Motherlan are changing the face of Lagos skate culture

Tyler Mitchell heads to Nigeria to shoot the city's most exciting group of young skaters.

by Alex Sossah, Grace Ladoja, and Felix Petty
|
19 November 2019, 1:00pm

Motherlan's story originally appeared in i-D's The Get Up Stand Up Issue, no. 358, Winter 2019. Order your copy here.

Skating in Lagos isn’t easy. It is looked down on by almost everyone. There are no skate parks. Hardly any skaters. Security guards will chase you. Locals will try and fight you. Everything is improvised. But there’s one skateshop, it’s called WAFFLESNCREAM and is run by a guy called Jomi who discovered skating while studying in Leeds, and who opened the shop when he returned home to Lagos.

It was at Jomi’s shop that Motherlan — a crew of young skaters informally led by the trio of Slawn, Leo and Onyedi — met, started hanging out and skating together, forming a tight crew of like-minded individuals. Mentored in part by The Native, Teezee and Seni, Motherlan fast became an integral part of the fast growing Alté community. From there they started designing their own streetwear and making skate videos together, and in the intervening few years have become a focal point of Lagos’s nascent skate scene and the wider creative community in the city.

This year alone they’ve collaborated with Awake NY, dropped their first skate film, Edward (a tribute to one of their crew who passed away), and have started working with Converse on a documentary. Across their journey, Alex Sossah and Grace Ladoja have acted as mentors to them, and here, they sit down together to discuss their beginnings, their rise and the future of skating in Nigeria…

Two men on the beach
Slawn and Leo wear all clothing Raf Simons.

Alex: How did you meet? Slawn: It was just me and Onyedi first, actually. Then Leo just came to my house one day, uninvited, asking me for food. Leo: That’s bullshit! I was invited! Slawn: We ended up spending the day together and made this little video of us three skating around.

Alex: You met through skateboarding, right? Onyedi: Yeah. We just connected instantly. Slawn: I used to see Leo’s art around a lot. Leo: I was speaking to Jomi of WAFFLESNCREAM, and he told me I needed to meet Slawn and Onyedi.

Alex: Can you explain what WAFFLESNCREAM is? Slawn: It’s a skateshop, the first platform for skating in Nigeria. It’s where we met, it’s where we learned how this whole thing worked. Leo: We would hang out there and paint the shop and work on the tills.

Man in Motherlan t-shirt, shot in black and white
Slawn wears T-shirt Motherlan. Necklace (worn throughout) model’s own.

Alex: What’s your first memory of skate culture? How did you learn about it? Leo: When I was like seven, I remember watching this show on Disney called Zeke and Luther, and I was like ‘This shit is fly!’ Slawn: It was through my uncle, he had Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, I used to play it so much my mum would be singing along to the soundtrack. Onyedi: Same. I played it so much I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m going to get a skateboard!’ Leo: I got my first deck for my eighth birthday. I was so gassed about it!

Alex: From Disney TV Shows and computer games, how did it actually grow into this love for skateboarding? Slawn: It becomes your life. Then we met Jomi, from WAFFLESNCREAM. He was this older guy who was also into skating, so he let us do anything we wanted. Onyedi: We’d just chill with Jomi all day long and then go skating in the evening.

Three men on skateboards, photographed from above
Left to right: Leo wears all clothing S.R STUDIO. LA. CA. Onyedi wears all clothing Supreme. Slawn wears all clothing S.R STUDIO. LA. CA. Trainers (worn throughout) Converse.

Grace: Would you say Jomi was your mentor? Slawn: Jomi dropped everything on us. He got us to soak up everything to do with skate culture. Leo: He gave us everything. Slawn: He was like the cool adult who let you do what you wanted. Leo: I smoked my first joint with Jomi when I was 16.

Grace: What’s the skate scene like in Lagos? Leo: I won’t lie, it’s terrible. Onyedi: You don’t see people skateboarding so you have to really connect with each other. Leo: We would always hang out, and one day I was like ‘Fuck it, I’m not going back home.’ I started staying at Slawn’s or Onyedi’s or Jomi’s. It was no longer a question of “where you at?” it was like, “let’s go.” Slawn: I remember going to Jomi’s the first time. There were pictures of naked women all over the walls, burning incense, it was perfect. Onyedi: Big as bando vibes. Leo: He was building the skateshop at the time. Onyedi: And once he built the shop we were there everyday. Leo: There was this couch in the backroom and we’d sit on it all day designing. Onyedi: Everybody had sex on that couch.

Grace: In general, just growing up in Nigeria, what was that like? Did you grow up in an affluent family or were you working class? Were you rebels? Slawn: My life fluctuated like crazy. It was OK for a bit, then there was a dive and things got really bad. I was living with my cousins, my mum — there were 16 people living in one room with no generator. Leo: I grew up in the church, my dad was a reverend. I was a Sunday school boy, being force-fed all this Christian shit. I wasn’t allowed to go out or have friends. I had lots of time to use my imagination. There wasn’t much money and eventually it became too much, my parents had to pay bills, pay school fees, there was no money. At that moment, I met these guys and I had a reason to leave. Onyedi: I grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to Lagos when I was 13. It was weird. Being mixed race isn’t easy, you feel out of place. I get stares every now and then, but it was the same thing in Sydney, too, it’s always been like this. You eventually get used to it. But once I started skating, everything fell into place.

Grace: Skateboarding was what brought you together, it gave you the freedom you always craved. I’ve been interested in why you didn’t just work with WAFFLESNCREAM, why did you start your brand? Leo: It was Onyedi’s idea. Slawn: Onyedi was like — you make films, you make art, you design. Why don’t we do it? Onyedi: We complemented each other. Leo: WAFFLESNCREAM was great but it wasn’t our thing. We needed freedom. Slawn: Jomi gave us the courage to go to our parents and be like “Yo, this is what I’m doing.” Which is very difficult for a Nigerian kid.

Two shirtless men embrace

Grace: Were you scared? Leo: I was so scared of my dad! My dad was crazy! Onyedi: I first met these guys at 14, they were 16 I think. My parents didn’t understand why I was hanging out with these older guys. Slawn would be taking me out to parties and shit. Leo: Growing up in Nigeria, there’s this thing of not having fear. I feel being African makes you more bold. Then skateboarding, too, makes you even bolder. You have to be fearless to be a skateboarder in Nigeria. People will pull up on you anywhere, anytime. You’ve got to be ready to go. Security would pull up on us. Area boys would pull up on us. Slawn: We got in so many fights.

Three men talk in a kitchen
All clothing model's own.

Grace: Skateboarding isn’t really accepted in Lagos? Slawn: Not at all. One day, we were skating around Victoria Island, and one security guy came and started screaming at us. Onyedi puts his phone in the guys face, so he snatches Onyedi’s phone. Our friend James runs up and dashes this guy’s head with a skateboard. Leo: To this day, he doesn’t even show his face when he sees us skating.

Alex: What’s the security like, usually? Leo: There are no skate spots in Lagos. You have to skate wherever you can. You’re always panicking. Onyedi: All the security guards in Lagos hate us.

Grace: What’s the skate scene in Africa generally like? Leo: South Africa has a fucking sick skate scene. Some cool niggas in Soweto. The Kucklehead guys from Botswana are sick. The Ghanaian guys are sick. They all came to Lagos to make some films recently and it was crazy, they were fucking psychos. Slawn: One thing we hate is when people say: “Oh, you guys are cool for an African skate brand.” We are cool because we are African. Leo: Almost everything we’ve done we’ve taught ourselves to do from looking at how other brands do it and working out how to incorporate Nigerian culture into it. But let’s not lie to ourselves, Nigeria is still a Third World country. There are so many things we don’t have here. Slawn: I remember at the start when we were amazed we could even produce T-shirts.

Grace: Even though the skate scene is small the streetwear scene seems to be growing rapidly? Leo: People have always dressed well in Nigeria. Slawn: There’s this culture of people making their own clothes. Leo: Then you go to the market and it’s full of fake Nike, fake Louis Vuitton.

Alex: It’s like going from a bootleg of streetwear to the creation of original, homegrown streetwear. Slawn: The thing with Motherlan is that all the odds are against us but it just had to happen. All of us come from different sides of life in Nigeria and skating brought us together. Leo: Imagine telling your mum you want to skate in Nigeria, she’d be like “Are you mad? Go back to bed!”

Grace: It’s so amazing though! How far you’ve come now. You’re doing collaborations with Angelo Baque in New York, now, this pioneer of the skate culture scene! Onyedi: It was crazy. He’s an OG. It’s a mad opportunity. Leo: Mixing New York and Lagos... New York is the Lagos of America. New York is LSD and Lagos is shrooms. Leo: From the very beginning, me and Onyedi would spend our time texting people, people that others wouldn’t think to ask because they just thought they wouldn’t reply. We started speaking to big niggas like Erik Brunetti from FUCT and Julien Consuegra from Stray Rats. Big niggas! Leo: We’re some kids from Nigeria who have something to offer people and I think that’s why people want to collaborate with us, because we are real. Slawn: In Nigeria you’d ask someone if you could do something in a store and they would be like, “Nah you guys are skaters…” It’s not until someone from the outside recognises what you are doing that people in Nigeria actually start to respect you. Leo: Even Jesus wasn’t fucked with in his hometown. He had to leave.

Man in JW Anderson and Loewe
Onyedi wears coat JW Anderson. Trousers Loewe.

Grace: What’s the creative scene like in Lagos at the moment? I know you’ve been hanging out with Mowalola a lot. Slawn: I’ve always been around Mowalola, The way she sees shit is the same way we see shit. We have the same creative process.

Alex: What you working on at the moment? What’s coming next? Slawn: We’re doing this documentary with Converse through their Spark Progess initiative. It’s about showing how different sides of lives can be the same. It’s not just about skaters, it’s about drugs, violence, outsiders, drag queens, chaotic energies. Leo: Skaters are on some bad bitch shit sometimes, they’re very judgemental. Slawn: Too often people don’t fuck with people outside of whatever fields they work in. Whether that’s skaters or drag queens or street people. People are afraid of coming together. That’s what the film is about.

Grace: Why aren’t I in it! Let’s talk about me and Alex, actually. Our relationship. To us, you’re our children. How do you see it? Onyedi: When we met you, it was like: “You can struggle or you come with us.” And we came with you. Slawn: You gave us a plan! Made it make sense. I had never sent an email before I met you. Onyedi: You opened a whole new world for us to operate in. Leo: Grace is like our mum. She’s like “Leo have you eaten? How was school?”

Grace: So what’s the dream? Onyedi: I want to wake up in the morning, have the freedom to just get up and go skating. We’d have a cult following. We can just create and give it out to the world. Slawn: We just want to be comfortable, free, financially successful. Leo: I want to be able to make some crazy shit. Do a collaboration with Apple. I want to see our logo on the side of a plane.

Man in CDG
Slawn wears jacket and shirt Comme des Garçons Shirt. Shorts Ambush.
Three men embrace, one looking down
Left to right: Onyedi, Leo and Slawn wear all clothing Givenchy.
Man seen from behind on skateboard
Slawn wears all clothing Burberry.
Man looks out of window in apartment block
Leo wears vest Versace. Jumpsuit Fendi.
Man in Prada
Leo wears all clothing Prada.
Man jumps into swimming pool
Leo wears skirt Louis Vuitton.
Three men on trucks
Left to right: Onyedi, Leo and Slawn wear all clothing Raf Simons
Skaters run through grass, one of them in a trolley
Left to right: Onyedi wears all clothing Louis Vuitton. Leo wears trousers Lanvin. Slawn wears all clothing Louis Vuitton
Three men in water
Left to right: Leo, Onyedi and Slawn wear all clothing Balenciaga.
i-D motherlan lagos cover

Credits


Photography Tyler Mitchell

Fashion director Carlos Nazario

Photography assistance Zach Forsyth.
Styling assistance Raymond Gee, Erica Boisaubin and Giovanni Beda.
Production Metallic Inc.

Models Slawn, Leo, Onyedi, Ikedi Nwaezeapu, Dave Nwanze Lotanna, Olafare Olagbaju, Aduloju Kingdavid, Ifemide Cole, Osereme Olurotimi Etomi, Don Papi, Abubakar, Soromto Okolie, Samiko, Tomiwa Smith, Andy Artesit, Charles, Seke Fabamwo and A.O.

Interview Alex Sossah and Grace Ladoja
Introduction Felix Petty

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