Culture

What it’s like to run a skate shop in Lagos

Wafflesncream, a lifestyle and streetwear brand from Africa’s most populous city, is on a mission to inspire and represent.

Culture

What it’s like to run a skate shop in Lagos

Wafflesncream, a lifestyle and streetwear brand from Africa’s most populous city, is on a mission to inspire and represent.
Culture

What it’s like to run a skate shop in Lagos

Wafflesncream, a lifestyle and streetwear brand from Africa’s most populous city, is on a mission to inspire and represent.

Lagos, Nigeria, has just one skate shop.

Wafflesncream opened in January and is located in the bustling Victoria Island area of Africa’s most populous city. It’s also a lifestyle brand, a streetwear line, and a skate crew; its founder, 26-year-old Jomi Marcus-Bello, has been developing the concept for the past decade. Over Skype, he told me how he came up with the idea out of what felt like a necessity for a community of skaters in Lagos. “There are more people skating in Lagos than you might think,” he explained. “And it can feel isolated when there’s nowhere to skate or buy boards.”

A skater holds up a Wafflesncream T-shirt inspired by the Black Panther Party.

A skater holds up a Wafflesncream T-shirt inspired by the Black Panther Party.

Before it expanded into a shop, Wafflesncream hosted pop-ups around Lagos and kids would clean them out, buying every board, shirt and poster they had. After growing tired of explaining to people that yes, there are in fact skateboarders in Lagos, the crew decided to release its first skate clip, Jide, last August. They were already locally popular, but the video brought some international attention. And the brand’s seventh line of clothes arrived shortly after. It featured Black Panther Party-inspired graphic Ts and classic shirts with the Wafflesncream logo, a man in a top hat with coins in his eyes, printed on the front. The Ts look like they could have been plucked out of a lookbook from any number of streetwear labels based in New York or London, but with a perceptible twist.

Streetwear relies on its surroundings for inspiration, and Wafflesncream is no different. A T-shirt inspired by private property signs harkens to the sometimes hostile response to skateboarders rummaging through Lagos looking for a smooth plot of land to skate. The brand’s upcoming collection, which will be distributed globally, features collared shirts with elaborate, colorful patterns that look like the traditional garments worn across West Africa, all repurposed with a youthful flare.

It’s in that cultural specificity that Bello hopes to build Wafflesncream as a distinct voice for skaters across Africa. The crew is currently plotting another skate edit that will incorporate Nigerian culture even more, with clips of elaborate church services, bribes, and the curiosities of Lagos’ streets, he told me. “That's like our DNA,” he said. “We’re going to show the whole world what it’s really like over here.”

How did you get into skating?

When I was 12, I got a board as a gift kind of just randomly. I didn’t even know what it was, but I started skating around the area we lived until, when I was 16, I moved to England to go to school. From there I basically skated my life away. There was this park by the school in London where I would spend most of my time. After a few years, I ended up transferring to a boarding school in Zambiba.

It was there that I ended up linking with a couple of other guys who skate and we started our own little crew. I was still going back to England on holiday and stuff to see friends or whatever, and I would be the guy to bring back boards for everyone back in Zambia. As I was bringing boards down more and more people started skating. We went to Ndola, which is one of the bigger cities in Zambia, and helped get a skatepark going there, and now there’s like 4,000 kids skating in Zambia. After a while we released a video and got some buzz internationally before I met some guys in South Africa who gave me the idea to open up a shop.

“Every culture has the way they look and, honestly, I didn’t want to leave it to white people [to determine what we wear in Nigeria].”

How did the streetwear line develop?

That came early on, very naturally. Every skater always wants to look fresh. And every culture has the way they look and, honestly, I didn’t want to leave it to white people [to determine what we wear in Nigeria]. No offense, but it’s like, I feel like I’m trying to protect us. We’re working on making all of this for ourselves instead of bringing in outside influence. We’re building our skatepark, we have our own events, we’ll soon have our own bar. Nobody is going to come and take anything from us. The world is big, we can take our whole idea, the culture we have going on here, and we can share it with the whole world without anyone coming in.

You guys incorporate a lot of traditional looks in the line, too.

You know, that is just us. Nigerians are stylish people. All of Africa has its own style. We don’t wear plain clothes, we wear vibrant colors that make your eyes pop. So of course we’re going to make a brand that is for us.

Shout out to all of the companies who keep googling us to steal our style. One of our homies in Europe was wearing Ankara [print] trousers and someone on the train was taking pictures of him like,“Oh is that the new Supreme drop?” And it’s just like, “Nah bruh, my grandmother wears this.”

A group of skaters gathers in Lagos, Nigeria.

A group of skaters gathers in Lagos, Nigeria.

What has the response been like locally?

It’s weird. I can’t even really describe it. You know, most of the people here have never seen anything like this so there is on one hand a very big fascination. Like, “What are these people doing?” Sometimes it can feel like we are not just a skate shop, like we are playing a role in changing how the country views young people.

Do you think a lot of kids see you guys and want to start skating?

Yes. The youth here want an escape. They want what’s in the West without having to leave their home. We live in such a global culture. Imagine you are a kid and you fall in love with skateboarding through Instagram, and there’s nowhere for you to go skate in your own country. It can be very lonely. We had a pop-up shop here and they bought everything we had. Completely cleared us out, getting posters, shirts, all of that. It’s a challenge here, and that can make it feel like you are alone. That’s a lot of what we’re about, you know. We started this because we felt alone and we wanted to connect the community.

“Lagos is an amazing place and at the same time, we can’t even get a skatepark. And we don’t want a charity to come and put one here.”

The Wafflesncream umbrella includes more than clothes. I’ve read that you guys are working on building a skatepark?

It’s interesting, we’re actually having a very long debate about this. You know, there’s an American guy here, he grew up in a small town in the US and I remember him saying, “Even in the small town I was in we had a skatepark.” I think a lot of people reading this won’t really understand: Lagos is the largest black city in the world, has the most black millionaires in the world, Lagos is the powerhouse of Africa. Lagos is an amazing place and at the same time, we don’t have a skatepark. And we don’t want a charity to come and just put one here. You see it all the time like that, where it’s just, “Oh look at these Africans skateboarding.” It never sticks in the community like that, because it always just looks like some type of foreign aid. We’re trying to build this for ourselves, for the community here.  

What are the spots like in Lagos?

First of all, corruption has a very good role to play. [laughs] You know, a few naira here and depending on the security, they won’t have to bother anyone. But beyond that, I think because people are so intrigued, more often they just gather and watch us. What we do sometimes is we’ll go to a hotel. Hotels, since it’s a place where there can be guests from all over, they tend to be a bit nicer. And the staff, they don’t know if you are a guest or not so they mostly leave you alone.  

We don’t have very many playing grounds in this country, you know. There aren't many social meeting points for young people here. If you think about the West, there is a whole market towards young people — places to go, things to buy and experience, all made for the youth. Over here, all of those things are reserved for adults.

The Wafflesncream crew hang in Lagos, Nigeria.

The Wafflesncream crew hang in Lagos, Nigeria.

Why the name Wafflesncream?

It’s supposed to look international and sound international, so nobody from anywhere would look at it and pre-judge in any way. The logo of the white guy wearing a top hat... the top hat signifies a high status in society, right? People will be very comfortable wearing something like that. But it has a little bit of a different meaning, too. In most African mythologies, there’s some version of covering the eyes when people die, because the eyes are seen as a gateway for the soul. So with the logo, where the man in a top hat also has coins over his eyes, it has a little anti-colonial meaning “death to the colonists.”

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