Vogue CS in English

Interview with Lisa Folawiyo of Lisa Folawiyo

Foto: Rhys Frampton
Blazer, blouse, skirt, Lisa Folawiyo (sold at Koibird); necklace, Ami Doshi Shah (sold at Koibird); shoes, Jimmy Choo.
Ooooota: Since launching in 2005, you have maintained a prominent profile in the Nigerian fashion industry, consistently producing collections that are elegant with an undeniably Nigerian personality. Why do you think you’ve been able to maintain success for this long without sacrificing your brand’s vision? 
Lisa: By just that. Not sacrificing our vision of creating beautiful clothes and changing the approach and mindset of the world to African fashion. In addition to this, I believe we have stayed consistent and true to our design aesthetic.  
Ooooota: How do you think the Nigerian fashion industry has evolved since you began your career?
Lisa: The Nigerian fashion industry has definitely evolved. For starters, the industry is being taken more seriously with regards to its contributory factor to the economy. We see growth and development, albeit it slow, in the entire supply chain. We have a growing pool of skilled and talented designers, creatives and artisans who understand that fashion is serious business too which has created more jobs and positions in the industry. Our visibility and global recognition reach further and wider today. 
Lisa Folawiyo
Ooooota: Nigerian women often sketch their own fashion designs and work closely with tailors to bring them to life. In spite of this your brand has maintained a following. Would you attribute this to your consistence in style, or to your ability to adapt and innovate?
Lisa: I believe that we have maintained and continue to grow our following because we have built trust. We are consistent, yes, yet still fresh and exciting. With each collection, we reintroduce another side of ourselves. It’s a case of ‘yes, you know us, and though it’s still us, here’s a side you didn’t know.’ And people love that, the little elements of surprise, of mystery, of delight, of whim. We’ve also been able to distinguish ourselves with our originality. Though the elements may not be new (for example prints are not new, embellishments are not new) our interpretation and execution of them are. And are ours only. This has definitely caught and held the attention of those who know and love the brand.  
Ooooota: In the 15 years since your brand’s launch, what challenges in the Nigerian fashion industry have you seen get better? Which challenges still remain?
Lisa: Despite still being limited by infrastructural challenges such as power supply, a lack of adequate fashion training and educational facilities, and not enough financial aid and support from our government, the industry still forges ahead strongly. We have seen a change in the mindset of the Nigerian fashion consumer. They are excited to buy Nigerian made brands more now than ever before. We have more fashion retailers. New local production facilities are springing up, which renders much needed assistance to designers. There is greater opportunity for growth within our textile and manufacturing industries as we look more inwards now. And we see this happening. We were once fragmented, but the industry, now more than ever before, is working towards being more unified as we realize that our strength lies in this. 
Ooooota: Do you think African fashion brands could benefit from the investor backing many European brands have, or do you feel it’s better they maintain their independence? 
Lisa: I am a believer in our industry maintaining its independence in that regard. We must be in control of our narrative in all its ramifications. And we have enough investors within our country and the continent at large to effectively do so. However, I do understand that fashion is a business too, and that sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Whoever your investors may be, make sure the terms are in your favour.
Ooooota: Is your aesthetic influenced by any other designers (African, European or otherwise)? Do you see your brand as having influenced young and upcoming designers? 
Lisa: There are brands that I absolutely love which continue to fuel my passion for what I do. Though we all understand that nothing is new under the sun, my aesthetic is inspired by what I truly love, and I design only with my mind’s interpretation of what that is. However, I am greatly inspired by the creativity and excellent craftsmanship of a few designers. As a print, colour and texture lover, I have great admiration for the likes of Miuccia Prada, Dries Van Noten, Deola Sagoe and the progressive works of Emmy Kasbit, Busola Olusola, Kenneth Ize and a few others. It’ll be an honour to know that I influence the works of younger designers.
Ooooota: Fashion is becoming more value conscious. Do you think this is the right direction to move in? What values do you think Lisa Folawiyo the brand represents?
Lisa: I strongly believe in a more value conscious industry. As a brand, we continue to work towards maintaining high ethical standards with regards to wages, the working conditions of our staff and our supply chain. Within the parameters of our enablement, we push for and work towards more sustainable ways of production such as using eco fabrics, repurposing, and upcycling waste. Currently, one of our workshops is powered by solar energy, which is a welcome breath of fresh air, quite literally too. 
Ooooota: In Nigeria, when women of different tribes (Hausas, Igbos, Yorubas) dress in their native attire, we see a variety of styles, and pattern selections. As a designer are you inspired by your tribal heritage or are you more broadly inspired by Nigerian and/or African women? 
Lisa: I am greatly inspired not only by my tribal heritage, which is the Yoruba tribe, but by the tribes, cultures, customs and practices of Nigeria as a whole. Being born, educated, and raised mostly in Nigeria, yet having had the advantage to travel the world, I have been able to interpret this culmination of experiences into design. Every collection designed is a modern interpretation of a part of our culture, our history or traditions. As a designer, I am intentional that in every design, the Nigerian or African woman is able to see herself and her own experiences and know to be proud of and celebrate where she is from. 
Ooooota: What is the place of the modern woman in Nigeria? What does her choice of clothing say about who she is and where she’s going? 
Lisa: I strongly believe that the modern woman today is whomever she wants to be. And she can wear whatever she chooses to. Her fashion choices are not determined or restricted to a time frame or by trends. She can decide to look one way today and look another tomorrow. She is self-aware, she is empowered and confident. Mostly, she is free.
Ooooota: Do you feel African designers are sufficiently recognized in the global fashion industry? 
Lisa: Fashion is a universal language and should have no geographical boundaries. Global visibility, recognition and reach of any designer’s work, be he or she African, European, Asian or American, is always part of the goal. We who make up the industry must be actual players in the business of fashion globally. But I will say at this point that Africa is a huge continent blessed with a population large enough to ensure the financial success of its fashion brands and the industry as a whole. 
Ooooota: What can we expect from you in the future?
Lisa: Lots of exciting stuff!