Nigerian born-and-based Papa Oyeyemi doesn’t follow the crowds of western designers. He keeps to his roots, despite fierce criticism from them. But fighting against the haters only makes him stronger, and since starting, he has launched more brands in addition to Maxivive and is rapidly expanding. But whilst others copy, he doesn’t complain. Instead, he praises them for finally realising what he was trying to do all along. Could he be the next iconic voice for his generation?
So Papa, you started your brand Maxivive when you were just fifteen! That is truly extraordinary. Does this mean you always knew that you wanted to be a designer, and how did you get to where you are today?
Yes, I knew what I wanted since I was about ten years old. It’s been a very long walk to where I currently am because I’ve had to figure everything out myself. Not once did I have someone tell or show me the way, and my brands are built on experimentation. I keep trying out new things and modernizing the existing techniques I’ve used then or now.
How have your cutting-edge brands been received in Nigeria? Do people understand what you’re trying to do?
Reception in Nigeria is so not good, but it’s getting better. I can remember when I just started out – it was terrible. The insults were major; I have been stoned with one of my show designs before, that’s how bad it was. But the good thing is that whatever I make now becomes more and more relevant into the future. All the trends and grounds I have both set and broken are finally arriving with the people many seasons ahead of their introduction by me.
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Something I find incredibly interesting and exciting about your brand is that, whilst you don’t conform to traditional menswear, you also don’t follow the strict rules of the fashion industry. Instead of having two seasons (Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer) you have three. Could you explain what they are and why you decided to do this?
I found it very redundant to follow every western rule when it doesn't apply to our environment. It’s like copying in an exam hall without checking if you are writing the same paper type as the person you are copying from – he might have a paper type A while yours is a D. Why should I follow Spring/Summer or Fall/Winter when they don’t exist here? Our seasons are Dry, which is hot; Wet, which is rainy; and Harmattan, which is very windy and dusty, with a mixture of cold chills and hot air. On this, I pioneered the seasons accordingly. I love the western calendar so I still follow the pre and main seasons; the only differences are the title of the seasons and their functionality in terms of design creation and conceptualization.
You’ve spoken before about your brand’s goal being to create genderless fashion. If this is the case, do you defy the fashion world even further by designing your ‘menswear’ with all types of people in mind – including women and the LGBTQ community?
I design for human beings, not animals. Gender is never primary; it’s not even secondary either. I like to think it doesn’t exist.
Obviously, it would be a lot easier for you to up and move to cities like London or Berlin, where this gender-neutral fashion dialogue is already underway. But I really appreciate that you’re sticking to your guns and changing the fashion world in Africa. Have many Nigerian or other African-based brands followed suit, or will they be doing so any time soon?
Pretty much. I love my country and I really love what I am doing. I get a whole lot of people following what I do, either directly or indirectly. I mean, the only thing that I am not really fighting against right now is how people lift my designs or ideas without crediting the source. I am glad people can copy because it only shows relevance. I know they can only copy what I have done, and not what is in my head.
“I have been stoned with one of my show designs before, that’s how bad it was. But the good thing is that whatever I make now becomes more and more relevant into the future.”
I love that you don’t follow trends, but instead make them. Naturally, this can spark conversation and controversy from people who are uncomfortable with the new and fresh – in both Nigeria’s and the international fashion world. Which piece or look received the most attention, and do you intend on shaking up the fashion world forever?
As long as I can, why not?  Maxivive is a brand that I am building to last forever. It would be my absolute love and desire to have the brand keep running long after my demise, with its full aesthetic on ground and modernized in the right ways. I have received lots of attention from various looks or pieces; each collection generally has a couple, at least.
Although everything you do is incredibly new and groundbreaking, do you still hint or nod to traditional Nigerian fashion in any aspect of your designs?
Yes, capital yes. I love tradition. I work a whole lot reimagining these traditions, I find that really interesting and fresh.
I really want to talk about your Wet 2018 collection, Glistening. It has so much depth and meaning to it that’s not just about the sparkly materials you’ve used. Could you tell us more about the inspiration behind it?
Glistening is a full yearlong theme for all collections I will be releasing this year. The Wet collection was partly inspired by Paris is Burning, a documentary on ball culture and other underground cultures in the ‘80s in New York. It is also taken from the mirage formed by the effect of sunlight on tarred roads or on water, which gives it this glistening effect. But most important of all was the alternative meaning of glistening, which is g-listening (not listening) – not listening or confirming to the norms and values that are very restricting. Why? Because it’s 2018, live your life!
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Back when you were studying, you majored in Psychology. Do you think that the knowledge and skills you gained from your psychological background influence how you think when you design, maybe by empathising with the people you’re designing for?
Yes, a great deal! I always make in-depth research on everything I am working on. I ensure that I hit all ground before commencing my sketches. I love empathizing, it helps a whole lot.
Could you talk to us a bit about the youth culture in Nigeria, with things like Bóyc. Is there a real community amongst young creatives?
There is a community that’s very diverse and un-tapped into. Bó young creatives (Bóyc) is a crystal ball of underground culture through young creatives, and I intend on documenting things happening right now for them, and their processes. The spirit, the life and the entire entity have to be captured and preserved for the future, to have a great and quality taste of the past with the #WEBÓYC movement.
Which three exciting creative people should we be following on Instagram?
Tokyo James (creative direction and design), OrangeCulture (design), and Kadara Enyeasi (photography).
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You’ve mentioned before that it’s not the making money you’re interested in. And eleven years down the line, you’re still taking orders via Instagram. However, you have expanded the Maxivive group and started Mxvv and Pal. Do you plan on moving out of Instagram sales to accommodate for an even larger following that is no doubt soon to come?
Yes! We are currently working on the Maxivive website, turning it to e-commerce where each brand has its own store. 
A couple of months ago, you launched your first Cruise collective collections for all three of your brands under the Maxivive group. (I am in love with all of it, and the styling for the show is just perfection.) These are exciting times for you! What’s next?
Thank you. That’s a major milestone that I have been meaning to reach for a while now in my career, and I am so glad and grateful that I finally did. I think for now I just have to master the art of doing everything I am currently doing. But the next major solo show would be the second edition of Maxivive By Appointment by the end of August; I can’t wait to execute my ideas on that.
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