Written By: D’Shonda Brown
The #ShopBlack Interview Series is a new installation that shines light upon budding and booming Black-owned businesses ran by millennials and Gen-Z’ers who are heavily influenced by hip-hop culture. Introducing Paakow Essandoh, lead creator behind MIZIZI, founded in 2015 and inspired by various cultures revolving around African roots. Their limited, exclusive collections have always been designed with their values in mind: connection and representation. Read below the in-depth interview between D’Shonda Brown and Paakow as they talk about Pan-Africanism, Swahili culture, and the impact of embodying the strength and spirit of their African ancestors.
It’s my pleasure! MIZIZI was born in 2015 back in my college days at USF. I was trying to find a way to relate with other ethnic groups because I felt like I just didn’t fit in. It made me question myself and who I was. Ultimately leading me down the journey of looking into the different parts of my identity. Which is what MIZIZI means, literally, “roots,” in Swahili. We’re the way that people express their cultural identity.
Upon first look at your social media, it’s pretty evident that Black movements from Pan Africanism and the Black Liberation movement to Black Lives Matter are heavy influences in the designs from baseball jerseys to hockey jerseys. How were you successfully able to merge the stories of people like Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X into a cultural fashion movement?
At the end of the day MIZIZI is a tool; one that allows people to express their ideas and represent what’s dear to them. That’s why in each of our jerseys we like to add symbolic motifs to the design that relates people back to their country and culture. We want you to genuinely connect with your jersey by being authentically represented.
MZIZI is very “in-your-face” about multi-cultural aspects Blackness and encourages everyone who wears it from “Black Lives Matter” to different regions in Africa. How do you hope that your brand will evoke feelings to those who buy your brand, and even those who may just see it on social media?
We want you to feel proud. To feel as if you’re apart of one big black family that stretches all across the globe. We want you to celebrate not only your blackness, but the beautiful and diverse aspects of other’s blackness too! Although we’re a streetwear brand, over the last 4 years I’ve watched MIZIZi grow into something larger than that. It’s grown into a worldwide movement-a cultural celebration of everyone’s individual roots and identities that each of us shares.
Everyone nowadays says that they “do it for the culture” like slapping a rap group or a singer on a shirt, which I absolutely hate, but I have to bring attention to it because it sparks necessary conversation about cultural appropriation. What is “the culture” that you’re referring to, and how has hip-hop and Black entertainment served as a key influence?
When you boil down “culture” to its essence, you can conclude that ultimately it is art. Art that is being expressed in different forms from fashion, music, entertainment, etc. in that current period of time. Black art, in particular, also serves as a major influence worldwide. It’s catchy, it’s cool, it’s creative, it’s emotional, it’s twisted, it’s funny, it’s beautiful, it’s vast. Etc. There’s so many words that can be used to describe it man but there really shouldn’t be any surprise that it gets appropriated. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery; so if you got it, then you got it.
With movies like Black Panther and HBCU alum Ruth E. Carter leading the costume design behind the scenes, I think it’s important to discuss representation behind-the-scenes as much as we do express our anguish about lack thereof on camera. You even pay homage with the “Wakanda” jersey. How important is it to you specifically to uplift our brothers and sisters in their journeys to being the most successful creatives they can possibly be?
I really do believe that as a black individual, you are limitless. I live by the mantra that “the acquisition of knowledge is a catalyst of progress.” The more you learn about something you actually care to learn about, the faster and further you’re able to go in that direction. One of my favorite quotes is from “You can find Inner Peace” by Mike George. It says: “we never cease to learn, and because our motivation is love, which touches the vital lives of others, much of what we learn gives us joy – we receive from others the sparks of their inner light, ignited by the light that we cast upon them.” We’re all blessed with God-given gifts man, shine YOUR light and let it blaze.
Your brand has been tapped by media outlets like Forbes, AfroPunk, and The Source. You even came out with a line for The Lion King’s latest release. What advice would you give young Black entrepreneurs who are getting their business off of the ground, but don’t exactly know how or where to find their audience?
Keep it simple. Pick a niche. Determine the difference between their current self (Point A – who you are) and their desired self(Point B – who you want to be). Now ask yourself if your product/service is the best vehicle to get them from Point A to Point B. All selling is solving someone else’s problem. Figure out the root of the problem and figure out how you can be the solution to it.
Paakow Essandoh can be found on Instagram, @PaakowEssandoh and, you can also learn more about him and shop the line now available for purchase online on Instagram @MIZIZIshop at www.mizizishop.com .
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