Nigeria: 23-year-old designed a special edition jersey with Nike

Special edition jersey designed and sold by Nigeria's Native Magazine and Nike
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After its blistering success with the Nigerian World Cup football jersey, Nike has ventured into another Nigeria collaboration, this time with a youth culture publication.

The latest partnership with influential ‘The Native’ magazine, headed by Seni Saraki, pays homage to the football-mad West African nation with a ‘Nike by the Native’ special edition jersey, which has a distinct tire mark and takes inspiration from Adire, a traditional Nigerian fabric.

The tire marks are a nod to a style of football known as ‘Monkey Post’ in the country where car tires are often used as goal posts during street games.

The jersey features ‘+234’ on the sleeve, a reference to Nigeria’s international dialing code, which Saraki, who designed the jersey, says is a tribute to the thousands of Nigerians living in the diaspora but who retain close ties to home.

“For us to do a collaboration with Nike, the main thing was to make the jersey representative of Nigeria, the people in Nigeria and the Nigerians in diaspora so they can feel proud to wear it,” Saraki told CNN.

Written boldly on the back of the jersey is “Ilé,” a word which means home in his native Yoruba language.

“We thought it would be cool to have an actual Nike jersey having a local Nigerian language on it. That’s unheard of, that’s never happened before,” Saraki said. The design team included his Native co-founders Suleiman Shittu, Teniola ‘TeeZee’ Zaccheaus, Olushola Fagbemi and Ademide Edgal.

The release of the jersey is the culmination of a working relationship between both companies that took form during the promotion of Nigeria’s football kit during the World Cup.

At 23, Saraki is the typical multi-hyphenate millennial; as well as the magazine, he runs a football academy in his home state of Kwara State in North Central Nigeria.

‘The Native,’ he says, is a digital platform that started as a print magazine which has now morphed into an agency and an annual music festival.

“We focus on music and the lifestyle that surrounds music and the culture in Nigeria and the surrounding countries in Africa in general,” he said.

The jerseys were available for sale on the Nike website on Friday and sold out within 14 hours of their release. They also sold out within hours in December at a Lagos pop-up shop in Lagos that gave Nigerians an early taste of the product, Saraki says.

The collaboration between Nike and ‘The Native’ marks yet another high point in the relationship between brand and country.

Last year, Nigeria’s Nike-designed kits at the 2018 World Cup in Russia sold out in minutes and turned heads around the world for its distinctive style.

It received recognition from various media outlets as the best kit at the tournament, with international men’s magazine GQ voting it the top-ranked of the 32 nations in Russia.

Similarly last year, Nike created an exclusive football jersey for Nigerian Afrobeats superstar Wizkid named ‘Starboy’– the musician’s nickname.

Charles O’Tudor, a brand strategist and engagement consultant, told CNN Nike’s interest in Nigeria is a strategic move to reposition the brand and take advantage of the country’s massive youth population — more than half of the country’s estimated 180 million population is under 30.

O’Tudor says these partnerships can only boost the country’s image globally.

“This is massive and It can only get bigger and more global because other brands will start looking at [Nigerian] icons,” O’Tudor said.

“There’s something good that is coming out from Nigeria that is not government sponsored. It’s from the private sector.

All we hear from the western media are the negatives but this is positive, that a global brand is investing in Africa and in Nigeria because they believe in the possibilities,” O’Tudor added.

Saraki agrees and says this shows Nigeria is at the forefront of the global conversation on culture whether through sports, music or fashion.

“It excites people, and we want to see people back home capitalizing off this because that’s the most important thing,” Saraki said, before sounding a note of warning.

“There’s no point in Nigeria being at the forefront of these conversations if only one or two people profit from it or gain notoriety from it.

“Everyone needs to see the success of what’s happening.”

With the jerseys now sold out online and in stores, counterfeiters may see an opportunity to supply fake, and cheaper alternatives, as happened during the World Cup when fakes flooded the streets and stadiums in the country.

However, Saraki seems resigned to this.

“People only buy counterfeits if they can’t get hold of the originals,” he says.

“We don’t encourage counterfeits, but you can’t stop people.”