A close-up of the Afro-Yute sneakers.

Math senior designs limited-edition sneakers

Nike Afro-Yute inspired by his African roots

When Taoheed Bayo applied to the Nike by You x Cultivator shoe design competition, he did so with 50 words and a simple vision—to empower people by encouraging them to connect with where they came from. 

A senior studying mathematics in the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, Bayo had never designed a shoe before—or thought about attaching a story to a piece of clothing for that matter. When his submission was selected, he joined 36 other “guest designers” with stories of their own, each of them tasked with crafting a limited-edition Nike sneaker in just one week. 

Born and raised in Nigeria, Bayo moved to the United States when he was 15 years old. Inspired by his African heritage, he designed his Air Max 1s using earth tones to represent his home country and leather to symbolize the people.

“I chose leather because it [signified] what Africans are—we withstand time,” Bayo said.

“So, I connected the endurance of leather to the endurance of us Africans or people of African descent,” he explained.

Bayo called his shoe the Afro-Yute, an amalgamation of “African” and “youth.” Although the shoe is sold out now, fans of the shoe bought 60 pairs over its limited 10-day run. 

CSE student Taoheed Bayo worked with a creative team to produce a short documentary on the inspiration behind his Afro-Yute shoes. Credit: Justin Blake and Charles Fatunbi

Google yourself

Just as Bayo looked to his own African roots to design the Afro-Yute, he wants to encourage other young people, especially those of African descent, to learn more about their heritage—even if it’s something as simple as Googling the country in question. 

Bayo said that young people are better equipped, now more than ever in today’s digital age, with the resources to learn about where they came from. 

“A lot of African Americans who grow up here don’t know anything about their descendants, partially because of slavery and other things,” Bayo said. “I feel like when you’re able to trace your lineage or find your heritage, you have a higher sense of who you are.”

Bayo hopes the Afro-Yute inspires these feelings of empowerment and self-realization, but he also wants to show people what they’re capable of. If he can design sneakers, anyone can. 

“I want to wake up the sleeping giant in everybody,” he said.

“This story that I’m telling isn’t just my story, it’s a story of millions of people of African descent out there," Bayo said. "I’m just a voice to tell the story. It’s me telling people that we have so many stories to tell. We have to seek our own truth and find our own heritage.”

CSE student Taoheed Bayo modeling his Afro-Yute sneakers
Born and raised in Nigeria, Bayo hopes to empower young people to learn more about their descendants with sneakers inspired by his own African heritage. Credit: Taoheed Bayo

Striking a balance

While Bayo aims to continue engaging the community through his art and freelance modeling, he doesn’t discount his love for mathematics. Spurred to explore the field by his brother who works in insurance, Bayo is specializing in actuarial science. 

He believes being equally involved in the arts and the sciences has made him more versatile, not only as a person but also in his future career.

“I’m one of those people in the middle where I can lean to mathematics if I want to but I can also lean to the arts,” Bayo said. “It makes you more of a well-rounded individual, because you can sit and have a conversation with physics and math students and talk about logs, or you can sit with someone and talk about journalism or photography or modeling.”

Above all, Bayo said his key to academic success is maintaining a balance of his artistic passions and his scientific ones. His advice for aspiring artists in CSE? Let your creativity fly. 

“Math is creative, and science is creative,” he said.

“But you don’t want to starve one of your passions," Bayo added. "Life is much bigger than the classroom. There’s education all around us, and there are so many other avenues in this world and ways to learn.”

After graduating in May, Bayo had planned to get a summer internship in the actuarial field and then move to New York to pursue fashion and modeling. However, due to the threat of COVID-19 and New York City being the epicenter of the disease in the United States, Bayo had to change his plans. 

"I was initially looking for an internship, but it’s tough to find any as a lot of companies have had to cancel their internship programs for this summer mostly for financial reasons," he said. "I’m just going to play it by ear and see what the insurance industry or job market looks like later during the year."

Either way, he isn’t planning on forgetting the idea behind his Afro-Yute sneakers anytime soon. 

“Maybe I won’t design another pair of sneakers, but maybe I can participate in other things to give back to the community and bring people together,” Bayo said.

Story by Olivia Hultgren

Learn more about what inspired the Afro-Yute on Bayo’s Nike by You webpage

If you’d like to support students in the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering, visit our CSE Giving website.