On the corner of every street in Nairobi is a cluster of men, hustling, joking, jeering, banter flowing off them in waves. Encircled by their trusted motorbikes, the ‘Boda Boda’ drivers are a fixture of the vibrant bustle of the city, part of it’s fabric and colour. These dirt bike riders serve as the city’s taxi drivers, waiting on corners for their next ride. But as the result of a bold collaboration between photographer Jan Hoek and designer Bobbin Case a new wave of drivers are bringing a particular kind of visual flare to the block. We spoke to photographer Jan Hoek and Bobbin who teamed up have launched a fashion collection exclusive to each rider.
These light motorbikes weaving through the narrow, potholed streets are characteristic of most major African cities. Nicknamed ‘Boda Boda’ they serve as taxi drivers for commuters, couriers for the most extraordinary loads and quick getaways during the city rush hour. Originally the bikes were used as transport over the Kenyan and Tanzanian border. Due to the tense relationships between the two countries, there are no official transportation methods, leaving individuals no other choice but to cross country borders by motorbike. The chants of ‘border border’ for these drivers over time evolved to ‘boda boda’ as drivers spilled from the borders into the city. As boda boda’s established themselves within the threads of the city, so did the competition to stand out from the crowd and gain more business by customising their bikes to display their passions.
The Red Devils
Hoek and Bobbin met by chance, Hoek as an artist is typically drawn to misfits, individuals at the fringes of society, the unpolished. While Bobbin a Ugandan designer known as ‘the fabric murderer’ works within Nairobi on TV shows as well as his own collections. Fascinated by the drivers originality and authenticity in customising their bikes, both creatives Hoek and Bobbin were inspired to transform the bikers and their bikes into their ultimate fantasies.
Jan Hoek, Artist & Photographer
We set a trend now, so all the motorbikers are creating their own outfits to drive around the streets.
Creating real life fantasies. Selecting the most impressive or notorious bikes they worked with the riders to create their ultimate ideas. For one rider this meant mirroring his much admired dreadlocks on the outside of the helmet, others transformed pieces of machinery which others fully embraced the personna in full fake fur. With each element of the costumes handpicked, materials reused or repurposed every piece has a history.
The costumes display a subversive wit and joy, challenging the typical portrayal of working Africa. The drivers wear them with pride touting their signature looks and business around town. Proof too that in a full-to-bursting market, it’s not about practicality, it’s about pride, and standing out from the crowd.