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Folu Oyefeso

Tobi Onabolu; a lesson in playfulness and creativity

The essence of being playful is as pure as nature. It is the very core of our being, but as we grow older, we slowly stop being bothered with the "frivolity" of play. A part of our consciousness that was once responsible for curiosity, humor and creativity in thought is the strength people like Tobi Onabolu draw from on a day to day basis.

He is a cultural strategist and creative director with a passion for telling African stories through film, music, art and fashion and if you've met Tobi, you'll soon understand that he immerses himself wholeheartedly into art. His foundational years were of great curiosity for me and what stuck with me the most was how much play time meant to him as a child.

The energetic and bright eyed boy would spring to life when it was playtime. It was his daily opportunity to escape and explore his imagination, and so he rarely missed the opportunity. Luckily for him, this penchant was encouraged by his parents and when it was time, it was channeled formally towards the creative and colorful arts.

Fast forward to present day and that the bright eyed boy is still very much here, although he has found ingenious ways to use that segment of his persona. His recent trip to Senegal saw his propensity for play yield fantastic results. His visit to the museum of contemporary art in Dakar would have a disappointing conclusion because it was closed. However, he wound up striking a conversation with a gentleman who happened to be a shoe maker.

The pair would strike up a conversation and ultimately ended up visiting his shoe shop. He had been looking to make some babouche slippers and the universe was aligning in spectacular fashion. Tobi having noticed the scrap leather laying around started to piece patterns and colors together, with elegant and way more sustainable results.

A few months and a collaboration with kkerele later, there are 3 contemporary iterations of the classic shoe: the classic flat soled babouche; a version with Kkerele’s iconic heel; and a version with a cushioned platform.

I got a pair of the heeled ones and I absolutely love them! They expose a certain degree of elegance you did not even know you had and the way your feet feel against the handcrafted leather is exquisite. The elegant loungewear are like a gateway to a more relaxed mindset when you put them on. The heel also adds a little pep to my step which I enjoy a bit too much - I never thought I would be wearing similar shoes as my dad in his disco days.

The lesson here is that playfulness is creative fuel for your brain. A mind that can play and experiment at work is less stressed and anxious, heavy drains on creativity.

Playfulness has a way of freeing up the mind and this helps to discover new ideas and solutions to seemingly impossible situations. Workplaces that encourage playfulness stimulate unique ideas and also cultivate a sense of community amongst employees.

They will feel psychologically safe knowing their mistakes are valued, risk-taking is encouraged, and there is minimal rigidity on a day to day basis.

You can reach out to Tobi on his Instagram @tobionabolu or on his website, he is very open to collaborations. The babouche are available through the kkerele website if you're interested brands that prioritize sustainable fashion and reducing waste in production.

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