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From HEAD OF STATE's 'Brotherhood' presentation. Photo courtesy of Taofeek Abijako.

This 19-Year-Old Nigerian Designer Went From Launching His Brand in a Cramped Apartment to Showing at NYFW

Meet Taofeek Abijako of Head of State—the menswear line inspired by the Nigerian spirit of grit and joy.

19-year-old Taofeek Abijako was one of the youngest designers to show at this year's New York Fashion Week. Inspired by the rich culture of Nigeria, Abijako started to replicate memories of home through style with his fashion brand, Head of State.

The Lagosian moved to Albany, New York, after his parents won the lottery to immigrate to America in 2010. He started designing and developing Head of State in high school, although he felt compelled to gravitate towards sports. Abijako also took on painting—so it's safe to say he was itching to let his creatives juices flow in a multitude of ways.

Abijako has always been artistic with a keen eye in design and architecture, drawing on anything he could find—even sneakers. His love for design elevated when studying the work of Raf Simons. It was then the idea of design as a career became a reality.


We talked to Abijako to learn more about his journey and how he plans on telling the African story through the fashion and design.

Ezinne Mgbeahuruike for OkayAfrica: What inspired your brand Head of State? And what does it actually mean?

Taofeek Abijako: I decided to name my brand Head of State after a song by the legend, Fela Kuti. I'm a Naija boy so I grew up listening to Fela, Sunny Ade, Fuji music, Pasuma, Lagbaja—pretty much all the 70s music. I also studied studio photography of the 60s and 70s of West African photographers like Malick Sidibé and Sory Sanlé, which inspired much of my vision for the collection, "Brotherhood." I think, however, through music, I caught an inspiration to tell an African story of the way we communicate and relate with one another. Nigeria is rough but I think we as people operate with a sense of joy and pride and it carries over in our style.

Since your dad was a fashion designer, did he love the idea of you being creative?

Yes, probably. I remember the day I sat my parents down to tell them I wanted to drop out of school to focus on my design full time. They were surprisingly on board. My dad was a fashion designer so I think he understood what I was trying to do. He made me promise to go back to school when everything was said and done so I'm not quite off the hook.

You started building your brand in a one-bedroom you shared with six others while in high school—what was that like?

Much like most Nigerians, I had to share a small space with my family. At night, we moved the furniture out of the way for the mat to be laid down where we all slept. It was there that I started drawing and painting sneakers that I sold online. Everything started bubbling over when I made Amandla Stenberg a pair and she posted it on Instagram—which was amazing. I believe anyone can make anything happen with just enough ambition and grit.

What's the toughest part of being a designer at such a young age?

I have to constantly prove myself to others. People often doubt me or don't take me seriously but I've learned to take myself seriously and show up. Part of that is also being prepared—doing research and knowing the industry.

I see you're also into film, how does this fit into your future plan?

It's definitely something that part of the future as I'm currently planning a few film projects along with my friends. I just wrapped up a short film with director Aden Suchak called Cul De Sac where I was a stylist and set designer. But I'm also into product design and furniture installations, so I would say fashion is just one chapter of an unraveling book.

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Photo by Gregoire Avenel

Eliana Murargy Is the Trailblazing Mozambican Fashion Brand You Should Know About

We spoke with the designer about her latest collection "Basking In the Osun River," which was the first by a Mozambican designer to show at New York Fashion Week.

Mozambican fashion designer Eliana Murargy has been on a mission to re-imagine luxury clothing in Africa since she first established her eponymous brand in 2011. Her latest collection "Basking in the Osun River," does just that. It debuted at New York Fashion Week (NYFW) last month, making her the first designer from Mozambique to showcase at the renowned fashion event.

Murargy put the myriad African influences in her designs front and center with "Basking in the Osun River"—a name which directly reference the mystical Osun River, which runs from Nigeria to the Atlantic Gulf of Guinea.

The designs themselves, are characterized by ethereal and skillfully tailored garments, designed in solid, earth-tones with feminine silhouettes, inspired by The Aje—a female Yoruba figure believed to hold fierce, cosmic powers as well as the water deity Osun. According to the designer, the collection was created with an "exclusive community of West African tailors."

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The Duke and Duchess of Sussex during a visit a Heritage Day event in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, on day two of the Royal couple's visit to South Africa. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)

Heritage Day 2019 Has Been Filled with Royalty and Stunning Style

Every year South Africans celebrate their cultural heritage by rocking traditional styles—these are our favorite looks from this year's celebration.

Heritage Day is a day for showcasing and celebrating the many different legacies, histories and cultures that make up South Africa. This year, news around Heritage Day was dominated by the royal visit, in particular the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, who has been spotted rocking looks by African designers, like the Malawian label Mayamiko during her visit. Yesterday, when the couple arrived, twitter was excited by Meghan's first words to the crowd, claiming she was there as "a woman, a wife, a woman of color and as your sister."

Today, South Africans were excited to share in Heritage Day celebrations with the English pair in the Bo-Kaap district of Cape Town, and the couple is scheduled to meet with Desmond Tutu in the evening. This is day two of the royal couple's Africa tour which they decided to kick off in South Africa.

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6 Things We Learned About African Migration to Europe in 2019 From a New UN Report

UNDP representatives presented their "Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe" report last night at Okay Space. Here's what we found out.

Yesterday, Okay Space hosted a discussion between UN luminaries Ahunna Eziakonwa, Mohamed Yahya and OkayAfrica CEO, Abiola Oke about the new UNDP report, Scaling Fences: Voices of Irregular African Migrants to Europe. The report examines young Africans who are leaving their homes to make the dangerous journey to Europe for economic opportunities—not solely for asylum or to escape persecution. The evening was both enlightening and sobering, and the main findings may be a little different than what you might expect.

Immigration to Europe from Africa is roughly 90 percent lower than what it was in 2015.

In 2015, slightly over 1 million Africans left for Europe. In 2018, it was just over 100,000. However, the percentage of those who drown on the journey has increased. In 2015, it was 1.6 percent of that million, while it grew to 2 percent in 2018. Meaning just over 2,000 people died enroute in 2018 alone. It is a disturbing factor that, four years on, more people are dying proportionately than when the large migrations began.

Even though most of Africa is rural, most of the youth leaving the continent for economic reasons are from the urban areas.


85 percent of those who the report identified came from urban cities or towns, though only 45 percent of Africans overall live in those urban areas. This means that most of them are coming from regions with "relatively low levels of deprivation." Analysts believe the rapid urbanization of many African cities could be a contributing factor. Benin City, Nigeria, for instance, has urbanized 122 percent in only ten years. These cities cannot actually support the people—and their ambitions and talents—who live there. It plateaus and does not allow for further upward mobility.

Only 2 percent of those who left say knowing the dangers would have deterred them.

This means 98 percent would do it again, despite the knowledge of fatalities and difficulties in crossing. The appeal of elsewhere is greater than death. This realization is crucial for all nations to better comprehend the true elements belying migration, particularly for those that this report is concerned with. Of the 1,970 migrants from 39 African countries interviewed for the report, almost all of them are willing to face death for economic opportunities abroad than stay home. As most of the migrants had relatively comfortable lives at home, they are not migrating to flee death or persecution as with asylum seekers. This prompts great questions and led the report to look at the issue from four angles: home life in Africa, motivations for leaving, life in Europe, motivations for returning.

58 percent of those who left were employed or in school in their home country.

Not only that, in almost every demographic and country, those who left had a considerably higher amount of education than their peers. From Malu, those leaving had an average of five years of education, compared to one year with peers in their age group and two years for the national average. In Cameroon, those leaving had an average 12 years, their peers had seven and the national average of six. Even when broken down by gender, both men and women who leave have about nine years of education while the national average is five and three, respectively.

Though the average African family size is five, most of those who leave have an average family size of 10.

When asked, migrants said their main motivation to leave is to send money home. This information is important as it may impact the motivations for needing to leave. The report reasons that an increase in population may also be playing a role in the motivations to leave. It was also reported that those who go abroad and find work send an average 90 percent of their earnings to their families. Essentially, they are leaving existing jobs to live on 10 percent of their new wage, highlighting that working below minimum wage in Europe is more prosperous.

Though 70 percent of those in Europe said they wanted to stay permanently, those who were working were more likely to want to return to their home country.

Conversely, the majority of those who did want to stay in Europe were not earning anything, 64 percent of them, and 67 percent did not have a legal right to work. Over half of those who did want to return home had a legal right to work. Analysts reason that those who did want to stay would likely change their mind once they had an income. This correlation speaks to a significant relationship between work and migration permanence. It also underlines the claim that migration for this group is focused solely on economic results as opposed to social factors.


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What was most striking about the event, however, was the strong feeling communicated in the space about exchanges between Africans regarding what needs to be done. The discussion did not only surround the facts and figures alone, but also the humanity behind understanding why people migrate. At one point, when addressing the crowd of various influential people on the continent and in the diaspora, Eziakonwa said "What are we missing here? What are we doing by leaving young Africans out of the development discussion? Our programs are clearly failing our African youth."

Later, Yahya responded to a question by stating there was certainly a cultural barrier in which Africans do not often address, listen to or respect the youth. "I can say by looking at you that no one in this room would be given a true say," he said. "This is clearly part of the issue." When asked what can be done by others, the response was to work to change the narrative, to focus on prosperity rather than charity and to provide better access and platforms for African youth to share their stories so that the idea of who migrants are shifts. And so we, as Africans, can better know ourselves.

Check out some photos from last night below with photos from Polly Irungu. Follow and share in the changing of that narrative via #ScalingFencesUNDP and #MyJourney.

Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu


Photo by Polly Irungu

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Anjel Boris, Question Mark, 2019, Acrylic and posca on canvas, 133 by 7cm. Image courtesy of Out Of Africa and @artxlagos

What You Need to Know About ArtXLagos 2019

We talked to artistic director of ArtXLagos, Tayo Ogunbiyi, about Lagos's unique art scene and what's to expect from West Africa's biggest art party.

OkayAfrica is a media partner of ArtXLagos 2019.

In three years, ArtXLagos has successfully established itself as West Africa's premier art fair, cementing its reputation as a center of culture for the entire region. Since its founding by Tokoni Peterside in 2016, the art fair has attracted exhibitors, art buyers and members of the West African art scene and beyond—providing a platform for both emerging and established artists and playing a notable role in the global art ecosystem.

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