Nima native Abdul Rashid Zakari is a maniac – or more appropriately, Mayniak (the name of the sportswear brand he founded two years ago). At 30, he’s CEO of the outfit, and looks to revolutionize sportswear on the continent. He walks briskly, and his speech is hurried. He also wears a constant smile, is generally hyperactive, and exudes an unmistakable passion for discourse around sportswear for Africa.
He sports a funky jacket with lapel flower pins over blue athletic pants he designed himself –the word Mayniak crawling down his right leg. “As you can see, this is super-dry material which is good for our weather”, he proclaims later in our conversation. The insides of the fabric are made of a sort of towel which absorbs sweat. In one of the two bags in his hand are samples of the jerseys which have made him superstar –Liberty Professionals FC’s new “Performa” kits for 2016/2017. The jerseys have proven to be a landmark project, and on them, he’s collecting autographs which he’ll exhibit in coming months.
Until now (what he calls “50 seconds of fame”), his acclaim has been as a result of his marketing strides (he’s worked on projects with Kumasi Asante Kotoko among other major sports establishments). He also responds to the name “David Buckman”, is graduate of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM-UK) as well as the Sports Business Institute of Barcelona, and a strong advocate of the word “vim” –that word litters nearly his every submission, which is underlined by empowerment. And why is that?
“Vim is a contagious spirit…that resilience or willpower to do stuff. You dream, you have to defy, you have to deliver. Initially this [Mayniak] was a dream. We defied it [obstacles], and we’re delivering”. To back this point, he reveals how he has had false starts with Accra Hearts of Oak (which he’s a die-hard fan of), and Papa Kwesi Nduom’s Elmina Sharks. But Abdul Rashid Zakari is irrepressible in his ambitions, for even today, he nurses hopes of those dreams coming true. He shows me designs of jerseys he has created for both clubs on his smartphone –that same Samsung on which rapper Kanye West’s “Lamborghini Mercy” blared out when a call came through for him as our conversation started. The designs fascinated me, especially that of Accra Hearts of Oak – the “rainbow colours” running across the chest of a white one, a black one, and then my favourite: an intricately crafted yellow and blue one which leaves you astounded and proud to be Ghanaian all at once.
The words “creativity”, and (of course) “maniac”, also describe his identity, he believes – “I am a creative guy. I try as much as possible to think outside the box. There’s a way over here, it’s locked. Is there any way we can go through without breaking this particular glass? So that’s me – I try as much as possible to think outside the box for options”.
Another word – “sahiihi” –which he pronounces with an intentional stress, and has stamped unto the stitch on the helm label, is key to the Mayniak dream, for “sahihi” means “original” in his native Hausa. The jersey is innovative in the way that it is designed, because it is “made to fit Africa”. That phrase can be found in the inner label around the neck. Adidas and Nike kits have the inscription “original” on them to show that they’re genuine. It is also this purpose that the “sahiihi” serves on Mayniak sportswear. Made of ultra-dry fabric, it is designed to keep players as dry as possible during games. It also includes ventilation holes –a Nike invention which he has tailored for the African situation — on the sides.
Abdul Rashid’s designs are captivating to say the least, and a club’s history is influential to his creative process. The ones he’s made for Liberty Professionals are rich in how they embody the story of the club. He asks me to hold the red jersey up –the away jersey – and then takes me on a quick tour of the club to which my only response was several remarks of “wow”: “this round neck represents the Dansoman Roundabout”, he starts, and then, pointing to the blue and white patches right beneath the neck area and running down the length of the shirt, he reveals that they represent the Third Street, which leads to the Carl Reindorf Park (the 2000 –seater venue which serves as their home ground). The pattern is broken in the center of the jersey, and then resumes to the helm of the shirt. The point where the pattern breaks, he explains, represents the exact location of the park, and then the street (the blue and white pattern) restarts. Crowned with fascinating calligraphy by a Columbian classmate from Sports Business Institute of Barcelona, the kits have become the most talked-about this year.
And so how did his marriage with Liberty Professionals kick off? One day, he was watching soccer back home, when he got a call from the Club’s General Manager Godfred Akoto – Boafo. He (Godfred) had seen some designs of his, and was interested in working together. Samples were submitted, and the club was impressed. And they’ll continue to collaborate for as long as the relationship is great. “We’re a family now”, he points out, smiling.
What is Ghana getting wrong when it comes to kits? The Ghanaian game, specifically our premier league, is hardly nascent anymore: Accra Hearts of Oak is over a hundred years old, Asante Kotoko is over 80. Unfortunately, though, our progress with kits is hardly something to write home about. Abdul Rashid bemoans the lack of attention to specific indigenous requirements: “they jus go unto the open market, and buy anything their colour, and wear them. That is quite wrong!”, he fumes. “Once you’re playing premier league football, you’re a professional club. “They even disregard the quality of the fabric –whether it is good for us or not. Everybody goes out there, and does their own thing.”
Will the Ghanaian buy Mayniak? Perhaps, because if how poorly marketed our league has been over several years, the average Ghanaian finds Western leagues: the English Premier League, The Spanish La Liga, the Italian Serie A more attractive, and so they enjoy better patronage than the Ghanaian league. This can be seen in how religiously we follow foreign games on TV. Even more telling is how, on our streets daily, many a young man sports a replica jersey of his beloved Manchester United, or Chelsea, or Barcelona.
He agrees that that assertion is true, but also points out the overwhelming opportunities there are with local clubs. “Last year, Accra Hearts of Oak sold about 10,000 jerseys to its supporters. Kumasi Asante Kotoko sold a similar number. It tells you that there’s potential…if we do it very well, supporters will buy. Ever since this one [Performa] was unveiled, we’ve had calls from many many people who want to buy”.
Does the success of the Performa kits scare him about future creative endeavors? Buckman admits that he never anticipated the response to Performa. He was simply doing his best in his little corner, and is grateful for how well the jerseys have been received. Sure, he does harbor fears, but it is not with his future designs –it is with the shameless attitude of some people to plagiarize.
“My only fear is that in Ghana, we copy things anyhow. Somebody will sit somewhere…and just because this one is getting some attention, might be thinking ‘oh he’s doing good, so let me also enter into it.’, and the next thing you know, they’ve fragmented the market, instead of joining hands”, he says.
What’s next? “The African is crazy about sports” he asserts, and so there’s already demand across the continent, especially if marketed appropriately. He’s already busy: “As I speak to you now, I need to be in Cameroon. There are some orders there…in Nigeria too”.
Poised for a mind-blowing future, he also looks to create even more captivating designs, collaborate with other sporting bodies, and influence Ghanaian urban culture like American rapper Jam-Master Jay did with Adidas Superstar eventually.
I inquire from him, finally, what he think’s Mayniak’s place is, in the sportswear terrain, and like a messiah, he answers, certain eyes trained on mine, in a piercing way that makes whatever words come out of his mouth impossible to doubt, and then says these, as though in capital letters: “as far as Ghana and its weather is concerned, this is the best, and it can stand toe-to-toe with any other product, especially what our football demands”.
And with that, I sigh a heavy sigh, thank him for his time, and leave him to finish his coffee.