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Lisa Folawiyo the Nigerian Designer elevating, modernizing Ankara and Traditional African Fabrics into Luxury

If you’ve been looking for new Glamorous summer looks to add to your wardrobe or what to wear on your next date with your girls then your struggle is over Lisa Folawiyo will save you. The fashion-forward pieces are so ideal for any type of occasion. You could play and style them differently but still keeping the boldness in them.

Designer Lisa Folawiyo in one of her creations

By Mitchel Tanyaradzwa

You studied Law in Nigeria so how did you transition to the Fashion Industry? What made you make such a decision and what challenges did you face during the journey?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had an attachment to and a natural flair for most things fashion. So, though not formally trained, the transition to fashion design from acquiring 2 degrees in law happened quite organically and seamlessly. It was me making a decision at a time when I realized there wasn’t any fashion created and produced in Nigeria, that appealed to me. I wanted to wear modern cool clothes that represented who I was and where I was from. I wanted to wear familiar prints and fabrics, but in a fresh and fashion forward way. And so it made sense that I should create and fill that huge gap in the industry. And believing I could, I did. Apart from the limitations placed upon the brand by working in a not so enabling environment and being a self- funded business, a huge challenge faced was that of changing the mindset of the average Nigerian fashion consumer to embrace fashion designed, made and produced in Nigeria. This was at a time when it wasn’t the popular thing to wear a Nigerian brand with pride for occasions other than traditional events. The slogan ‘Proudly Nigerian’ had not come into play then. Lol

Your pieces are so exquisite and timeless. Whats the inspiration behind your collections?

I am inspired by so much... History, culture, traditions from both my Nigerian and West Indian heritage, memories of childhood, In addition to these, my mood, mindset, personal beliefs and convictions at various points in time have inspired collections.. I am very inspired by prints and/or particular textiles, new design techniques, and/or interesting forms of embellishment and craftsmanship. And personally, I am inspired by really strong people in my life ranging from members of my family, certain amazing women I’ve had the privilege to work with. Women, who, despite limitations and the odds working against them, continue to push through and achieve their goals. And on a much deeper level, my Christian faith serves as pure inspiration for everyday and the anchor of my existence.

Do certain African cultures play a role in your brand DNA?

Quite a lot of my collections have been heavily influenced by Nigerian tribes, such as the Yoruba, Igbo and the Fulani. I take inspiration not only from their modes of dressing but from other facets of their culture from customs and traditions, their ways of life, the language. And of course being both Nigerian and West Indian, It goes without saying that the very depths of my thought and creative processes will be hugely enlivened by my dual and very colorful heritage.

What type of woman is on your mind when you’re selecting your prints and cutting the materials to make your pieces?

I’m usually thinking of a woman who exudes confidence wherever she finds herself. A woman who is optimistic, unafraid, full of youthful exuberance and truly loves and understands fashion.

How would you describe Lisa Folawiyo aesthetic?

The LF aesthetic is strong, modern, luxurious and feminine with edge. Also notable, is our whimsy and fanciful approach with our love for prints, very intricate craftsmanship and hand embellishment of our artisans, a joyful mixing and matching and experimenting with textures and colours to arrive at a design ‘oddness’ that I love!

You’ve been in the industry since 2005 and still bossing it. What changes have you seen happening and what would you like to see in the future of Fashion Industry.

I’m so here for the wealth of talented creatives the African fashion industry is producing. From designers to artisans to stylists to Writers and other creatives. I hope to see and be a part of a more equitable industry in the (hopefully near) future.

You’re one of the people paving way for African Designers. What can be done to put more African Owned Brands on the map?

The financial support and empowerment of small to medium sized businesses and the fashion industry generally by the Government, financial institutions, and perhaps some non-governmental institutions through grants, very feasible loans and subsidization would allow brands not only create new opportunities, but see to fruition those that are already before them. Financial enablement/empowerment = opportunities = successful play on a global field.

Lisa Folawiyo World how is it playing it’s game when it comes to Sustainability?

The fact is that long before it became sexy, fashion brands in Africa have practiced ethical and sustainable fashion. From slower fashion, to repurposing and upcycling fabrics, creating and using traditionally woven fabrics, natural fabrics and dyes. We always have and continue to work with local artisans and use traditional production methods. It is what we do. As a brand, we continue to strive as best as we can to incorporate even more sustainable fashion practices especially those that are kind to the environment. Recently, one of our workshops has been powered by solar energy. We hope to be able to do more of this with our other production sites.

How has Lockdown impacted your work lately?

During the 2020 lockdown, all work operations were halted. Our workshops and studio were officially closed to ensure that all our members of staff isolated in their homes and observed the lockdown. This greatly affected our production and consequently, a loss in sales.

Within this time however, and on a more positive note, we’ve been able to explore fresh ideas and revisit old ones that were never executed. And only because we had the currency of time. I now realize in all business strategies and plans, RISK must be integrated. Prior to now, we never really factored it in.

We’ve had to be innovative with making the best and most sustainable use of ‘scarce’ resources and more technologically savvy. Also, I now fully understand that I cannot operate successfully without a team. Though we were all on lockdown, this is one time, the saying, ‘No man is an island’, has rung so true.

So what’s next for Lisa Folawiyo, any projects are you working on?

I am thrilled to be collaborating with a young new creative for our new collection. We’ll be creating and working with new textures and forms of embellishments. Exciting times!

What advice would you give to an aspiring young African Designer?

Be passionate about your craft. This will be your saving grace when the difficult times come. And they will.

~Have a strong, fresh and authentic point of view.

~Do your research, do the work.

~Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to seek help, to be vulnerable. You can’t know everything, you can’t be everything. Build a solid team/ support system.

~Be kind, be humble, be sincere.

~Support other designers and creatives. Remember this. It is beyond you. You are part of the birthing and solidifying of an industry . You are part of a cultural movement that defines our time.

Besides you being a designer you’ve an eye catching Style. I personally fell in love with it. How would you describe your Style?

So I’ve never really known how to describe my style but the common words that I’ve heard people use are ‘eclectic, quirky, sophisticated’.. Someone described my style as simple today, complex tomorrow’

Any Fashion tips on how one can show up on that Mid day zoom meeting?

Wear an LF ruched high neck print top.. The focus is the face and the print brings much needed delight to the meeting. Also, our PJ sets are perfect for both lounging and zooming.

What are other African designers that inspire you?

I greatly admire the works of Loza Maleombho, Maki OH, Kenneth Ize and Tzar Studios.

Three words for New York Fashion Week?

Street style edit.

Three words for Lagos Fashion Week?

Creativity comes alive.

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