wekafore is redefining African style.
How Emerging Designer Wekafore Looks to the Past to Shape the Future
Growing up in suburban Nigeria, Wekaforé shuffled between street-football in the nearby slums and helping his mother, a textile manufacturer, in the workshop. Wekaforé first discovered fashion at the age of ten, when his father taught him how to restitch and press-iron his school trousers. After moving to Dubai, Wekaforé started designing clothes to help support his family by screen printing his own T-shirts. Today, Wekafore has developed into a brand celebrating and reincarnating the forgotten glories of West-African cities and challenges the public to recognise an alternative side of black culture that is often overlooked.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
My name is Wekaforé Maniu Jibril, from Lagos, Nigeria. Based between Dubai and Barcelona right now. I’m a designer and creative director at Wekafore.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
When I was younger, I wanted to be a preacher. I think partly because I grew up in a religious family and partly because I felt like I had a few opinions and truths that I wanted people to hear. I also wanted to be an architect, because my dad is an architect and I have a lot of respect for the profession. I used to imagine myself in front a large crowd telling them things that they probably don’t want to hear.
If you could change one thing about the fashion industry, what would it be?
I won’t change anything about the fashion industry; I’d leave it where it is, go back to Africa and create a fashion industry for ourselves. I don’t think I’m entitled to anything here, so it’s pointless trying to make changes in a system that wasn’t created for me.
How did Wekafore come about and how has it developed?
Wekafore started purely out of necessity; I wouldn’t have been designing clothes if I didn’t need to. My family was going through a tough time. I needed to get busy and create something for myself. I started drawing on T-shirts at the age of 16, it slowly developed into screen printing, then into full looks and then into what we see today; a creative business with an objective, a message. It’s quite interesting how something so meaningless has developed for me into a symbol of hope for the future of contemporary African thinking.
How has growing up and living in Dubai inspired your work?
Dubai is a fascinating city, with very interesting complexes, privileges, standards and mindsets. It’s quite incredible how people who are so different can be so alike. It gave me a real sense of capitalism. Dubai is a super-capitalist city that was almost created for just that. You need to keep moving and play the game, or you get lost. Seeing so much exaggerated luxury helps you understand taste or the lack of it. Living with so many people from different extremes of the world also enables you to build on language and communication.
Can you tell us about your recent collection, ‘Thank You Florence’ and what inspired it?
My late grandmother inspired the recent collection; her name was Florence, she was wonderful. I mixed that objective of celebrating her life and honouring her with my obsession with the golden days in post-colonial Nigeria. The Afro-rock, disco, funk culture — a time where the country just got free from British rule and the youth were finding their voice and creating the blueprint for the newly free nation.
Somewhere along the line, thanks to Hip-hop and worldwide Americanisation/globalisation, a lot of Nigerians lost that touch with the raw sensation of that Afro-rock, funk, Juju music and disco subculture. I hoped to draw from this rich history and recreate those moments with the help of the present, hopefully, trigger a new perspective of the African aesthetic. So I tried to look through the lenses of my grandmother’s adolescence who grew up in rural Nigeria during that glorious era.
Wekafore explores the re-interpretation of urban African style before Americanisation – can you tell us a bit about how you are redefining urban African style?
My formula of reinterpretation starts from thinking backwards. While looking at references and finding inspiration, I try to eject my mind from a global thought process and just think about Nigeria or Africa. I think about blackness, about our history and our struggle. I try to remember my childhood and ask my parents about their childhoods when things were better. I try to find the difference between then and now, what music did they listen to and how it made them feel. What did it say to them? We cannot evolve without studying what was before to learn how to recreate that same sensation. So, in essence, I am not reinterpreting urban African style before Americanisation, I am trying to eliminate Americanisation from our thought process while also imagining where we will be now if there wasn’t globalisation if there wasn’t MTV or 50 Cent. It’s difficult because we all love T-shirts and we all love hip-hop music, we love juxtaposing things without firstly recognising them individually. I don’t think the objective will ever be fully achieved, but that’s my fight.
What is your stance on the representation (or lack of) of African designers and brands within the fashion industry?
I’m in a position of self-representation and self-empowerment. I think we must fight it; it’s our obligation to unlearn the European standards that have been super-imposed into our brain since we were kids. It’s harder than it sounds. We don’t need the fashion world to represent us; we understand fashion and branding and imagery are powerful, they affect our subconscious, but we need to create and exist in a world of our own. It’s quite contradictory because I had a showroom in Paris a few months ago, but even there and then I felt like I was in a world of my own.
Who are your favourite Dubai-based designers at the moment?
I love Faisal El Malak, I love Hussien Bazaza, also Nafsika.
Discover more from Wekafore via Instagram