Photo: Temi Thomas and Kwesi Yanful: Courtesy of MIZIZI
African streetwear brand MIZIZI is celebrating their 5th year anniversary, and Amplify Africa sat down with the 25-year-old Ghanaian-American founder Paakow Essandoh to talk about how he turned his clothing brand into a symbol of African cultural pride.
The name, MIZIZI, meaning “roots” in Swahili, represents the celebration of the roots and cultural identity that represent and connect us all. When I asked Essandoh how the idea came to him, he reflected on a very lonely time in his life as a student at the University of South Florida. Having moved from Texas he experienced a complete culture shock, “I had great difficulty making friends in an environment where not many people looked like me,” he says, “I knew that I wanted a name for my brand that was inclusive for all Africans and Black people to feel represented.”
Photo: Paakow Essandoh Founder/President of MIZIZI
In 2014 the trend was baseball jerseys and Essandoh couldn’t help but think that he had never seen an African baseball jersey before. That birthed the concept of MIZIZI’s first collection. Fed up of working as a pharmacy technician, Essandoh decided to take MIZIZI seriously. He conducted thorough research to identify which African countries had the largest populations within the United States and used that as his starting point to best reach those communities. For the initial launch, MIZIZI concentrated on designing baseball jerseys for Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and an Africa jersey that would be inclusive for all.
Essandoh reached out to a multitude of manufacturers in his search of the one that could bring his vision to life. Each one quoted him a price that was far too expensive and he soon realized that he would have to find another angle. “I began reaching out to established brands,” he told us, “my goal was to have them cover the manufacturing costs, then I would focus on how to sell the product and spread the MIZIZI message.” After completing a 50 page business plan, Essandoh began tirelessly pitching to every African brand he could find in the U.S., Canada, Europe and as far as Australia. He repeatedly had doors slammed in his face, as each pitch was met by a rejection.
Refusing to give up, Essandoh had relentless determination to ensure these jerseys were produced. He finally found a manufacturer he could afford that was able to provide a high quality product he was proud of. Having already spent ample time establishing his business plan and brand marketing, this was the final piece to his puzzle.
Upon receiving his first package of samples, Essandoh called some of his close friends in Dallas and scheduled a promotional photoshoot. On August 30, 2015, MIZIZI officially launched, and the growth of the clothing line since then has been truly phenomenal.
Photos: Temi Thomas and Kwesi Yanful: Courtesy of MIZIZI
In 2018, Marvel’s Black Panther was set to be released and there was an immediate buzz on social media about what everyone was going to wear when they went to watch the highly anticipated cultural phenomenon in movie theaters. MIZIZI followers began suggesting that they design an official Wakanda baseball jersey for the occasion. Essandoh’s first thought was why would Marvel, a multi-billion dollar company, partner with a small Black-owned business? That wasn’t going to stop him from trying as he says, “our mission has always been to authentically connect members of the diaspora so they can represent their roots and passions through fashion.” Diving into the research of Marvel’s marketing plan with Black Panther, Essandoh created a pitch deck representing MIZIZI which included a mock up Wakanda jersey to present to them. Marvel initially rejected him stating they already had merchandisers they were working with and didn’t need another.
“If you can’t get in the front door, then you ask how do we go through the back door?” is the motto of the politely persistent Essandoh. He launched the social media campaign #MIZIZIforMarvel which encouraged the public to put pressure on them and show how much the people wanted the Wakanda jersey. They were reposted by several high profile pages including The Shaderoom and eventually, Essandoh received an email from a member of the Marvel team recognizing his tenacity and passion, which in turn landed him a phone call. Just two days later he found himself in sunny Los Angeles speaking with the Disney Consumer Products Team and finalizing a deal for their limited edition Black Panther inspired baseball jersey. They have undoubtedly kept the momentum going as Disney was eager to collaborate with MIZIZI again for the 2019 release of The Lion King.
Photos: Temi Thomas and Kwesi Yanful: Courtesy of MIZIZI
What makes MIZIZI so special is their genuinely authentic passion for culture and community. Essandoh is joined by five others who complete their dream team; his mother, endearingly called MIZIZI Mama, who is the Chief Spiritual Officer and manages all customer support and shipping of packages after intentionally praying over each one. Temi Thomas, Creative Director and Brand Strategist; Kwesi Yanful, Lead Photographer; Rebecca Antwi, Social Media Manager and Kenneth William Obeng, Graphic Designer.
When I asked Essandoh about his future goals for MIZIZI, he replied, “I try not to focus so much on specific goals, but rather on the direction we are moving in.” Since its launch, MIZIZI has expanded into basketball, hockey and soccer jerseys. “When you look good you feel good, and when you feel good nothing can stop you,” he says, “I don’t want anyone to feel the way I did when I was living in Florida. I want people to look good, feel good, and know that they belong to a larger community. I eventually want people to be dressed head to toe in MIZIZI, so that’s the goal, to establish a full clothing line.”
Before wrapping up our conversation, Essandoh left us with an exclusive! MIZIZI will be releasing a surprise documentary on the Black identity, and will also be dropping 5 limited edition jerseys in late September that will be representative of the major Black diasporas. Follow them on Instagram to stay connected and be the first to learn of all their latest drops and be sure to visit their website to find the jersey that best suits you!