In just two years the journey from initial idea to fully fledged creative studio, the work of Aida Kiraya AKA 'Afro Kickz' has merged cultures in a truly independent and inspired style. Taking to Pro:Direct's LDN19 store for a FIFA customisation takeover we got to know this talented creative with shoe in hand and ink drying.

Can you remember the moment that sparked the idea of customising sneakers?

I would say it was in February 2018. I was watching a youtube channel by a UK YouTuber called Dainá and I instantly thought I wanted to get involved in this. I knew it was something I could do so that’s where it all began. I’m very spontaneous so for me, when an idea comes into my head, I’ll go for it. In this instance, in no time I was ordering the paints, getting hold of shoes so I was all in from the minute the idea landed with me.

Did you ever imagine it would get to the levels it has?

It’s crazy when you think about it. It’s very surreal. I think back to the time I was trying to get 5k followers on Instagram. As soon as I got there, I was like “I’m going to get another 5k within a month”. I was letting everyone know my targets. When I got to that point I was like “yeah… I don’t know how that happened but it happened.” A lot of it is coincidence or making the right connection as word of mouth travels fast.

As soon as you see one piece of your work, you just want to see more and more. Do you ever look back to the earlier stuff, like any artist would, and just see how far you’ve come?

100% [laughs]. There’s times now when I look back and think “how did people even like this” but that’s part of the process. I’ve definitely developed a lot since I did my first pair. I think it’s on going. I’m always developing my personal style but I think I’ve found the thing I am into right now but that might change by next year if something else sparks my imagination. Generally my work is always changing and evolving though.

When you look at how far you’ve come, what milestones have you achieved that reflect that?

I think the biggest one that I was aiming for that I ticked off was being flown out to do work abroad for someone. That happened at the beginning of 2020. So when that happened I was thinking “this going to be my best year yet, I’m going to be flying all over…” and then Covid-19 hit. There’s definitely things I’ve written down as ambitions that have been ticked off over the years and it just makes me more hungry for the next. I think there’s power in visualising things and then making them happen.

Who have you been most honoured or touched by when you’ve found out they’ve wanted some of your work?

I think back to the beginning. I started in March 2018 and in August of that year I had done a pair for the Mayor of Sheffield, Magic Magid. He was huge on Twitter at the time and we went to his town hall and he gave me and my partner a tour. He showed us all this stuff and it was a sign of how big this could be for me. I had only just started and before I knew it people were letting me into their world. Michael Dapper was another one, that was really really cool. 

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Being able to shift a passion into a career - there’s a strong message in that - showing that you can do what you love…

Yeah 100%. I have a younger brother who is 18 now. Seeing him not try to do what he’d love to do perhaps because of the fear of not being successful later on, hopefully me doing what I’m doing can be an inspiration for him, my family and for other people as well.

Let’s talk about your styles coming together african influence meeting UK style - how would you describe it?

I think it’s based off of just me and how I’ve grown up. Being from African descent and growing up in the UK, a lot of it has come from my household. Also playing outside with people from different cultures. Seeing this merge between different backgrounds has been around me all the time. I always said right from the beginning that my aim was to make traditional african art cool for people my brothers age. I wanted people to be proud to wear stuff so rich in culture. Not all of what I do is traditionally African but it might have influence from maybe African-American films or music. I have a pair made inspired by Biggie Smalls so again, I’m always trying to merge these cultures because for me growing up, I didn’t really show off the fact that I’m african. So my idea was really to make that younger generation feel proud of that culture.

Where do you look for inspiration? Who else do you look at creatively, not even in the sneaker scene - who drives you on?

I always say music videos from the 90s. They play a big part for me. Films too. There’s so many things that inspire me though. Anything that is aesthetically pleasing. I might go to a museum, or watch a film or see people wearing particular patterns, it really is just all these touch points merged into one. I might take one element from one thing, another from somewhere else, then I bring them together to make something new. That’s my main source of inspiration.

There’s so much vibrancy, so much energy in a lot of your work - it’s a way of expressing yourself but also showing people who you are - do you enjoy letting people into your mind through what you do?

Oh 100%. My mum always says I was born at the wrong time because I should have been in my 20s during the 90s I think. A lot of my stuff is bold and bright because I really love the aesthetics of that time. Everything I do is because I like the look of something. I wouldn’t do something that doesn’t match me. Obviously if someone has ordered a pair and wants something specific then I can tailor and design to fit that person but the ones I’ve created myself are always inspired by traits of my personality. It lets people see a different influence. I don’t think there’s a lot of representation of what I like in the media right now.

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Football and footwear go hand in hand - what’s your connection to the game?

When I think of football, my mind goes back to my childhood and wearing Total 90s. I would wear a pair of Total 90s with my school skirt. I would just buy football boots just to rock around in. I would be playing on the streets with my friends and we’d put wheelie bins out to make goals out of. It really does just bring back those memories of the summer holidays and playing outside for hours. I remember having football trials in Primary School and thinking I was just such a good footballer back then [laughs]. Yeah there’s a lot of nostalgia that connects me to the game.

Where did football first cross paths with what you're doing on the sneaker front?

I think the first time was when I worked with Adidas and Arsenal. We made some shoes for some Arsenal super fans. They came down and I customised some trainers with Kieran Tierney. He was a great funny guy. After that, I did a pair of shoes based on a football that adidas brought out. I loved the patterns on it so thought they had to be translated onto footwear.

Would you like to do more and more in the football space then? It clearly unlocks another level of excitement and creativity for you…

Yeah definitely. I feel like players have a lot to say but don’t always know how to express themselves best away from the football pitch. A custom pair of trainers can 100% speak volumes and tell people something about your character. Whatever their message is, I think trainers with artwork on them can help them share that message and paint a picture. A lot of them dress very well too so it feels like the right audience. 

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Are there any players out there who you would love to work with?

From now there are two. Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford. I would love to do a pair of shoes for both of them. They come to mind instantly. Ian Wright too, because he’s a legend.

On Raheem and Marcus - they’ve done so much in presenting a positive and powerful message - is that part of the reason you’d love to work with them?

Yeah. I feel like they have something to stand for. I really appreciate when people have some substance to them. They have some kind of message that they want to get across. Marcus Rashford with the free school meals message, I can relate to that and it’s incredible. With Raheem Sterling, the way the media have treated him has been ridiculous. So them two, that’s why they stand out so much for me.

Working with EA as you have been. What’s that been like?

It’s cool on so many levels. I know that my husband is in awe. When I talk to my mum, she’ll appreciate the business insider stuff I’ve done and that kind of thing but when I tell my husband that EA and FIFA are calling then it sets off so much excitement. Working with EA has been a really really cool experience for me.

EA Sports FIFA21 is available on all formats and out now.
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