WAFFLESNCREAM: How a Nigerian skate brand is providing community for a new generation of creatives
a skateboarding community united by music, fashion and art.
a skateboarding community united by music, fashion and art.
This story originally appeared in NATIVE 001: The Birth Issue, May 2017.
The city of Lagos is home to over 20 million people. The streets are always busy, and rainy days can be quite warm. Dubbed ‘The centre of excellence’, there’s an aspirational spirit to Lagos very few cities possess. WAFFLESNCREAM (abbreviated to WAFF) is a skate brand with strong intentions – to challenge preconceived notions of urban youth in Lagos city.
The whole idea is the synthesis of different interests: skateboarding, BMX, fashion, art and music. It entails a group of people that have a passion for creativity in its different forms. The brand seeks to shed light on Lagos, the forgotten heroes, and forgotten heroes to be. WAFF celebrates authenticity and particularly embraces innovation; it embodies the purist approach to individual culture.
To get a good idea of what WAFF really is, you can’t speak to just one person: at its core it is a circle of friends that have become extended family – Nif, J, Elijah Zgambo, Kofo, Slawn, Onyedi, Leonard, Nuda, Jide, Fadekemi, AJ, Jordan Thomas, Dae, Millabad, Donnika, Thai Hibbert, Be, Saidi, Bai aka Fuzxy, Anthony Wildman aka Wildest, Omi, KC, and Eva, and that’s naming a handful. WAFF has become network of like minds scattered across three continents and counting. Here’s an image of ‘The Family’ from a past pop-up.
Speaking to AJ, a skater who did videography on the first WAFF skate tour from Leeds to London we get first hand perspective of the brand’s humble beginnings, “WAFFLESNCREAM started in Leeds as a concept, no clothes, no ‘brand name’, just skating,” he explained via Facebook messenger. “Leeds was the first experiment, simply a vibe; there was no reference to home. But Leeds had its own unique style of skating and associated lifestyle we embodied. There was a mutual want to bring something different to skateboarding, and the Bello brothers [J and Nif, who started the brand] had strong ideas of how they would like to represent skateboarding. That brought them to their ‘we’re gonna get this’ moment. The filming and photography was approached with a focus on representing this pocket of life.” This process of organic growth happened again in Lusaka, Zambia when J teamed up with Elijah to help kick start a skate scene that is now in the thousands, before its latest reenactment in Lagos.
At the time of the first skate tour, the Bello Brothers (J and Nif) were between Reading and Leeds. The original Leeds skate crew had been about their antics as young skateboarders for some time, but J had to move away to Reading for univeristy. The actual concept of WAFFLESNCREAM as a brand was created while in Reading, long after the crew was birthed. J would design apparel while Skype-ing Nif, who made sure the merchandise got to the Leeds crew. And just like that, the first wave of WAFF had begun.
Shortly after, WAFF collaborated with Redbull to go on their premier skate tour, this is when AJ was brought on board to help document the trip. He credits his loyalty to friends to WAFF eventually becoming his family, “The reason I went to London with them was no one else in Leeds really knew about them and didn’t want to ‘dip their toe’ as it were, and trust them. So people saw it as just another early 2011 hype and an exploited idea. I stuck with them because the other riders [in the Leeds crew] were my close friends and eventually J became that also.”
The first skate tour was ten years ago, and since then seven collections have been released; the last release [titled ‘007’] being two years ago. It seems that for the past 2 years, WAFF has been in hibernation. After expanding the brand through regular apparel releases and pop-ups between London and Lagos, the family doubled down on their mission: to make skating a reality for the kids back “home”. When AJ is asked about the strides WAFF has taken, he tells the classic story of a diamond in the rough, “You know, people who used to snigger are now so surprised at their success and I just assumed it was only a matter of when. On the other hand, the last 10 years speak their own experience and validation. Besides this, the name can definitely turn someone’s interest by merit of being so unique. It happens so often when I crack out the ‘Crack is Wack’ [an adopted slogan used in their first collection] windbreaker and everyone’s like ‘yoooo’. Hahaha”.
The last editorial from 007 was shot in 2015 on Elegushi beach in Lagos, this would serve as a preview of things to come. The core of the WAFF family are now based in Lagos and thus, the focus has shifted to a large extent. But there are still representatives across the UK, USA, Ghana and Zambia, who are still loyal to the house J built.
One of the key components of the brand of WAFFLESNCREAM is its ‘facelessness’. Founder and head honcho, J, is notoriously opposed to any sort of personal press or media angling to portray WAFF as one man’s passion project. And those that have met him know just how passionate he is about it: it has quite literally been his life for a decade now. This selflessness is refreshing in a country where everything seems to be about the individual rather than the collective: from the fashion world to the oftcriticised political realm. J’s personal detachment to the general public has allowed the brand to develop an identity that is independent of any individual figurehead, and it is reaping the benefits. Behind the scenes it’s a web of commitments where all the team members bring their strengths to the table. Nuda – a London based creative – has modelled and done creative direction for past editorials, Onyedi solely recorded footage for the last edit (‘Jide’), Slawn does graphic work and illustration for their coveted t-shirts, and Leonard does Illustration and photography. Most recently, Nif (who daylights as a product designer) is drawing up sketches for Lagos’ first skate park: the crowning achievement for the Bello brother.
When WAFF initially relocated to Lagos on a more permanent basis, J and the family brainstormed on ways to integrate into the underground culture of the city. Whilst this was their home, they were still seen by some as foreigners, coming from the UK. The family soon started sporadic underground music gatherings named VIBES. Established in 2015, VIBES was a perfect platform for WAFF to make their mark in Lagos. Bringing people from different walks of life into one room. Be it avid skaters, streetwear aficionados, or simply Lagosians tired of the repetitive bottle service clubs and overpriced bars – VIBES was a safe haven. At the time, WAFF had no office, staff or skaters but VIBES was a way to connect what would eventually become family through the universal language of music. Since its inception, there have been numerous, and usually spontaneous VIBES nights with selectors from the family [Dae, Omi and Fuzxy] all gracing the decks. Special guests such as Seun Kuti and M.I. Abaga have also been in attendance, with the events varying from the back garden of friends to art galleries. The VIBES DJs recently released a mix titled Indigenous Mix Vol. 1 – wonderfully hectic collection of tracks, which currently acts as the soundtrack to the flagship store. Harking back to the early noughties, the mix is only available in CD format, exclusively at the store in Lagos.
When talking about the familial ethos to work and skating, Slawn states, “Family is what the group considers itself to be. Because we know not everyone will accept and understand what we’re doing”. It comes as no surprise to find out the crew celebrates birthdays and engagements alike. Negative sentiment associated with the ‘otherness’ of emerging cultures stays true to skateboarding in Africa. Elijah [who helped set up the first Lusaka crew] has recounted tales of being arrested and locked up in Zambia on numerous occasions, in a previous conversation with HUCK Magazine.
The locals in the area around the store have mixed opinions on skateboarding. The vast majority of them are interacting with the sport for the first time and they are still trying to understand what it is exactly that these kids are doing. They mostly see skateboarding as an unnecessary hazard, but will cheer on when a skater’s ‘impossible’ stunts are landed – pun intended. For now, spectators are watching with an a gaze of amazement, but not quite admiration yet.
It takes a lot to be a skater in Lagos. Most of the city is flat so you haven’t the luxury of cruising down hills. It’s a lot of kicking and pushing to get around (this is the only way to pick up momentum when skateboarding). In addition to this, the best areas to skateboard are usually fenced off and/or have security guards. Sometimes skateboarding is wearily condoned at best, but this is without any future guarantees from proprietors of spaces the skaters frequent. Negotiating their way around to find the perfect mix of smooth ground and ‘skatable’ obstacles can be challenging, but definitely makes being able to skateboard even sweeter when they can. Everyone learns a trick from someone else, which means that the skate community is connected in a spiritual way too; it nurtures feelings of camaraderie and humility amongst the skaters. Leonard rants on the challenges of skating in Lagos, “You don’t have facilities, or even good roads. You don’t have people who have trained for years with skills you can catch up to, you just have to have a fuck you attitude towards these obstacles and keep grinding. Hopefully, someone picks up a trick from you, you learn from them, and the cycle continues.”
Leonard chimes in again with a frustrated but humorous tone, “Lagos is trying to be a megacity but the parks aren’t physically accessible, nobody’s making their way under a high speed bridge for r&r [a reference to the public parks built by the state in hard to reach areas]”. The WAFF crew is constantly on the lookout for interstitial spaces to skate. Sidewalks are few and far between outside the older parts of Lagos Island, which really comes down to city planning. When Nif and J break the news of a potential skate park, it’s met with as much excitement as relief.
Go Skate Day (an international skateboarding day) is being celebrated by the crew: on June 21st skate films will be screened all day at the skate shop and their second skate edit titled ‘Linda’ will be premiered. A half pipe being constructed for The 24th of June follows this; it’s surely a good time for the skaters in Lagos.
It has been an interesting past few years for WAFF, the brand now boasts West Africa’s premier skate shop in the shape of their flagship store in Victoria Island, Lagos which opened in January 2017. With intentions of making a global impact, it’s fitting to find that the shop’s address is 234 Muri Okunola Street (+234 being Nigeria’s international code). Senegal and Ghana are two other West African countries with a skateboarding scene but have no supplies. This makes the skate shop a regional game changer.
Despite their considerable strides, international distributors do not always believe that WAFF exists, sometimes going as far as asking for pictures of people buying apparel in-store to prove it’s legit. Kofo, the store manager recalls, “Every proposal feels like a 419 scam, with the ‘Nigerian Prince’ gag and all. The landlord still doesn’t understand what we do. People in public and even parents ask why we do ‘this thing’, they can’t make sense of it”. Outside of Nigeria, there is growing list of African countries with blossoming skate scenes, but only Zambia and South Africa boast skate shops. The possibilities for skateboarding on the African continent are still presenting themselves as the sport gains popularity in little pockets.
What the store means for Lagos is a cultural meeting point for skaters and creatives alike. After the soft launch there was a 5-week ‘Friends & Family’ exhibition featuring photography, illustrations, graffiti, paintings and music from different members of The Family. The space changes to suit its needs as it grows, while keeping the environment interesting and cosy. The original back office is now a production room. Recently the till was removed completely only to be replaced by a sofa. There’s a cat that roams around, but mainly just chills in the stock room.
In a country where the WAFF crew is more of an outsider pack, only the youth and future generations may enjoy the luxuries of a developed skateboarding scene aided by private and public support. The marginalised action sports enthusiasts – the skaters, bmx’ers, and more – may soon find themselves represented on an international stage. Skateboarding was just green-lit for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the intro to an epic underdog story has been penned. The question if Nigeria (or even Africa) will have its own Cool Runnings moment will surely be answered in due time. Other extreme sports in the region need a way to tell their own stories, but it’s the Wild West right now and there are no rules. WAFFLESNCREAM dually serves as a source of inspiration, and the benchmark to inspire other brands to come forth. London and New York are two cities that have seen skate brands revolutionise youth culture, and we can only hope Lagos is next. The infamously media-averse J finally speaks on the record when I ask him about his views on the future of skateboarding: “Africa is ready, let’s see what happens.”