L.A. AFRICAN: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
PAAKOW: I was born in Brooklyn, New York, but for the beginning part of my childhood I was raised in New Albany, Ohio. New Albany was mainly an upper-scale, white suburb. Growing up was interesting. I honestly rejected my Ghanaian heritage, and just wanted to fit in and be like all my white friends. It wasn’t until I was 10 when we moved down to Dallas.
In Dallas I got my first real taste of diversity. This move was a pivotal time in my life because it marked the moment I began to really start accepting myself and my skin color. Over the course of the next 8 years I dove into a lot different endeavors as they piqued my interest. I started editing Runescape music videos, and even hustled candy out of my backpack in high school. This was all in an effort to try to figure out what I liked and who I wanted to be.
Growing up, I never wanted to be the suit and tie businessman with the responsibility of running a company. As I left Texas and embarked on my journey at the University of South Florida, I ultimately settled for the Pharmacy route.
It wasn’t until I arrived to Tampa that MIZIZI was first conceived. I was alone in a brand new state with no friends and no family. I couldn’t fit in or relate to anyone around me, and it wasn’t until after meeting one of my first friends out there, George Kariuki, that the idea of MIZIZI was inspired. He would walk around campus with the cleanest gear on and each article of clothing was accented by the Kenyan fabric stitched into it. His outfits inspired me, and since I was from Dallas I knew there was a market where I could sell it.
See MIZIZI, meaning “roots” in Swahili, was originally supposed to be everything from head to toe: hats, shirts, pants, and socks. I wanted to be able to be confident anywhere I went and connect with others without having to say a word. I wanted a way to express my identity in a subtle but powerful way. The MIZIZI designs were my way of relating to others.
Over the course of the next year and a half, I experienced a tremendous amount of obstacles. From going back home and taking a semester off of school, to working as a Pharmacy Tech in Dallas and hating it, then flying back to Florida but being homeless for the semester, all while trying to license the designs to all of my competitors and constantly failing.
Finally, through divine intervention, I was able to find a solution to start MIZIZI. MIZIZI officially launched on August 30th, 2015. I’ve been running with it since ever since.
L.A. AFRICAN: What have been some challenges you've faced on your journey? What did you do to overcome them?
PAAKOW: One of the biggest challenges I faced in starting MIZIZI was finding an affordable manufacturer to launch.
During my freshman summer of 2014, I saved up and traveled to NYC to meet with a manufacturer that could do everything from start to finish. After a really brief meeting, we learned that we wouldn’t be a good fit for each other and that they would have to charge me waaay too much in order to get MIZIZI off the ground. I was really discouraged so I went up and down NY Garment District to try and find a suitable manufacturer, but I had no luck whatsoever. At this point, I started to reconsider the idea of MIZIZI and figured I should focus on one type of product instead of a whole line--this is where I found the inspiration to focus on baseball jerseys. At the time, baseball jerseys were the current fashion trend and every retailer known to man was selling them. I never saw anyone do an African Baseball Jersey before, so I decided to start there and did more research to find out how big the niche really was. I found out which African countries had the biggest enclaves, where in the states they were located, who they followed on social media- and eventually began to form designs for Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Egypt, and Kenya to begin our first collection dubbed, “The Starting Line-Up.”
By the time I decided to take a break, I was back in Dallas working two jobs and putting most of the money back into MIZIZI to further develop the idea through a manufacturer in LA. Although I was able to make more headway with them, the cost to launch the Starting Lineup Collection was still out of reach. I went back to school and couch surfed between my friends. I stayed with my ex at first but that was short lived and after a month I had to move into another friend’s 4 bedroom apartment, inhabited by 8 other guys. It was literal filth. Sleeping on that couch was probably the hardest part of my college experience. I used to wake up angry because of all the odors I would get hit with the moment I opened my eyes. During this time my grades really started to drop, my relationship was going through it, and I didn’t even have my own room to just sit, breath, and cry in, man. But nonetheless, I was still spending my nights researching as much as I could. It’s truly crazy how much information you can find through a Google search.
By the end of my sophomore semester, spring of 2015, I immediately bounced to Orlando to live with a friend I went to high school with. Although it wasn’t the best circumstance I could ask for, you can only imagine how much your surrounding environment has on your mental health. We spent the summer having fun, partying, working odd jobs for money, and doing whatever we could to keep my spirits afloat. MIZIZI was the one idea I knew had too much potential to let go.
After all that research, I developed a business plan to sell and license the collection of designs to another company since I didn’t have the means to get it started. I looked up every single African streetwear company in North America, Europe, Australia, etc...you get the point. Everybody said no. And it wasn’t until my friend connected me with his roommate’s step brother that I started to make true headway. He pointed me in the right direction of where to find a manufacturer overseas, I got a few quotes that were 1/3rd of the price I was used to, and I received my first sample after a week. It was at this point that I realized that MIZIZI had finally become feasible.
Fast forward 2 weeks and I’m already back in Dallas setting up our first photoshoot with all my friends so that I’d have content to build a website with. Finally, on August 30th, 2015 we went live on www.mizizishop.com and we haven’t looked back since.
L.A. AFRICAN: What currently keeps you motivated?
PAAKOW: Honestly… God, my mom, and my friends. There’s too many people who have invested and put their trust in MIZIZI to succeed, for us to ever fail.
L.A. AFRICAN: Is there any advice that you would like to lend to individuals looking to get into your industry or just in general?
PAAKOW: My go-to is that the acquisition of knowledge, is a catalyst of progress. The more you learn about things that are actually applicable to your life, the faster you’re able to get ahead and overcome your obstacles. The only way I have been able to keep up with MIZIZI’s growth is because of how much I’m constantly learning. Anytime we ran into a roadblock, I read like hell to figure out what the solution may be. It’s all about finding the medium by which you learn the best and putting your focus into it. Whether it be video interviews, audio podcast, or physically reading a book, find your method and boom it.
L.A. AFRICAN: Tell us about any upcoming projects we can expect from MIZIZI!
PAAKOW: Actually, we are announcing our newest Ghana Independence Sankofa Soccer Jersey available for preorder on our site today, 03/06, at 12PM CST! It was created by our in-house team, Ghanaian designer, Kenneth William Obeng(@kwesioben) and the lookbook was captured by Ghanaian photographer, Paa Kwesi Yanful(@kwesithethird). The special edition soccer jersey displays a hint of Kente print as well as the Sankofa adinkra symbol on the left sleeve— in light of 2019 being “The Year of Return.”
I’m pretty proud of this one man; I just need all my Ghanaians to push it as hard as Nigerians did over their jersey over the summer!