On a well-ventilated patio, surrounded by lush vegetation and totem animals, we got to sit down with Hussein Suleiman, one of the three founders of the Amsterdam based, pan-African, world-wide brand DAILY PAPER, to get under his skin about guidance from the ancestors, African creativity and the way forward.
How did the three of you founders meet?
Jefferson and I were in the same year at university back in 2012. We didn’t know each other at the time and studied completely different things, so it was out in the Amsterdam nightlife that we eventually got talking and realized that we were living in the same area of town. That was where our friendship started and about two years later I got introduced to Abderrahmane, our third founder, who had been a friend of Jefferson’s for many years already.
What do you have in common, what made you connect?
We were all living in West Amsterdam, were the children of first or second-generation immigrants and had our roots in Africa. We also weirdly realized that all three of us knew more about European history than the history of the African countries that our heritage stemmed from.
What is West Amsterdam like?
It’s very multicultural with diverse nationalities. The majority is from North Africa, but you also find a lot of West African people living there, along with people from the other Dutch colonies such as Suriname and Indonesia. I feel grateful for having had the opportunity to grow up in Amsterdam and the opportunities that it came with, but at the same time – still to this day and possibly for generations to come – a lot of prejudice exists. My parents recently retired and as all of us kids are grown up and independent, they decided to move back to Somalia.
How did you get to the idea of starting Daily Paper?
Daily Paper was created as a vehicle to learn more about ourselves, our roots – where we come from. In the beginning it was really about us searching for ourselves, looking into the history of our heritage and translate that into contemporary menswear, but since then, we have also had the opportunity to visit other African countries and discover stories beyond our direct lineage. We like to look into parallels of what is going on in the world and how our ancestors used to deal with similar issues. You know, there’s just so much wisdom in Africa that never got to us – so many beautiful stories and ways of thinking and connecting to yourself.
Was it a hustle getting the business working?
Well first and foremost, we never really approached it as a business. It wasn’t about becoming big and making a lot of money. We used more of a freestyle approach, “If it works it works”. I was still in second year of university when we dropped our first collection and it didn’t exactly sell. The minimum order for producing our t-shirts in bulk was about 1,500 shirts and in the first month we only sold about 80 of those. Sitting in a student apartment looking at boxes all day trying to figure out how to move the stock, we eventually gave a lot of it away in hope of getting the word out about our brand. But we didn’t quit, we just kept on going. Every season we tried something new, something different and just by doing that, our name grew, and money started coming in from retailers who wanted to sell our products. They loved our campaigns, loved the clothes and eventually we were starting to form a community of people who loved our message.
Apart from telling the African stories, how are you more directly involved in supporting African creativity?
We shot our first campaign on the continent in 2014, in Morocco, and since that moment we made it part of our practice to go to the place in Africa that inspired the collection. This year we went to Ghana and we are super happy about how the campaign turned out. We have also shot in Johannesburg and Cape Town, as well as in Nigeria. For us, this is our way to support amazing local African creatives. We tried to produce some of our garments in South Africa, unfortunately it turned out to be too challenging with meeting timelines, but who knows what potential the future holds. We are also looking at ways of connecting to the African youth and help them channel their creativity. Jefferson is currently in Ghana, where he is from, doing research, so depending on what he comes back with we may start a project there soon.
How have you found yourselves adapting to the times of the pandemic?
From a personal perspective, I think fashion in general was moving at a very high speed. It felt like it was fashion week every week and I think it’s almost like a blessing in disguise for many brands that everything has slowed down now. In terms of adapting as a brand, we have definitely found ourselves investing more in digital content and finding more innovative ways of connecting to our customers directly through our platforms.
Did the slowing down and adapting also filter through to thinking and acting more sustainably?
Sustainability has been an integral part of our business for the last four years and is something that we place a lot of importance on. We’re a young company with the majority of our employees being under 30, so it’s something that comes naturally to us. We constantly ask ourselves what we can do differently and that’s something that stems from within the company rather than from external pressure.
To make a bit of Daily Paper yours, bring yourself over to the pop-up store @177 Oxford Rd, Rosebank in Johannesburg before the 31st of March 2021, or visit their online store here.