Words: Onwumere Ikenna Churchill
In recent years, African designers have surged in global fashion, captivating with their blend of tradition and innovation. From clothing to footwear, this movement showcases Africa’s rich cultural tapestry and creative prowess.
One standout in the African shoe design scene is Milcos Badji, the visionary behind Nio Far by Milcos. Below, we delve into Milcos’s journey, creative process, and his mission to preserve African heritage through handmade shoes.
A distinguished shoe designer and craftsman hailing from Senegal, Milcos’s journey, which began in 2014, has been nothing short of inspiring.
Nio Far, which translates to “togetherness,” initially started with shirts and bags but quickly evolved into a brand rooted in African culture and heritage. According to Milcos, his family’s open house in Dakar, where people gathered to share, create, and belong, instilled in him a sense of community. This drove him to create something that would bond with its clients and workers, transcending mere business aspirations.
Milcos’s journey into shoe design was marked by a profound connection to his craft. He began using mudcloth, a unique fabric from West Africa, which fascinated him with its intricate designs and hidden meanings. The mudcloth, originating from Mali, involves a meticulous process of dyeing and painting with fermented mud. This material became the identity of the Nio Far brand, and Milcos’s quest for authenticity led him to Mali to explore the heritage of this material.
During his three-year stay in Mali, Milcos immersed himself in the culture, collaborating with local artisans and learning the art of crafting unique shoes using mudcloth. He went further by delving into the stories behind each pattern in the fabric, uncovering secrets of social status, character, and community history. African proverbs were woven into the patterns, emphasising the profound connection between culture and design.
Milcos’s commitment to preserving traditional African designs while infusing modern elements sets him apart. He emphasises research and collaboration with museums to create a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation. His exhibitions are not just fashion shows but storytelling experiences, where each design carries a narrative of a tribe’s history and significance.
However, building a successful brand in Africa comes with its unique challenges. Milcos acknowledges the lack of institutions that support African designers and the need for self-sufficiency within local communities. Despite these obstacles, his dedication to empowering local artisans shines through. He compensates them with an executive salary, highlighting the significance of preserving traditional craftsmanship.
Nio Far’s success stories include encounters with global icons like Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz, and Lupita Nyong’o, who have not only appreciated Milcos’s designs but engaged in meaningful conversations about the art and creativity behind them.
Milcos Badji’s journey with Nio Far by Milcos is a testament to the power of creativity, heritage preservation, and community building. His commitment to storytelling through shoes, while empowering local artisans, encapsulates the essence of African craftsmanship in the modern world. As he continues to create, innovate, and inspire, Milcos invites others to stay true to themselves, diversify their skills, and let their creativity flow.