Continuing its long-running focus on surfacing Africa’s creative capital and cultural legacy for a global audience, cult Dutch ‘street couture’ brand Daily Paper has arrived in London with a flagship store in Soho to kickstart a new phase in the label’s growth.
Marking the brand’s fourth physical destination worldwide following two in Amsterdam and a third in New York, in a direct reflection of the three founders’ African heritage the space and its attendant online and media projects promise to provide a timely celebration of blended cultures alongside placing a critical spotlight on previously unheralded or undocumented African creativity. Via an exclusive interview with cofounder Hussein Suleiman, here’s a snapshot of what’s on the agenda, in-store and beyond:
It was originally birthed from the bones of what was ostensibly a periodic fan-boy blog (hence the name) in 2008 where the cofounding collective, Hussein Suleiman (only 19 at the time), Jefferson Osei and Abderrahmane Trabsini would interview streetwear and sneakerhead designers and aficionados.
The trio, whose roles are now largely carved up into brand communications, operations, and product design respectively, extended the good word by selling branded merch (logo t-shirts) and creating a network so beguiling that by 2012 it has morphed into the brand proper. By 2015 they’d added womenswear to the initial menswear proposition. By 2016 the pureplay community had its first physical store.
Afrofuturism & Uniting the Diaspora
The trio are all Dutch, hailing from the west side of Amsterdam, with African heritage (Suleiman is Somali, Osei is of Ghanaian descent and Trabsini has Moroccan roots) that underscores their undiminished ethos for foregrounding African influences and blazing a trail for authentic, non-clichéd representation. The brand has become famous for acknowledging those blended heritages via garments mixing classic casual/streetwear silhouettes with vivid colour and African prints, such as a t-shirt with a pocket in traditional Ghanaian Kente fabric or, more esoteric (and politically charged), a denim jacket bearing a quote from the late socialist revolutionary and president of Burkino Faso, Thomas Sankara.
The brand’s campaign visuals home in on a seductive, powerful comingling of past, present and futuristic references – symbolic of both Daily Paper’s borderless ideals and appetite for reinterpreting history – and as such are regularly infused with the liquid, semi-surrealist lexicon of digital fashion; check out SS21’s unapologetically cyberpunk flavours and SS20’s ‘Nostalgia Meets a New World’ and, most pertinently, the 2019 collection ‘Afrofuturism’.
The latter is an explicit reference to the literary, musical, and visual aesthetic of the same name (a term originally coined by writer and cultural critic Mark Dery in the early ‘90s) to summarise a cultural movement, still in full swing, anchored in a combination of science-fiction & technology, history, and fantasy to explore and reimagine the African experience, particularly connecting those from the Black diaspora with their forgotten African ancestry.
The looks? Think: a snakeskin belted trench coat with matching trousers, tie-dye workwear-inspired garms with (reflective) 3M detailing and full-length puffer jackets lavished in a pearly iridescence. Traditional gender stereotypes are a distant memory.
London-Bound: Local Integration
The new store will apparently be no exception in this pursuit of supporting the African diaspora. But, why London? As usual with Daily Paper, it’s personal as well as professional. “My Dad lived in London, so I spent a lot of time there in the school holidays and in many ways felt it was the closest thing to going back to Somalia. But I also feel it’s the cultural capital of Europe in terms of immigrants and cultures co-existing,” says Suleiman.
It’s also home to a Daily Paper hungry fan base. After the frustration of failing to secure wholesale interest from British retailers, a month-long pop-up in Shoreditch, East London in 2018 clarified a keen audience in the city; “We experienced a 400% rise in online sales in the UK as a result of that pop-up, after being unable to find any stockists. After that we felt sure that if we built something people would come.”
Humility will be key to making that stick, suggests Suleiman, who is working with several collaborators to present the brand to native audiences via the community itself. For instance, Julie Adenuga – the British-Nigerian broadcaster, DJ, MTV host and creator of Youtube Channel Don’t Trust the Internet (a forum for feisty, fast-fire cultural debate) and sibling to London grime artists Jme and Skepta – is recording a documentary focussed on the lived experience of being a Nigerian woman growing up in London.
Other creative conspirators will include musicians such as the West London collective BDE X Flex, though exactly how is yet to be defined. The sentiment echoes Vans’ new strategic shift towards focussing on communities within cities, identifying and allying with the people and institutions the influence the real cultural agenda most keenly.
“It’s effectively creating a peace offering to this new territory we’re entering, something that big brands often don’t do. We’re very aware that we will rise or fall based on local opinions,” says Suleiman.
Events-Tailing, Flagship as Embassy
Events and collaborations with collectives are likely to define the coming year in store, in a space itself not remarkably different to the New York flagship. Many of the 2021 projects are still a work-in-progress, but Suleiman reveals that events will largely be centred around music and tentpole events, such as the Notting Hill Carnival (London’s vast sound-system-led street festival of Caribbean culture) in August:
“I see the flagship as an embassy as much as anything, a space in which to activate key cultural moments, and I want to use it as much as possible to amplify the voices of other collectives. At some stage we want to bring the digital collaborations into the physical spaces, too.”
Daily Paper UNITE
Suleiman’s comments regarding both local legitimacy and events-tailing are reflected in the brands pandemic pivot into new digital ‘community’ platform called UNITE which, “we’re using to nurture more grassroots collections, to stay in touch with global but also local communities.”
Not a million miles away from Nike’s NKE -0.4% thinking with its own hyper-regional Unite store formats, Daily Paper’s online forum is still something of a work-in-progress (it’s more than a little in-beta in design) but promises to bring “the offline experience we used to create on the ground, with our local communities, through events and experiences, to an online space.”
Brand as Curator & Archivist: Addressing African Fashion’s Digital Black Holes
Other, less showbiz, initiatives are also afoot in the journey to amplify other voices. Daily Paper has form when it comes to democratisation-focused artistic collaborations; in 2020 it worked with the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam on a clothing range to, as the museum put it, ‘explore how fashion and art can bring people together from different backgrounds’.
Next up, Suleiman reveals the London flagship has spurred conversation with Numbi Arts – a company cofounded by British artist Kinsi Abdulleh that’s seeking to establish the first Somali Museum in the UK – about potential initiatives to provide people with access to learn about Somali culture, including art and fashion. “A lot of our research regarding African art showed that it just hasn’t been documented in the same way as European art. London’s cultural scene has been so well-documented that I know what people were wearing in every decade.”
There is certainly no equivalent of London’s Museum of Youth Culture (a young museum dedicated to the sounds, styles, and social movement of the UK), at least not yet. It’s perpetuating, he suggests, a kind of digital black hole when it comes to African art and talent.
“I want to work on preserving this art. I’m passionate about collectors and archivists because that’s really what we’re trying to do – to piece together these fragmented pieces of our history,” says Suleiman. “We’ve always been a brand in search of history and it’s totally legitimate for us to be a place of discovery, particularly for the things we didn’t learn at school. Now it’s us choosing the subject.”