This morning was oddly easy. Sika Dwimfo, better known by his monome Sika, sits in his 30-year-old shop on Boulevard Degnan. He is surrounded by African masks, Ghanaian fans, handcrafted jewelry, waist beads and burning incense. Great works of art from different parts of the world adorn every wall. It’s a place with as much history, color and contrast as the fit Sika has right now. Each day, selecting the right look can take her up to two hours. Sometimes he will have to change his outfit 10 times beforehand. feels right. But again, today was not one of those days. Sika woke up with a vision, which came truer with each piece he picked up from his massive collection.
A quick summary is in order: First of all, the shorts. Purple and Gold African Print. Next, the tee, a Lakers joint that might raise eyebrows for anyone familiar with Sika’s infamous allegiance to the Clippers. (It was a dedication from Kobe, so it transcended all that, he explains.) The kufi hat was purchased from Taj Mahal Imports on Crenshaw, sporting a color scheme and print that contrasted with the shorts and the shirt. The shoes: buttery ocher leather slip-ons from Morocco. Glasses ? Always the Lennon-esque sunglasses. (This particular pair was bought in Chinatown for a few dollars.) His long gold necklaces, with African mask-shaped pendants and a handmade bicycle made by him, are rarely taken off.
Sika has perfected the art of the general uniform. His brilliant juxtapositions of textures, colors and materials work as a style program for people he meets – both those who knew him and passers-by in the community. Her daily outfits are remarkably consistent, but the energy changes depending on her mood. He’s been known to leave the house in one thing and come back to change because the mood is off.
For the 81-year-old artist, master jeweler, business owner and “godfather of Leimert Park”, dressing is the highest expression of self. “I like to dress up, I like to look beautiful,” says Sika. “Now that I’m older, I think it makes me look good. I have to put on something that makes me energetic.
Sika was born in New Orleans and raised in Chicago. His mother was a seamstress who made bespoke suits for her son, which cemented his love for bespoke pieces and individuality in clothing at an early age. He grew up as an artist in a time and place where jazz, art and poetry were at the center, and Sika was at the center of it all. He owned an art gallery in Chicago in his late twenties, befriending people such as Haki R. Madhubuti and Gwendolyn Brooks. It was Madhubuti and Brooks, Sika says, who raised $700 for him to secure the space in the first place.
But the winters were harsh. And at the time, one of his gamer sisters was dating Fred Hampton and frequently traveled to California to be with him while he was here. (There’s an iconic photo of young Sika, a little Afro halo around his head, chatting with Hampton at one of his jewelry shows.) Sika would hear everything about this place — the sun, the energy.
He was looking for a home that exposed the freedom that already existed within him. And he kept hearing that LA was the kind of town where people walked around shirtless. Sika, still free-spirited, thought, “I’m in.” He came to Los Angeles in 1971, at age 31. It was his first time on a plane.
“I had special costumes that my mother made me, but when I moved here, I had nothing but sandals, shorts and Dr. Scholl t-shirts,” he says. He was staying in a five-bedroom mansion in historic West Adams with roommates; his rent was $140 a month. “I got here and that was it,” says Sika. There was no turning back.
Since 1992, Sika’s has been a colorful mainstay on Boulevard Degnan. A person could spend hours sifting through shelves of dashikis, beaded necklaces, Ghanaian baskets and Malian tea towels. It all started as a jewelry store, with so much jewelry – all made by Sika – that it could fill the walls. But now there’s a bit of everything, and with Sika at the center, it’s become a cultural landmark.
On a sleepy Tuesday afternoon, three locals walked in within 30 minutes just to say hello. Andrea Daughtry, who runs the local association For the Fem in You, came to pick up a pair of earrings and chat with Sika. “To me, he’s like a grandfather I never had,” Daughtry says. “When I started coming to Leimert, he was the only person who took care of me from day one. He does that for a lot of people. We admire him for his wisdom, his advice and his story – he is the epitome of black history for Leimert.
When it comes to her appearance, the community expects nothing less than a daily show. “We know he’s not about to mess with you,” Daughtry says of Sika’s style. “It gives vibrant colors. He likes to stand out. He’s going to have a hat, matching shoes. Her jewelry is going to be put on, and you’re going to see those sunglasses. It’s her look.
Sika is gentle and observant. Capricorn of December, his presence is imposing, but not in an obvious or unpleasant way. His energy speaks first, then a witty remark will surprise you, like when he jokes with his daughter Milan Dwimfo that she “hats it” for pointing out the creases in his T-shirt. He’s the kind of person who, when he speaks, people lean in to listen. Something important is about to be said.
Dwimfo, who now runs Sika’s with his own jewelry business, Queen Midas Gold, says his father has always been unique – both in the way he dresses and moves around the world. “He’s just a different kind of person,” she says. “When I was a kid, my friends always wanted to come to my house because our house was different. I went to Crescent Heights [Boulevard Elementary School], and all the kids would have Kool-Aid pouches and Capri Suns. We weren’t allowed to have that. But my dad was so cute – he would make me these little avocado sandwiches, or a little homemade salad with edible flowers, and always make me a fresh smoothie or juice to take to school. He was picking me up in his Volkswagen van which had African prints on it.
You see pictures of Sika in his youth and it’s clear that he always had this strong sense of self. There is an image of him taken in 1977 at Festac, Nigeria’s legendary festival of African arts and culture, in a muscular t-shirt, layers of jewelry and a woven cap, with a Canon camera in his hand . It’s dynamic and impactful. Sika, then 37, was beaming.
“When I was young and getting dressed, my buddies were like, ‘Dude, you look really good in your clothes. You have something, something different. Now that I’m older, I feel like if I had listened to them, I might have been a model. I feel like a model [now].”
Indeed, Sika has modeled for Union and Mastercard campaigns alongside Dwimfo. As he got older, he also became more comfortable with prints and colors instead of sticking to neutrals like he did in his youth.
For Sika, style became an avenue to achieve her most idealized self. This goes hand in hand with his spiritual practice, which he has perfected throughout his life. Sika’s multi-pronged spiritual practice includes humility. Giving is another of his mainstays – he organizes his closet with a view to giving away some of his pieces to people he knows will appreciate them. He’s been a lifelong cyclist and he’s showing up on his bike again (Sika used to ride up to 150 miles at a time, and still nods to that lifestyle with the caps of cycling that he often wears). He prays, for things like peace, prosperity and abundance – for others more than for himself. He has been mostly herbal for decades and has done up to 50 days of juice fasting. Dwimfo says he has changed people’s lives by showing them the possibilities of a more vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. “I live a very simple life,” says Sika. “I just try to do everything I can.”
Sika derives a certain energy from the search for harmony through clothing. Take her mix of prints. When Sika mixes prints in a way that hits the spot, he says he almost feels like he can “tumble down a flight of stairs.” Where someone else might not be nuanced or brave enough to put two contrasting prints together, Sika finds a way. (It is always, still works.) He also likes to contrast cultural pieces with streetwear. He’s currently obsessed with the Converse Chuck 70s – nine pairs and counting – which he gets from Neighbors Skate Shop.
“It’s such a combination,” Dwimfo says of his father’s talent for mixing designs and styles. “It’s such a mesh of African stuff – just unique impressions in the way he does it. The way he ties it all together.
The same goes for her jewelry. “It’s my love,” Sika said. “There’s something energetic about it, and I don’t feel good if I don’t have it. I’ll go back up, and if I can’t find it, oh, I’m almost having a seizure. Sika adopted jewelry as his medium while still in Chicago and became well known for his one-of-a-kind wire pieces. (In the ’60s, after a Nina Simone concert, he went backstage to give her a pair of earrings he had made. “We became really good friends,” he says.)
Sika understands something important about personal style that only the truly stylish have understood: it’s the culmination of all your identities and experiences, expressed in a way that refers to all the places you’ve been but you pushes towards the person you want. become. It radiates from within.
“When I wake up in the morning, it’s about how I feel about what I want to wear — what I feel comfortable wearing that day,” he says. “Everything I have to put on has to be something that fits me. And gives me energy.