DIASPORA—In our new series, The Artist is Present, we revel in and get to know the minds behind Africa’s creative world in fashion, art, music prose and more. We dive below the surface with African artists to talk about their process and purpose.
For our first feature, meet Muktar Onifade of VIZUVLGVDS—a creative agency that many know by its high-end, minimalist menswear designs. The 26-year-old also stays balanced with his fashion venture by maintaining a career in engineering as a calibration specialist in the automotive industry. The U.S.-born, Lagos-raised designer trusts his gut and uses his passion as his kryptonite, especially when comes across long days and sleepless nights.
“I just decided that I want this as bad as anybody else, and I refuse to let the fact that I’m in this engineering space hold me back from being able to compete with anybody that’s out there,” Onifade says. “The designs are my instinct, I feel like that’s the truest representation of myself is to just go with what I feel.”
In our conversation below, we discuss with Onifade on using his brand and career as an example for young Africans to build their own creative lanes, his process and more.
This interview has been edited for length.
OkayAfrica: How are you able to do it all—pursuing a career in engineering and fashion design—at 26?
Muktar Onifade: I’ve always been extremely determined about anything I put my mind to. Some days I’m working 10 to 12 hours and I still make time to go to the gym. Then I’m spending all night sewing and creating. I’ve dedicated myself and my mind to the craft. No excuses.
I come from a conventional African background where you’re expected to go to college and get a good job. I saw most of my friends forget about everything that we were passionate about in college. And I’m never the person that likes to let my situation determine where I’m trying to go. Going to school, they teach us how to develop ideas and research and do a lot of data collection to make an idea come to life. So I kind of just applied those principles to my passion and it works for me. It’s finding that balance, really.
OkayAfrica: And with the VIZUVLGVDS team, is it just a one-man show? Do you have folks on board to help you out?
MO: I do have my brother luckily. He’s an extremely talented artist—a musician and songwriter. Not sure if you’ve heard of Wurld? He has this song out with Shizzi and Major Lazer called “Show You Off.” We’re a team—I trust his eye and vision. When I’m stuck or I need somebody else to look over what I’m working on, I always look to him for advice.
So VIZUVLGVDS is not just a fashion brand—it’s a creative agency. We pretty much do everything from fashion, music, production and film. The “Show You Off” video we directed and shot that in L.A. ourselves back in January. But right now it’s just the fashion side that a lot of people see, but there’s a lot of actual musical content behind it. Not just VIZUVLGVDS but the entire brand as well.
OkayAfrica: That makes sense when you said that you want people to be bilingual in different skill sets. The video itself is an example of that.
MO: Exactly. I’m setting an example for what I want the brand to be—relentless. I feel like eventually the more success I get, the more I can be able to inspire other kids to be able to say, “Hey, hopefully one day I can have my own type of foundation.” Especially back home in Nigeria where it’s all about just coming as you are, whatever you want to be you can do it.
Also being African and knowing that my parents wanted me to just be an engineer. My brother, Wurld, also went to school to be an engineer, but decided that he wanted to be an artist. And I think it’s important we inspire other kids because they go through the same things we go through.
OkayAfrica: Would you consider that the mission or the purpose of VIZUVLGVDS?
MO: Yes—it’s to inspire through innovation.
OkayAfrica: In terms of when you create your garments and your clothing lines, what does your creative process look like? What inspires you to create these pieces that you make?
MO: When I made my first-ever collection it was outside and against the normal vein of African design, which was African prints. That’s my culture and I will always love it, but I felt like there was a system of, ‘Okay, you’re an African designer, you want the Kente fabrics, you want the loud prints.’
And I felt like, ‘Okay no. That’s not what I want to do.’ I want to be an African designer that focuses on minimalistic approach in fashion. Abstract lines. Simple engineering concepts. And for me, when I wanted to make a first collection it was, ‘What’s your story? Okay, I’m African. I’m an engineer.’ Those are the basics. I was thinking about calculus, thinking about fluid mechanics, thinking about a lot of concepts from engineering classes, and trying to draw some type of inspiration from that.
So my first two pre-collections were more about focusing on the abstract, minimal approach to fashion design, and I want VIZUVLGVDS to be known as an African brand that focuses on that style of fashion rather than the conventional, extremely beautiful African print.
I also didn’t want to wait two or three years for a big European brand to marginalize the culture. Even though they do their research, they don’t really understand it. It’s important for an African to be able to put the culture forward.
My upcoming collection is called “The People Of The Now” featuring the Fulani tribe. They are the most diverse and culturally dispersed African tribe in the whole of West Africa. They’re in Congo, they’re in Sudan, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon—about 10 different countries.
And so the most unique thing about them is going back home in Nigeria where we call them the Hausa-Fulani, and we know them as the cattle keepers. So I remember back home when I would come out, I think every Thursday, the cattle keepers would walk past the street, the mud street—500 cows just walking by.
And when they leave, they leave a bunch of smoke on the road. And they have a little cane, they wear the little Muslim long shirt and the cattle keepers are ‘nomadic herdsmen.’ They travel around, they migrate through different cultures. I grew up with the Fulani as another tribe in Nigeria without ever really knowing that they were that dispersed. I thought that they were just another tribe in Nigeria. So, I fell in love with the culture again for the first time last year. I started looking into and understanding it a little bit more. And one of the most interesting things that I found out was they migrated through different countries—so if you go to Sudan, if you go to Senegal, you will find that the Fulani tribe there have the same culture. They keep the exact same-same as the Fulani in Nigeria.
For me it’s about finding stories. I don’t want to make clothes without having some type of emotional connection to it. And I think that’s the beauty of being African is I have so many stories, so many inspirations, so many things that I can go back to to make collections.