In conversation with

Mimi Aborowa

Founder ìrìn journal

Introduction

Introduction

Mimi Aborowa says when a traveller embarks on a journey, there is always a picture they are pursuing, whether it is “the cobblestone streets of Paris, to the balmy beaches of the Mediterranean or the sensual rhythm of Latin America”. The African continent conjures up images too, but they tend to be one-dimensional. “We haven’t developed those stories for Africa yet. In the mind of most people in the world, Africa is the land of wild animals and even wilder people. We want to change that narrative.”

And so Mimi has created a bi-annual publication, ìrìn journal which explores travel and culture in Africa. We spoke to the founder about why this magazine needs to be made. In fact she’s just launched a kickstarter campaign to fund the first print edition dedicated to Lagos, which you can support here.

Question and Answer

What stories did you engage with growing up?

I grew up reading Enid Blyton, Harry Potter and pretty much all the Jacqueline Wilson books. I remember not being allowed to read Harry Potter (witches and wizardry were a big no-no in our culture as Nigerians – and Africans in general – are very spiritual) but I read the books anyway.

When did you first get into magazines? Did the lack of diversity in the publishing industry put you off as a young person?

I got into magazines when I was 14 – I’d always run to the corner-shop and stack up on the latest teen magazines at the time, then cut out faces of pop stars to make collages for my room. With time and maturity, thankfully, my interest evolved into the discovery of independent publications with strong brand personalities, ones that had found their niche, knew their voice and told stories for their community. I was and still am so fascinated by the range of content out there. You can get magazines that focus on everything from dogs and insects to those solely sharing positive news.

I saw magazines that were so diverse, yet not diverse enough. I couldn’t understand it. Where was the magazine for me, for people like me? It got to a point where I got frustrated with asking whether these magazines existed to wanting to create a space for it to exist. And with that, ìrìn journal was born.

“Where was the magazine for me, for people like me? It got to a point that I got frustrated with asking whether these magazines existed to wanting to create a space for it to exist”

What story did you want to tell with ìrìn?

Ìrìn is actually a Yoruba word for “walk” and the prefix for “journey”. Ìrìn journal is a bi-annual magazine that explores African culture through travel, people and community. We explore what it means to be African in the particular city we feature, through the people there and the stories from the past and present that shape the cultural fabric of the city. We cover history, rhythm, food, art and much more. We are not trying to glamourise life here; we just want to portray Africa and Africans as they are. The good, bad, ugly and beautiful.

Who is the magazine for?

Primarily the magazine is for anyone looking to deep dive into diverse cultures and understand the common threads that make us all different yet the same. Human. Within the context of what we want to explore, the magazine will be most appealing to people who have a keen interest in Africa. Be it Africans, the black diaspora and culturally curious minds from all over the world. We want to tell African stories to the world and do so in an honest and authentic way.

If each ìrìn journal will focus on a new African city and the different stories that make up that city, why Lagos first?

We started with Lagos because Lagos is home. There has also been a lot of buzz about the city – our annual Fashion and Design week, Naomi Campbell’s multiple visits (and her tweeting that a Vogue Africa needs to exist), and musicians (Davido, Wizkid, Burna Boy) who are pushing our sound globally.

It’s been great so far to see Nigerians being recognised for good, but we are so much more than fashion, lavish Nigerian weddings and entertainment. We wanted to shine a different kind of light on the stories that make Lagos the lively, loud and equally frustrating place we call home. No matter where we are in the world, we always yearn to come back to it.

Mimi Irin Journal
Mimi Irin Journal

What were some of your favourite stories in the first issue?

There are so many amazing stories in this issue. My favourites have to be the food-related ones. I really like the story on akara and acarajé, in which we explore the ties between Brazil and Nigeria. The former dish is a breakfast staple across Nigeria and the latter a popular street food dish in the Bahia region of El Salvador. Both cities have ties because of the Transatlantic Slave trade.

How will ìrìn present a unique approach to travel? Why did the industry need it?

African travel is basically nonexistent and especially so within the continent. We want to get our readers to consider new locations and expand their mindset. There is always an image which draws travellers to a place, whether it is the cobblestone streets of Paris, to the balmy beaches of the Mediterranean or the sensual rhythm of Latin America. We haven’t developed those stories about Africa yet. In the mind of most people in the world Africa is the land of wild animals and even wilder people. We want to change that narrative, not by spreading a fake positive campaign but by showing the truth. We believe by doing this, more people will be encouraged to explore the continent and bring more understanding to this beautiful, diverse place that is Africa.

What’s the goal of the Kickstarter campaign you’ve just launched?

The world of independent publishing is very challenging and expensive. And to print ìrìn  journal the way we want to, we need help.  We want to raise enough funds to print about 1,500 copies of the Lagos issue, pay our contributors (because we believe in paying for all the work we commission) and have a buffer of money to print the second issue.

Are there any other publications that you really admire?

I can’t get enough of Apartamento, Boat Magazine, Kinfolk and Fare Magazine.

Any other African creatives that you love that are really shaping a new narrative for the continent – writers, photographers etc?

Honestly, there are so many creatives making a name for themselves! Nigerian designers Kenneth Ize, Maki Oh. Kenneth Ize uses traditional aso-oke (handwoven fabric) to make the most amazing pieces. Trevor Stuurman, a South African all round creative and multimedia visual artist. Sisters Akwaeke and Yagazie Emezi  (one is a writer and the other a photographer). Petite Noir, a South African Musician and Loza Maleombho, an Ivorian Fashion Designer. Finally Lee Litumbe – American of Cameroonian descent. She’s a traveller, content creator and has been creating amazing content of her travels around Africa. I promise you the list goes on and on…

3 desert island books?

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Stay with me by Ayobami Adedayo, When Breath becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Mimi's Storylist

Books

  1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  2. Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta
  3. The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
  4. Longthroat Memoirs by Yemisi Aribisala
  5. Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
  6. The Daughters Who Walk This Path by Yejide Kilanko
  7. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  8. Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo
  9. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  10. Take What You Need by Abiola Babarinde

Magazines

  1. Apartamento
  2. Boat
  3. Kinfolk
  4. Fare
  5. Alabaster
  6. SUITCASE
  7. At the Table
  8. Magnify
  9. Cartography
  10. Native Mag
  11. Roundtable
  12. Gal-Dem
  13. Put An Egg On it

Podcasts

  1. Passing Through by Nneka Julia
  2. Supersoul Sundays by Oprah Winfrey
  3. Optimal Living Daily

Newsletters

  1. Girls Night In
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