The TRUE AFRICA 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today.
Joshua Kissi co-founded Street Etiquette, a men’s lifestyle website turned creative agency, in 2008 with Travis Gumbs. They have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram and across their social media networks. Joshua is from Ghana and grew up in New York. Not only has Street Etiquette been featured in GQ, Essence and Complex but the agency has collaborated with established brands such as Adidas and Starbucks.
What was it like growing up in New York and what is Street Etiquette about?
I grew up in the Bronx, which has the highest population of Ghanaians outside of Ghana. I grew up with a strong sense of my origins; I could tell that I was different from the beginning thanks to family gatherings where we had to wear traditional clothing.
There has always been a line of separation between black Americans and Africans. As a kid, being African was not cool. It was not something you’d mention because some black Americans would not understand a lot about our culture. When I was about 16 years old, the internet started to really kick off. I could see people from the diaspora embracing their roots. I began to understand how rich African cultures were. It’s not something you’re taught in textbooks.
Street Etiquette is a creative agency that started out as a blog. We are story-tellers through fashion, style, art, film direction and brand consulting. We’re into visuals. We have been doing this for seven years. When we first came out, we were looked at as trendsetters but trends don’t last. The internet is so temporary: we wanted to look for consistency. Today, we don’t stray from our principles and we manage to build on stories that last.
How was your visit to Angola and South Africa with Street Etiquette and what’s next for the creative agency?
It was weird to go to another country as an African. Usually, every member of the diaspora just visits their own country and goes home. If I could, I wouldn’t just stop in Ghana; I want to visit Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire for instance. It is always interesting to discover different cultures.
Angola was a shock in terms of wealth distribution. It was also hard to communicate, although I had started learning Portuguese in Brazil the previous year. We were there because of a documentary on kuduro. I was impressed by its similarity to hip hop.
What was also impressive was how young people were knowledgeable of world issues and human rights.
As for South Africa, the middle class is larger there. You can tell the continent is working hard. For people who don’t have much, it’s inspiring to have that midway point. In Johannesburg, the art and creative space was amazing. It felt like Brooklyn. We connected with people through the internet mostly and it felt like we already had a network. What was also impressive was how knowledgeable young people were of world issues and human rights. For a country with such a history of violence, I was inspired by how young people are ready to take on the nation.
We’re definitely looking out to expand Street Etiquette as an international brand in Brazil and in Africa mostly.
As for what is next, I’ve been in New York City for my entire life. I want to travel and live abroad. I am intrigued by black Europeans. I know we have a common thread but I want to understand their experience. Living abroad for a long period is the best way to experience a culture.
We’re definitely looking out to expand Street Etiquette as an international brand in Brazil and in Africa mostly. It is important for Travis and me to challenge ourselves to leave. People tend to get comfortable in New York but we want to see what else is out there in the world. I also want to be able to connect the dots between all the different black creatives I have encountered: the way blackness is trending has never happened in art history before and I think we should definitely harness that power.
[ Her Crown • 0001 w/ @afriikaana ] A photo posted by Joshua Kissi (@streetetiquette) on
Who’s your African of the year?
There are so many people I want to name. Mainly from the diaspora because I think there are people out there who are amazing at getting their voices heard. Benjamin Clementine, from Ghana (represent!) but also Abel behind The Weeknd (of Ethiopian descent), who is breaking records in the music industry with his different and fresh sound. And, of course, Lupita Nyong’o.
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Come back tomorrow for the next TRUE Africa 100 and keep up to date using the hashtag #TRUEAfrica