After living in Nigeria and Dubai, he’s found peace in Barcelona, a city that inspires him because of its people and creativity. Wekaforé Jibril is the founder, creative director and, as he himself puts it, “head propagandist” of the fashion brand Wekafore, whose aim is to change the vision of negritude and how the Western world perceives the African continent.
Being aware that his skin colour will most probably add several obstacles to his road to success, the fashion designer only seems to gain strength and self-confidence. Raised in Nigeria to a family of craftsmen, his passion for clothes and a personal style developed from an early age; but his true love, people and their stories, is what he’s learned along the way. Now, presenting a collection titled Thank you Florence, which includes a letter/poem dedicated to her grandmother, he’s retelling and reinventing the story of West-African countries when freedom, experimental music and a jaw-dropping outfits lived in harmony before the European governments decided the continent was of their property and started exploiting its people and resources.
You come from Nigeria, spent your teenage years in Dubai, and now you’ve settled down in Barcelona. How has this background of moving between different countries, continents, cultures, and languages shaped the person you are today?
Nigeria itself is a huge country with over a hundred different tribes, and Lagos – its capital – is the perfect melting pot with over twenty million people. But I think that living in all these different places outside Nigeria has given me a good sense of the world outside my family, my culture, and myself; and more importantly, it’s given me a good sense of humour.
I remember living in Ghana for about four months; it was my first experience with a slightly different culture to mine. Moving to Dubai was a big deal: it’s a very interesting city with many different people from different corners of the world living in this little bubble. I usually find myself being able to feel truly comfortable in any social group – Muslim, Buddhist, black, white, Asian, Arab, etc. – because I respect their individual struggles and understand their way of thinking and style of communication. They don’t teach you that in school. 
Why Barcelona? It’s not precisely on the list of fashion capitals. What attracts you from the city, and what do you expect it to offer to you both as a person and as a fashion designer?
I feel at peace in Barcelona; there is an atmosphere of tranquillity here and I’m able to move at my own pace. Yes, people are not the most progressive when it comes to fashion, but I don’t really care. I only care about people and people are down-to-earth here and they live honestly; I’d rather have honesty and tranquillity than fashion and noise.
I’m slowly setting up a base for my company here and I hope to influence the city as much as it and its people influence me. I believe that we, as young creatives, must shape the future – and I’m taking it very seriously. In 2018 we are starting the Voodoo Club with some help from a few creative people from Barcelona and Madrid. I think will be an interesting way to contribute and collaborate with the youth culture here. 
You come from a family of craftsmen, and it was thanks to your father that you got introduced to fashion. What are the first memories you recall about it, and at what point did you decide to pursue a career in the fashion design field?
My first memory of fashion in its purest essence is while I watched my mother’s workers actually make yards of fabric from just threads of wool and starch. The intricacy of the design and the time they spent were amazing – and also the embroidery guy making art with the machine. As a kid, I was in awe and it has always kept attracting me. My first day in high school I knew I had to be the coolest kid: I had my school uniform custom-made and ironed everyday, and I kept my shoes polished at all times. That’s when I decided I wanted to do this. My father didn’t raise me with money, but he raised me to be firm and confident.
“I think it’s less about what I put into the clothes and more about what the clothes contribute to the story.”
How do you translate your roots/origins into the clothing you create?
I hold my roots and my origins tight to my heart. In a world that encourages people to be insecure and timid, being proud of where I come from is my style of defiance, especially as an African. I think it’s less about what I put into the clothes and more about what the clothes contribute to the story.
I have a lot of memories and references of dry grass and brownish-red soil, playing football in the streets, running away when we broke the window of a car. That was pure happiness despite being young and poor, and you can see it everywhere in my work. I look at the world as a theatre play or as a movie and the clothes are the props and costumes, and the models are the characters in the story. It will exist without the clothes but it won’t be complete without them.
In your webpage you state: “Wekafore hopes to develop a unique aesthetic based on nostalgia and the reinvention of negritude […] Showcasing and educating the public to a different side to black African culture that has been forgotten”. How do you do so, and what are the main highlights of this forgotten, even unknown side of black African culture?
The main highlights of this forgotten part of our culture are the music and the taste in the air. The music was experimental and expressive and I’m sure that the air smelled like freedom; freedom from prejudice, and colonisation. Somewhere along the line, we as Africans (West-Africa) lost the connection with that raw expression and carefree mindset. I’m retelling that story and reinventing this aura in our contemporary world.
The fashion industry is being criticized for its lack of diversity when it comes to models, but there aren’t many worldwide known black designers either (or Arabian, or Latin, for that matter). What are the main challenges you face as a black person when it comes to the business of fashion? Have you ever felt discriminated in the fashion world because of your skin colour?
I have definitely felt discrimination in Dubai. When it comes to support or opportunities, just like everywhere else in the world, they want to be European. If my name was Antonio or Ahmed, I think it’d have been a different story. Let’s face it: the fashion world is run by old white men who grew up in very ignorant times. I know I can’t change or fight that; our only way of defiance is to create a new world for my people and me within the one live in. We are the new punk, you and I. With my bell-bottoms and Fela playing in the background, we are the new edgy.
“African representation in European media is all about refugees and immigrants, but it’s our job to change that and educate our friends so they can educate theirs in turn.”
You’ve decided to present your latest collection, Thank you Florence, through video. Why did you choose this format? 
I chose this format because I believe that video is the best way to precisely express the feeling of the collection. Collaborating with the models and making them part of the story, giving them the space to be carefree and expressive were part of my objectives for the collection. When we were producing the music, we imagined the campaign video looking exactly as it is.
The film showcases young black individuals dancing to the rhythm of the music, but there is a poem dedicated to your grandmother, Florence, as well. What’s the connection between the clothes, the campaign video, and the poem?
Before I started sketching the collection, I imagined the party. I envisioned my grandmother and her friends; the collection is based on what they would have been wearing when they were young and free. So it was important to turn those images into reality with Adriana Ramirez, the director and co-director of photogrpahy; Sendoa Cardoso, co-director of photography; and Paula and Aina, the set designers.
The poem is a love letter to her. It was important to talk about what I feel for her, to say the words I never got the chance to tell. It was important not to sell clothes but to tell Florence's story. So basically, in the campaign video, we are revisiting Florence's younger days and the party is a celebration of her life (Florence played by the girl in the silver pants dancing). The poem is me talking about her and to her, turning her into a sort of eternal figure that will live forever.
Photographers Malick Sidibé and Seydou Keita are among your main influences. The Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris has dedicated the biggest retrospective ever held of Sidibé, which is still on view until the 25th of February. Do you see this is as a sign of positive change? What does it mean for you to see that a major contemporary art institution holding an exhibition like this?
Yes, I think it’s great. Fashion-forward people are opening their minds up to our culture, to our perspective. Maybe at some point in the future, globalisation in the fashion world might have a chance to be translated into real-life opportunities for African designers.
“Thanks to the Internet, the future of the world is in our hands: we can choose to watch television and ignore Africa like our parents and grandparents do, or we can choose to open our hearts and minds to love and collaboration.”
Despite this exhibition, it is true that Africa is the ‘forgotten’ continent, especially for those who destroyed it during the last century and continue to do so by ignoring its current problems (mainly caused by Western governments and huge companies who abuse of their power and influence). Now that you’re in Europe, how do you see African representation in the mass media/society?
African representation in European media is all about refugees and immigrants, but it’s our job to change that and educate our friends so they can educate theirs in turn. There isn’t a lot of integration of Africans within Spanish culture if you compare it with France or Britain. We all know Africa is a very rich continent with an endless goldmine of content and inspiration. We all know that Picasso’s and Matisse’s paintings or Modigliani’s sculptures were mainly inspired by African art. We are used to taking from Africa, but not to giving.
We all have this prejudice when someone mentions ‘Africa’. However, I think it’s in our hands now to make a change. Thanks to the Internet, the future of the world is in our hands: we can choose to watch television and ignore the continent like our parents and grandparents do, or we can choose to open our hearts and minds to love and collaboration.
If you could make a wish to the genie in the magic lamp, what would it be and why?
If I had a genie lamp I would wish for peace and equality in the world. I think it’d be a totally different place; imagine if Africa was just like Europe and we didn’t have to come here! My second wish would be to get the new season of Game Of Thrones before right now, before everyone else (laughs).
You’re very young and the brand is still emerging. What are the next steps in your career? Where do you see yourself in, let’s say, five years?
I’m going to build a studio here in Barcelona where I can work and continue developing my design language and learning with Wekafore. I want to collaborate with everybody and everything. Voodoo Club is very high on my agenda. I want to learn to play the piano.
In five years, I see Wekafore as a worldwide phenomenon, a bulldozer spreading peace and positivity while changing the way people think of the continent, making African contemporary fashion a staple in mainstream culture. A fucking superhero. And for myself, maybe with a cute little dog and with the ability to stay in a serious relationship.