Our initial goal was to showcase Ghanaian street-style via social media and to empower our generation to do the same.
Jonathan Coffie popularly known as Joey Lit is a 26 years Ghanaian co-founder and designer for Free The Youth. Interview by Carl Earl-Ocran
What’s your involvement with Free The Youth? What inspired you to create it?
Growing up in Tema, around the time of inception of the internet and social media age, it seemed as though the only portrayal of Africa was hunger and war. Our initial goal was to showcase Ghanaian street-style via social media and to empower our generation to do the same. Coupled with the fact that our society did not embrace the idea of having freedom to express ourselves through creativity even in terms of career path and education. We created this movement/brand in order to empower ourselves and other likeminded youth to have the freedom of expression without being judged or looked down upon. With that being said, Free The Youth is a community established by a group of creatives whose primary aim is to empower African youth to break boundaries and penetrate the world art scene with African inspired street style and culture. That is to say we’re driven by creative freedom to express ourselves through street style fashion and culture and building on our own ideas.
What are your thoughts on other streetwear brands, like Daily Paper? Do you collaborate wih other brands?
We only collaborate with brands when there is a social/economic responsibility backing it, so all our collaborations are purposeful collaborations for community growth and youth development. I think all the streetwear brands are doing good but they could be on their best potential if they involve purposeful campaigns and community growth in their agendas, since most of their followers are young people who need mentorship and information to better themselves. Daily Paper was an amazing brand to collaborate with; our collaboration was a conversation on street fashion in both cultures (Ghana and The Netherlands) and creating purposeful and sustainable capacity, building experience for young creatives in Ghana for the ‘Year of Return’ and our collections. We have also collaborated with Nike, Foot Locker EU, Sony Music, Engineering Sports amongst others. We collaborate with Nike and FootLocker EU for NIKE SHOX which was the first ever Nike and FootLocker collaboration in Ghana. We told our story through SHOX about how vibrant youth culture is seen to be provocative in our society and how we enjoy freedom of expression.
What do you think of the music scene in Ghana?
The music scene is much open now. A lot of artists are inspired to create and have freedom of expression without being judged by the Ghanaian society. Free The Youth also in away.
helped change the perspective of the society towards musicians to embrace art, fashion and sounds more, due to the various artists affiliated to us and how they had freedom to express themselves coming up. Artists like Kofi Mole, Amaarae and La Meme Gang are really versatile with their music, pushing the culture forward.
How does the Ghana music scene influence the streetwear Free The Youth produces?
It’s phenomenal to see because the majority of the artists leading the Ghanaian sound right now are friends that we would style with Free The Youth clothes to shoot music videos, freestyles and even performances back then, because we knew the phrase “free the youth” itself was powerful to help their breakthrough. They will mostly incorporate “free the youth” in their lyrics just to send the word across; as all these music artists grew, the brand also grew so we literally grew together. Sometimes people tell us every artist who wears Free The Youth blows up and I think that’s facts. We met some artists along the line and now a lot of mainstream artists in Ghana wear Free The Youth.So I’ll say we always incorporated music in our production and streetwear culture.
What do you know about the UK urban music scene?
First of all I know the UK music scene is very competitive. New talent comes out from the UK everyday, which triggers artists to work extra hard in order to stay at the top. I’ve always known UK music to be hardcore Grime, Drill and Dancehall genres, and even though Afro Pop was just introduced, UK musicians hold an authentic and genuine sound, from the lyrics to the beat, which is famous, distinctive and unique around the world. This is to say UK music has an original sound which is very energetic and fun to listen to everyday.
What are your thoughts on Ghana’s influence on the UK music scene?
I think it’s amazing to see Ghanaian influence in the UK music scene. It’s more fun to listen to it now since it’s a fuse of two genres I enjoy a lot. When Fuse ODG released the Azonto song, it was the beginning of an amazing era for musicians in the UK to artistically express themselves and fuse music with the Ghanaian culture and our Hiplife, Azonto and Afro Music. Also since there are a lot of Ghanaians in the UK I think it’s only right.
How do you think the ties between the youth of Ghana and the British-Africans in the UK can be strengthened or explored?
The internet makes the world smaller than we know. Where you can connect to anyone at all in the world with one click. I think African and British African youth can strengthen their bond if we engage in more collaborations and online exchange programs. Now I don’t really see enough effort put into that yet, but when we encourage working more on projects together, we can grow together and strengthen our relationships and bonds to push the culture forward.
What are your future hopes for Free The Youth ?
The Free The Youth Institute is a future design thinking space which represents the fruition of long-term sustainability and educational goals of Free The Youth .The intention is to create.
a co-working space where youth have access to the tools, information and mentorship opportunities to develop an art skill of their choice. We want to provide the youth with employable art skills like music production, graphic design, photography, screen-printing and more. We also want to provide soft skills such as problem solving, foresight thinking and strategy design. We are committed to and encouraging open-mindedness around the concept of the arts as “real” careers, and providing the tools and resources to support Ghana’s youth for future success on the global stage.
How has the global Coronavirus lockdown affected Free The Youth as a collective and brand?
COVID-19 has affected our yearly schedule in numerous ways in terms of campaigns, collabs and projects. This first quarter was scheduled for a lot of Youth Engagement Projects and traveling to connect with other creatives around Africa. We are still working on our new collections and restructuring our yearly plan. I’ll say we’re coming back stronger than ever after this.
How are you personally dealing with the crisis? How is it affecting your creativity?
Quarantine has been an experience which has enabled me to unlock the next chapter of my journey. I have been able to analyze my strengths and weaknesses and discovered ways of being a better creative. I use designs as my therapy now and I’m making awesome designs which I don’t think I could have articulated mixing my busy life with design life. I have also dedicated this time doing research on new designers and creatives I bring on board and work with.
What advice would you give for other creatives out there in Africa and Europe, especially in these times?
I will tell creatives in Africa and Europe to look at the positive side of this situation and use this period to strengthen their abilities, because the more you create or practice, the more you get better as a creative. Everyone should explore and experiment on new things during this period. We are the Future Leaders, let’s not lose ourselves now.