Leo and Slawn tell us why energy is essential for the Lagos-based skate crew
Slawn & Leo Motherlan
What’s been happening?
Slawn: Drinking, drugs…
Leo: …Family crisis. The usual.
S: We don’t even design anymore. We’re just depressed.
L: We’ve just been having fun, man.
Why are you here in London?
S: We actually first came here on a Motherlan UK tour. We were skating but everyone was just getting fucked up. So when the tour ended, me and Leo decided to stay. We’ve been going around spreading the word, like Jehovah’s Witnesses. The good news. Your saviours.
L: I won’t lie to you, man, London has been a rollercoaster. I almost got arrested…
S: …Twice. And we almost died twice.
Yikes. What did you do?
L: It started with our freckled friend, Onyedi…
S: But the time we almost died, we did Molly. We didn’t know how to ration it so next thing we know I’m like, ‘Leo… I’m passing out… is this how it’s going to end?’
L: There was this other time where we went to this Bone Soda gig…
S: That night I knew that if I slept I would have died. But I feel like beers are the fastest way to get waved.
L: Coke also has a good effect. Not cocaine — Coca Cola.
Haha. So did Motherlan start as a brand or was it more like a crew thing?
L: I like the story. Basically, this guy, Onyedi, was this new kid, who I just noticed. I was at secondary school…
S: No, basically YOU were the new kid. I met Onyedi first.
L: OK, maybe I was the new kid. But basically, we both had a mutual friend called Sheke. I used to draw on my books and get in trouble… design shit, whatever. And Sheke was like, you should meet this guy Slawn. So I checked him out, and from there… well first they bullied me, but now…
S: We are still bullying you.
L: We all bully each other. But we all linked and became close friends. It’s one of those things where we see each other so much that we can be ourselves. We became so comfortable together. We did the craziest shit.
Were you into skating at that stage?
L: Oh yeah. We were all skaters, but we weren’t too deep, because Nigeria never had a skate scene. But it was like, you skate, I skate, you like Supreme, I like Supreme, we all like the same shit, so let’s make ours.
So right off the bat, you were like, let’s make a brand?
S: We were just generally fucking about in Lagos. It was like, you design, let’s just start something.
L: Then we came together. We first came together with this older guy called Jomi. This guy had this brand called WAFFLESNCREAM. And basically he put us all together. We all came together to make the first skate shop in Nigeria. But we couldn’t stay with him for too long, because we had our own ideas that didn’t really fit with his.
S: He was like our mentor. We were just young. But our inspirations are not his inspirations.
How are they different?
S: He likes the old guys, but we like the young guys. Don’t get me wrong, Andy Roy is amazing, Shawn Stussy is a god. But we want to have a younger thing.
L: Not even better, but just ours. See our own t-shirts, our own boards. See kids wearing our new shit. Just creating stuff and see it come to life, that is what we’re about.
So how would you express the vibe that you’re on?
S: What we call it is ‘coonism’. That’s our word for it. I feel like black people are the worst and best people ever. They live up to their name. We’re just fascinated by it. No one should be racist, but we’re using it to our advantage.
Is the name Motherlan a reference to that?
S: Motherlan is built on unity.
L: And the fact that we’re going back to the roots; these kids in a third world country like Nigeria, Africa, we just want to show people this is how we are. Because LA kids, you know, they’ll have a YouTube thing, and New York kids, they’ll dress like this, or London kids, they’ll dress like this. But no one can see that Nigerian kids dress like this. Many Nigerian kids are copying what’s happening in London and in LA. And we’re like, nah, you can be yourself and put your own twist on things and make it yours.
S: Nigerians are the number one people who don’t want to be themselves. But they’re also very much themselves. They want to be like the LA kids, but we don’t. We want to prove to the LA kids that we can be ourselves…
L: And take your swag and make it ours. I think that’s what Motherlan is. Other brands are like, ‘we’re making something new’, but you can’t make something new. You can only add your own twist. It’s like, we like Supreme, we won’t lie to you, we like what those guys are doing. But we can take that and make that ours.
Is there a collective persona behind Motherlan?
L: We’re all on our own different stuff. Ehi was a surfer. Slawn is into his ignorant, black gangster shit. Onyedi thinks he’s from New York.
S: He’s on some jazz wave Sade shit. Erykah Badu type shit.
L: I try to be on my punk rock shit, but this gangster shit is enticing.
S: We all pick up shit from each other.
L: That’s the most beautiful thing about Motherlan — just being so diverse but being the same. It’s perfect.
S: We have a member who’s in the airforce now. James.
L: Shout out to James. He’s in the American airforce now, serving America.
Why the American airforce?
L: He’s American. The thing about Nigeria is that if you grow up in Nigeria from the beginning to the end of your life, I feel you may not accomplish as much, because there is one type of mindset. So what many parents do is send their kids outside to experience the world.
So where do you want to take the brand? How do you want to develop it?
L: The first full collection isn’t out until next April. So we’re doing small drops, pop-ups, we’ve just started, really. But people are fucking with our energy so much, it’s crazy.
S: The honest truth is, British kids are cool, they have followers, but we just genuinely don’t care. And that’s why people gravitate towards us. We just genuinely don’t care who the fuck you are. It happens everywhere we go.
L: After a few beers we’ll bring you down to our level, because everyone’s the same, bro. Like, just because you’re doing so-and-so it doesn’t make you different from me.
S: We’re not disrespectful, but we just don’t care about that.
L: That’s why when people say ‘where do you see Motherlan in two or three years’, we don’t know, bro. We’re just having fun.
S: How I would describe Motherlan is a coping mechanism for us all. It’s the one thing we all have together.
L: That’s it. We’re sad. We’re depressed kids with nothing to do but kill boredom, in Nigeria, by making good shit. Growing up in Nigeria, we watched a lot of TV. And I remember watching High School Musical, like, ‘I can do what these people are doing, right there’. I became so aware. I want to experience more.
S: There is this thing called ‘stutter’. It’s when we meet someone that everyone, supposedly, respects. But as soon as we meet them, they make this ‘stutter’. Like, we approach people with our energy, and they get kind of shook by it. And that’s when we realise they are still human. They’ve stuttered.
L: That’s the thing. It’s all about energy, man. It’s like, all the social media, or all the clothes, it doesn’t mean shit, it’s the energy, bro. Like, this jacket I’m wearing; [Slawn has] also worn it, we’ve all worn it, it’s recycled. But when people see us they’re like ‘you’re looking fly as hell’, because that’s just the energy. That’s the way we carry ourselves, because we just don’t care.
It sounds like your whole mindset is about being on the level.
S: For us there is no level. We went to the Supreme ‘Blessed’ premiere the other night. And there were all these skaters there that we used to watch in Nigeria, like, ‘yo, Tyshawn is dope. Aidan is fucking crazy…’, but then we ran into those guys, and they didn’t even know what to say. They couldn’t respond to the energy that we brought to them. And at that point we were just like, OK… I mean… and this isn’t even our turf.
L: Imagine if they came to ours.
S: That would be different, because we own those streets.
L: Come to Nigeria, we’ll show you. What kids lack today is, not just the ability to not care —because everyone is too conscious of Facebook and Instagram — what they lack is where we come in: Energy. That’s why we will always remain essential. Even if Motherlan doesn’t work, we’ll end up as legends. Trust me.
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