THE BIG FLEX👟 amplifying Sierra Leone’s Visibility 🇸🇱

8th August 2020

“Being Sierra Leonean is such a flex”

“Being Sierra Leonean is such a flex”

The above quote, tweeted innocently by young Sierra Leonean, @keziat, on the 15th of March 2020, has been the most iconic tweet on Sierra Leone Twitter (#SaloneTwitter) in 2020. No one knew at the time that it would influence the slogan behind a Nike campaign championing unique stories. 

Around the same time of the tweet, Nike published a callout seeking London Creatives to pitch stories for its #NikeByYou campaign. Being a Londoner who is passionate about increasing Sierra Leone’s visibility in the U.K., I pitched a story on creating a shoe that will make the community of Sierra Leoneans in the U.K. automatically recognise one another, which I hope will not only result in unity, but also pride. Nike thought it was a uniquely amazing idea.

Building the FLEX

Out of thousands of applicants, I was handpicked as one of 20 guest-designers. The creation process turned out a lot tougher than I had anticipated. Nike gave its London 2020 guest-designers the choice between Airmax 90 and Airmax 95. My initial design had been with the 95, but the colour pallets just didn’t sit well with me. Furthermore, they didn’t feel as close to the representation of the Sierra Leone flag; this was a priority in my creation. An inspiration in my final design came from a photograph by one of my favourite Sierra Leonean content creators, @Yasmin_Tells.

To cut a long story short, after about 232 revisions (I didn’t count; I guesstimated), and numerous polls on my private IG story, I settled on a design which felt only right to be named the 232the international dialling code for Sierra Leone.

Why nickname THE BIG FLEX?

Interestingly, that name didn’t cross my mind at all during the creation process, nor did it cross my mind during the finalisation process; If it had, it would be in my story on the Nike website.

However, when I revealed an image of the first pair of the 232, the first response I got was ‘big flex’. I loved this response from Tarik, a musician and apparel designer, so much that I recollected, ‘you know what… being a Sierra Leonean IS a BIG FLEX.’ 

images captured by @JulietNagillah

Wetin now?

Since my first visit home to Sierra Leone back in 2017, I’ve dreamt of a London in which Sierra Leoneans can walk past each other and instantly recognise one another based on at least one item of clothing… and THE BIG FLEX is a step towards that.

There is strength in numbers and the launch of these custom-made sneakers has only been a success story because of the support of Sierra Leoneans (and allies) not just in the UK, but from all over the world.

THE BIG FLEX is a reminder to Sierra Leoneans globally to be seen, be recognised, and be unapologetic.

         “One small step for Nike… wan langa waka fɔ Salon!”

Although this is no doubt a tiny step for Nike; it is a is a massive push in the journey of rebranding and amplifying Sierra Leone. If you’re a Sierra Leonean privilege to be a gatekeeper, change-maker or trendsetter, bear in mind that, no one will change our nation’s narrative but us.

The THE BIG FLEX is available to purchase from Nike (350 exclusive pairs ONLY) until 13th of August 2020; along with the rest of the lines from #NikeByYou London 2020.

Written by Abu B. Yillah

Abu Yillah is a British-Sierra Leonean Writer, Filmmaker & Curator of the Sierra Leone Arts & Culture festival! Abu’s creativity is centred on navigating his two national identities and his dream is to increase the visibility of Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans all across the world.

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