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Nigerian fashion designer, Lisa Folawiyo shares her exciting fashion journey with Glamour

Nigerian Fashion Designer Lisa Folawiyo’s designs have been championed by Italian Vogue, she has collaborated with L’Oréal Paris and hosted a trunk show with Moda Operandi. She attributes her success to authenticity, unwavering focus on her core vision, and continuous refinement of her aesthetic. Rejecting trends, she creates her unique version of “newness.” Glamour had the pleasure of chatting with her about her brand and the significance of embracing her culture in her designs.

Glamour: Describe yourself and your brand.

Lisa Folawiyo: I would describe myself as Christ-loving, family-centred, easy-going, loyal, and committed to both people and my responsibilities. Once I set my mind to something, I see it through. I appreciate beautiful things and cherish meaningful experiences. I take pride in having a keen eye for style, symmetry, colour, and print, and I am particularly meticulous about details.

In a not-so-strange way, my brand could be described quite similarly. LF is fully committed and dedicated to designing and crafting exceptionally cool, timeless, and joyful clothes for women (and now, some men). We pay close attention to detail through the luxury of hand craftsmanship while honouring slower and ethically considered practices and processes.

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G: What’s the inspiration behind your latest collection?

LF: Set off by the dominant ‘fruit print’ and fully expressed through distinct elements of colour, texture, detailed tailoring, and signature embellishments, Coll1 2024 is inspired by the multifaceted nature of women. From her sweetness, gentility, fiery spirit, and fierceness to her strength, allure, moments of retreat, and moments in the spotlight, revealing and concealing, passion, optimism, despondency, control, and yielding, among other qualities. Each collection serves as a continuation of my ongoing love letter to all women.

G: You utilise Ankara textiles and collaborate with local artisans from Nigeria to curate your collections. Why was it crucial for you to integrate your heritage into your designs?

LF: My heritage is a significant aspect of my identity, and it naturally permeates every facet of my work. Fashion serves as a means to narrate our stories and convey our notions, ideas, beliefs, culture, traditions, and history. I take immense pride in my heritage, and through my work, I choose to celebrate and honour its beauty and essence in diverse ways.

G: Reflecting on a successful career, what advice would you give your younger self when you started out?

LF: I would tell my younger self, “Take your time; there’s absolutely no rush because what is meant for you will always come to you. Speak on and be a part of only those things you truly believe in. Be your authentic self at all times.

G: As an African designer in the fashion industry, what do you believe gave you an edge over your competitors and peers?

LF: Maintaining a focus on MY vision has been key – remaining true to my core vision with unwavering determination and dedication. I am intentional about preserving an authentic brand personality, committing only to what aligns with my beliefs. Consistently refining the brand’s aesthetic and creating my interpretation of innovation rather than blindly following trends has set me apart.

I’ve never hesitated to take risks, even in the face of several failed attempts. Equally important is deliberately building a strong community, comprising both my work family and those who believe in the brand.

G: Simultaneously, what challenges have you faced because of your gender and African heritage?

LF: This brings me to a story from several years ago. At the height of our industry’s intermittent engagement with the ‘western gaze,’ I was informed by a features writer that they had been approached by an international publication to cover a story on fashion in Nigeria. The brief specified a focus solely on male designers within a certain age group. At the time, I found this eyebrow-raising. Could this have been an opportunity that should have been extended to female designers or unrestricted to male designers irrespective of age? The answer would be yes.

However, in the same breath, one can ask: Have opportunities been granted to me or other female designers solely based on our gender? Perhaps. Based on our race? Perhaps. So, I believe there is a much deeper, nuanced conversation to be had in this regard. Are there prejudices that may exist in our industry, within Africa and globally, rooted in sex, color, race, age, lifestyle choices, and nepotism? Unfortunately, yes.

In my humble opinion, the focus should always be on craft, skill, and merit, determining who is deserving of and up to the task. However, we must acknowledge the complexities of the world we live in. It is essential to note that these issues are not confined to the fashion industry.

Image supplied/Photographer Kola Oshalusi

G: You contribute your skills and knowledge by mentoring aspiring fashion designers and entrepreneurs. Why is it essential for you to invest in future generations?

LF: Undoubtedly, the fashion industry is intense and unapologetic. Rather than perpetuating this intensity, choose to take a different path by embracing kindness, even when it may seem easier not to. Foster friendships and alliances within the industry. Encourage a positive competitive spirit. Embrace risks, seize opportunities, and don’t fear failure. Maintain a positive mindset. Actively seek and be open to collaborations. Take your time to refine your craft and stay focused on your path. Adopt a “less me, more us” mindset, prioritising your team, or as I prefer to call it, your work family, your community, your environment, and the industry as a whole.

G: What advice, if any, were you given when starting your journey in fashion?

LF: A piece of advice that was given to me when I started my fashion journey, and one that is imprinted in my mind until now, was this: ‘Say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, and as time goes by, after separating the wheat from the chaff, you’ll know exactly what, to whom, and when to say no.’

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