Surf’s up… in Africa

African surf brand Mami Wata is banishing images of Cali beaches and Hawaiian hibiscus flowers, instead using design to draw on and celebrate the continent’s visual tradition. Here’s how it stands out in a sea of lookalikes

“Surf brands are usually American or Australian, and they’re telling stories of blonde-haired guys,” says Mami Wata CEO and co-founder Nick Dutton. “They manufacture in the same factories in Asia, and they all look exactly the same. If you go to their websites and take the logos off, you can’t tell the difference.”

According to Dutton – who previously worked in the ad industry – surf brands are in trouble. Years of relying on identikit visuals and an all-consuming focus on America, Hawaii and Australia means they’re “racing towards the bottom, without a plan to get to the top”. Lacking visual diversity, their last remaining point of contrast is the price.

But Mami Wata, set up by Dutton with surf journalist Andy Davis and artist Peet Pienaar, is doing things differently. Focused whole-heartedly on Africa and its many under-appreciated surf spots, the brand is deeply rooted in the continent’s visual tradition – with not a single hibiscus flower in sight.

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