U of M student's Nike shoe design combines Africa's past and future

Taoheed Bayo with his Nike Afro-Yute sneakers.

Taoheed Bayo with his Nike Afro-Yute sneakers. Courtesy of Taoheed Bayo

Born and raised in Nigeria, Taoheed Bayo moved to the United States six years ago. These days, the 22-year-old is a freelance model and mathematics student at the University of Minnesota. He also has his own Nike sneaker.

When a friend told him about the Nike By You X Cultivator contest, he was intrigued. To enter, you didn’t need a fully-formed sneaker design, they were looking for someone with a compelling story about what you would design if given the chance.

For Bayo, deciding on a story was simple: He wanted to honor his heritage and teach others about it at the same time.

“It was a way to connect people of African descent,” he says of the opportunity. “As a creator, one of your goals is to be able to empower and enlighten people.”

When Bayo’s submission was chosen, he got to work designing his Air Max 1s, looking to the textures and colors of Africa for inspiration. He went for an earthy palette of hunter green, white, and gold, and opted for suede and leather materials.

“I chose suede because it’s a fine texture. African culture is known for fine materials and fine resources. I chose leather to symbolize the tenacity and endurance of Africans,” he explains. “Growing up, we wear leather shoes because we know they’ll last longer. Leather signifies the ability of an African to withstand… and to pull through.”

The shoe was christened “Afro-Yute,” an amalgamation of African and a shortened version of “youth.” Bayo created it as a way to reflect on the past while looking towards the future and celebrating being young and African.

Reception to Afro-Yute and Bayo’s story has been exciting. “It’s not everyday you get the opportunity to work with Nike in a way that brings people together,” Bayo says. “Whenever people wear the shoe they send me videos.”

Although the shoe is now sold out, Bayo wants to continue connecting with others and creating community. He’s doing that by hosting a special Afro-Yute event this Saturday. “[The party will have] the same essence as the shoes: bringing people of different races together,” he says. “It’s community enrichment event in a sense. It’s a way for people to come together, network, and celebrate.”

As for Bayo’s future, he has plans to graduate this May and head to New York to see where his creativity takes him. “The story I told you isn’t unique to my experience. It’s a story a lot of Africans share,” he says. “I believe there are more stories to be told.”

7 to 9:30 p.m. Saturday, January 25
Tribes Barber Studios
8187B University Ave. NE, Spring Lake Park
$10; tickets here.