Interview with Adam Yawe
‘It started when I got tired of importing skateboards from China and wanted to do something more authentic and meaningful.’
Can you tell us something about Kenia people don’t know?
Well, there’s a story I’ve heard, not sure how true it is, that the name Kenya came about when a British man couldn’t pronounce the name of the sacred mountain of the Kikuyu People, Kirinyaga. So somehow Kirinyaga became Kenya. And now with you it’s become Kenia. (laughing).
Sorry about that. Who came up with Zamani and what inspired to do a local skateboard brand in Kenya?
Zamani was my idea, it started when I got tired of importing skateboards from China and wanted to do something more authentic and meaningful. So, I spent some time trying to make skateboard decks, when that failed, I tried to make skate trucks (still trying) and it’s been a continuous journey since then of trying to make different products, seeing which ones make sense and exploring what this brand might be. Zamani is a swahili word that means “a long time ago” so it’s about trying to explore the ideas in skateboarding such as innovation, rebellion, and creativity that we as Kenyans and as human beings have been exploring ‘Tangu Zamani’ which translates to “from a very long time ago”.
Tell us something about yourself.
My name is Adam Yawe, born and raised in Nairobi, Kenya. Longtime skateboarder turned filmer and the founder of Zamani Skateboards. I’m also a designer and artist that gets overly obsessed with things and takes them way too far. (laughing) Find me on Instagram @not_really_adam.
I like your skate wax product. What cool and fun idea. Are all of your products manufactured in Kenya?
Thank you, there’s always someone looking for wax during the session and everyone here uses candles, but I noticed that candles were a bit hard, and also, they break at some point, so it becomes a bit uncomfortable to wax the ledge with it. I thought that skate wax in a deodorant container would be really convenient, but I couldn’t find any deodorant containers and glue stick containers were the next best thing. So yeah, the goal with Zamani is to make everything locally. It has meant we don’t sell certain things like decks or trucks, but I’m happy to start small and figure out the more complex things as time goes by.
‘I thought that skate wax in a deodorant container would be really convenient, but I couldn’t find any deodorant containers and glue stick containers were the next best thing.’
What is the story behind the Griptape Safety Razor?
I’m very obsessed with old advertisements and vintage products. I stumbled across these old safety razors that men used to shave their beards and I thought it was so interesting how you would have one metal razor and it was really high quality and a classy item that you keep with you for a lifetime and not just a cheap plastic razor like a lot of people use nowadays. So, when trying to translate that idea to skateboarding I thought a safety razor would be perfect to cut griptape instead of using a razor blade or a box cutter, it could be metallic. A beautiful collector’s item that you could pass down for generations. Using these old safety razors as an influence I designed the griptape safety razor, with a knurled handle so you can file the edges of your griptape down after you cut them. I wanted to make one for real, but it was taking too long to figure it out. Antony had stacked some sweet clips for the video so we just decided to go ahead with the promo vid and just do T-shirts and some griptape. I think I’ll still make one someday, even if it’s only for myself.
Have you thought about doing skateboards too?
Yeah, skateboard decks were the first thing I tried. But It’s a very expensive endeavor. (laughing) I went broke trying to do it and the progress was kinda nonexistent. Definitely something I want to get back to once Zamani has a more stable income. I remember I didn’t want to make them from maple because I didn’t want any imported wood, so we were trying to find a locally available alternative. We made cypress boards that snapped after one ollie. We tried to reinforce them with fibreglass and that prevented the early snapping, but the board had a lot of flex and no pop plus the fibreglass sheets came off the board after some time, the next solution was to do a full resin infusion instead of just layering the fibreglass on a finished deck, but we couldn’t figure out the setup. The last thing we wanted to try was eucalyptus veneer, but we had issues with the mould and couldn’t afford to get another one, so the whole deck project went on hold as I tried to figure out something that made more sense financially.
In one of our ads I saw on IG it says ‘World Leader in Skateboarding Accessories.’ I like your confidence. What makes you feel that way?
(Laughing) That’s a funny story. So, when I studied engineering, we were always told that as an engineer you should never try and say that you’re the best or a world leader, because things like that aren’t measurable and they’re marketing tactics that are used by businesses to convince the consumer to buy their things. So essentially when I say we’re the world leader in skateboarding accessories, it’s not really something you can measure and it’s inherently meaningless, but I thought it would be a funny thing to say anyway, I hope other people will find it funny as well.
‘I went broke trying to do it and the progress was kinda nonexistent.’
What are some of the challenges skateboarding in Kenya faces today?
Everything you can imagine. (laughing) Our local spot recently got demolished, so the community definitely feels more disconnected with everyone seshing in their own neighbourhoods or spots near them. But it’s been good for street skating, we’ve been getting a lot of street clips recently (silver lining). The classic skateboarder issue of trying to get boards and shoes as cheap as possible, which is tricky here because everyone is importing in small quantities because the scene is small as well. It’s also one of the reasons I started Zamani. Making stuff locally I think will be the key to getting enough product at an affordable price for the local skater, we just need to put in the work to figure it out, even if it takes 10-20 years. Then the usual stuff, injuries, getting kicked out of spots, being misunderstood, but that comes with the territory of skateboarding, and I can say that recently we’ve been getting more love than the time I started skating seriously around 2013.
What are some of the challenges people in general face in Kenya today?
Well I interact a lot with the creative scene in Nairobi, I can say that the challenges there are that creativity isn’t appreciated a lot here. People don’t feel that there’s a lot of value in “pretty pictures” or “just making a small video” so trying to get paid enough to make a living is tough and I think it’s why many Kenyan creatives work with foreign entities or NGOs, but I think it’s slowly changing with time as creatives also learn how to pitch themselves and their work and be more firm about the value they bring to a project. But Kenya is a relatively young country, and we don’t have well developed systems in a lot of areas, and it leads to people taking advantage of that in the form of corruption. I think those are some of the growing pains that we have to go through to become better and it’s up to younger generations to put in the work to make the kind of country they want to live in. Even though it sometimes feels easier to just try and make a lot of money and leave. (laughing).
Last question: If you could interview a person, who would it be and why?
Dedan Kimathi, Leader of the Kenyan Land and Freedom Army. He and his fighters and gave the British Colonial Government serious trouble. I’d like to ask him how he was able to rally so many people to his cause and keep them loyal even when they were vastly outnumbered and outgunned. I definitely feel small in the face of all the things I’m trying to do with Zamani, but I think Dedan Kimathi was able to make a really big impact with limited resources (they also made their own firearms) and I think I could gain a lot of insight into how to do the same.
‘It’s also one of the reasons I started Zamani. Making stuff locally I think will be the key to getting enough product at an affordable price for the local skater, we just need to put in the work to figure it out, even if it takes 10-20 years.’