Creative Director Christina Banjo on KOLA + TOLA

Creative Director Christina Banjo on KOLA + TOLA

Junior Editor Michelle Houlston speaks to Christina Banjo, the Creative Director behind the KOLA + TOLA editorial. Banjo discusses working with the twin models, natural afro hair, and choosing to focus on the positive.

Michelle Houlston: The concept of the shoot was about showcasing the style and eccentricity of twin models, Kola and Tola. Enlighten us. What was the message?

Christina Banjo: The message behind this shoot was to be yourself. When I first met Kola and Tola I was taken aback by how free they were. They are not afraid to stand out, whether it is their bright coloured jackets or hairstyles. I saw the potential and wanted to bring this out in the shoot. I was inspired by street and hip-hop culture, as well as black and white photography. And people like A$AP Rocky who embrace their individual style and Afro culture, yet still manage to land campaigns for Dior. I think that’s really cool.


MH: The aesthetic is rare in modelling because you have chosen not only twins, but also black men who have kept their Afro hair completely natural, despite pressure to change it. Why the emphasis on hairstyle?

CB: Yes, there a very few models who are twins in the modelling world. Coupled with the fact that they are men who happen to be black and living in London. They are somewhat niche in the mainstream male modelling industry. They have faced some criticism by agencies telling them to cut their hair, but they refuse to conform to industry standards. The hairstyles are a celebration of their roots in Africa. Growing up, I remember styling my hair in threads, whereby you section the hair and wrap the thread around the strands of hair. It was a protective style. For this shoot, they have updated it by using bands and also wearing Afros. For me, it’s been important that they – we – bring our culture to the forefront.


MH: Tell us more about the creative process and working with Tola and Kola. How did it all come together?

CB: It happened really organically. I spotted Kola and Tola on the train and approached them. Since then, we have kept in contact. They have little experience in modelling and are not currently signed to an agency. But they are great to work with and very funny.

My job as a Creative Director is to make it all happen and bring the vision to life. I worked on this shoot with a talented photographer named Shonay. We vibe really well together and push each other. For us, it was about putting things out there that you don’t usually see. I think the danger sometimes with creatives is that we try to mimic what ‘society’ will accept. Especially being of ethnicity, we feel as if a high profile magazine doesn’t like our work, then we are not good enough. With this and future work, I am really focused on what my point of view is and what I can contribute.


MH: This past year has been eventful to say the least, and hard and sad, to be honest. Considering the aftermath of Brexit and Trump; racism, xenophobia, sexism and homophobia are rife. How are you feeling, and what are you doing to combat the negativity?

CB: There has been a lot of negativity due to politics. But I also see a lot of positivity which impresses me more, and it is what I choose to focus on. For example, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign and what’s happening on social media in general. I do feel we have our own voice and platforms and are coming together through these mediums. Recently, the powerful BBC2 programme, “Black and British”, has been good to watch. The only thing I can do is to be a positive influence in society with my work and what I do, and to help others do the same. The helping part being the most important. We are really stronger when we come together.


Written by Michelle Houlston,

Junior Editor

Photographs taken by Shonay

Creative Direction and Styling by Christina Banjo

Modelled by Kola Elebiju and Tola Elebiju

Assistance by Lillian Alfred