Photo courtesy of Mizizi

ActivismBusiness

Connecting the diaspora to its heritage through clothing, meet AFROPUNK Brooklyn vendors Mizizi

August 22, 2018

AFROPUNK Brooklyn is just days away and in anticipation for the festival, we spoke to African streetwear brand Mizizi to discuss how they took a clothing brand and gave it purpose. The clothing line was started by Paakow Essandoh back in 2015, growing the brand to a presence that allows members of the diaspora to connect with their roots through dope athleisure wear, even if they hail from the kingdom of Wakanda.

If you’re going to be getting your life at Brooklyn this weekend then stop by Mizizi to stock up on gear that your parents might steal from you.

1. Tell us more about your company and it’s vision.

MIZIZI, meaning “roots” in Swahili, is an African streetwear brand that was founded by me, Paakow Essandoh, in 2015. Although it originally began as a clothing company, MIZIZI has transformed into so much more. We have grown into a movement that is representative of connection and culture and we continue to be the way that people express their cultural identity. At this time we create various jerseys for every member of the Diaspora, ranging from African nations, to West Indian countries, and we even have jerseys that represent the Afro Latin community. The bulk of our recognition comes from creating these jerseys, but we ultimately want to become a dominant lifestyle brand within the international market in which we not only sell fashionable athleisure wear, but also functional sportswear as well. One of our loftiest visions is to sponsor kits for the World Cup as well as other leagues and organizations. Overall, our vision is to be the official lifestyle brand for the Diaspora and to serve as a reminder to #StayRooted.

2. What does AFROPUNK mean to you?

Here at TEAM MIZIZI, AFROPUNK represents freedom of expression and community. AFROPUNK represents a safe place where every member of the black community can gather together, without fear of judgement or rejection, to enjoy some of the things that makes black culture so lit. AFROPUNK represents community building, thought sharing, and love expression. However, above all else AFROPUNK represents the legacy of black culture in America and all the members of intersecting communities that contribute to the beauty that is black culture.

3. What is it like to be a black-owned business?

Honestly, for me life is never been more fun than when you’re the underdog going against all odds. Being a black owned business feels like a trophy in and of itself, because just getting to this point of success means we had to constantly challenge ourselves to surpass any expectations or barriers projected onto us. As a black owned business we’ve faced many challenges that our white counterparts may have never even realized would present an issue, but these roadblocks have only made the work we do more exciting and rewarding. After all, if this was all a breeze would it really feel as fulfilling?

4. What inspired you to start your business? What continues to inspire you?

Opportunity and a lack of representation are the biggest factors that inspired me to start MIZIZI. Africans, especially the children of immigrants, were a niche market that no other company was leveraging nor did other companies realize the power and influence that this market had over pop culture. I saw this opportunity for representation. When it comes to continued inspiration, I would have to say that the impact that MIZIZI has made and continues to make is what inspires me to keep pushing forward. The impact is magical; It sparks a curiosity within people to educate themselves about their country. Each individual comes with such a passion for their roots and this passion reverberates on a global scale and continues to connect us all. It’s such a dope domino effect to witness. MIZIZI has truly ascended past clothing and has transformed into a movement.

5. How did you manage to partner with Marvel?

Back in October 2017 when the Black Panther trailer dropped, all of our followers on twitter started talking about rocking MIZIZI at the movie premier. It wasn’t long after that where they started suggesting we make a jersey for it. After juggling the idea a bit I decided to do some further research and see what problems Marvel had, and how we could solve it. It wasn’t long after seeing we were the perfect fit before I put together a proposal containing a mock-up design to present to them. We were rejected. Multiple times. After that we took to social media to rally the troops where the mockup commercial we made went viral and soon was picked up by TheShadeRoom. It took a bit more time but it was soon after all of our efforts were recognized by someone within the organization on LinkedIn and 2 days later I was in LA meeting with their consumer products division. We did it.

6. What does the Black dollar mean to you personally and the success of your business?

Economic power is where true power lies and when a community has purchasing power it can be the catalyst of change for the entire community. The black dollar means empowerment, freedom, and change to the team here at MIZIZI. We acknowledge that every dollar we make is coming from the black community and we are eternally grateful for that. MIZIZI would not exist without the power of the black dollar and the support we’ve received from the Diaspora community only further motivates us to keep reinvesting back into our communities and ultimately powerdrive change within them.

7. What has been the most rewarding part of your job?

I can’t even lie, what has me cheesing from ear to ear is seeing the impact that MIZIZI has had on the legacy of different families. Whenever I see how proud a parent becomes whenever they see their children reconnecting with their roots through our clothing it makes me feel so full of gratitude. I grew up not knowing enough about my own Ghanaian culture, but the personal search for my own identity led to the birth of MIZIZI. I love to see people discovering unique parts of their culture through MIZIZI and seeking out deeper connections with their roots because they finally feel connected to where they came from. I even had one customer tell me that she’s bought many different jerseys in the hopes to pass it on to future generations in her family, such as her nieces, nephews and cousins. That was really dope to hear. Ultimately, the last three years of my life have been spent creating pathways that connect the Diaspora back to its corresponding roots in Africa and it has been the most fun I’ve had in my 23 years of life.

8. How does AFROPUNK influence the work that you do?

AFROPUNK is one dope ass platform! However, that is not all it is. It stands as a tangible representation of what MIZIZI is–a place to connect, express, and cultivate over our shared roots. AFROPUNK allows us to connect with different members of the Diaspora from all over the world and remind them how unique, crucial, and transformative our roots are and how bonding together only makes us that much stronger.

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