Janefrances Chinwe Iwuchukwu
Putting on a sports jersey goes beyond representing your favorite team. It can symbolize the city and culture that you grew up in, and when worn as a group in a stadium setting, it also brings together an entire community.
Sportswear brand Mizizi sees an even bigger way to harness that power. The label is using them as a vehicle for African pride.
It was founded in 2015. The clothe line was conceived by Paakow Essandoh when he was a freshman at the University of South Florida studying pharmacology. Essandoh is now based back home in Dallas, where he spent most of his childhood. “In Texas, there’s a lot of Africans—in Florida, there’s not so much. It was really hard for me to connect with the different groups of Black people out there.”
Essandoh began thinking of ways that he could make friends and connect with his fellow Black students, “so that I wouldn’t be as lonely, and that nobody else would feel as lonely as I did,” he says. While he was completing his studies, Mizizi was born.
“I play sports, but I can’t say that I was ever good at them,” he says with a laugh. “The [sport] aesthetic was a way to connect American culture with African culture in a more modern way.” Mizizi’s first collection was focused on baseball jerseys specifically. “We had an Africa jersey that had all the flags on it to be inclusive for everybody,” he says. “And not just African flags—it had Caribbean flags on it too.” For the initial launch, Mizizi focused on countries such as Ghana, Nigeria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Egypt. “When I was doing my research, I figured out that each of those countries have the biggest enclaves of populations within the United States,” he says. “It seemed like the best way to approach the [U.S.] market would be to reach these base communities.”
Now, Mizizi’s collection has since grown to reflect many more African countries, as well as some Caribbean and Latin-American countries too. The brand has also expanded into hockey, soccer, and basketball jersey silhouettes, all of which tie back to the original vision. “Mizizi is a celebration of identity,” he says.