Ankara is made up of 100% cotton textiles and was originally produced in Nigeria then exported to the Gold Coast, now Ghana and spread to other parts of West and Central Africa. Popular amongst the most fashionable ladies, Ankara is often worn as uniforms to parties, weddings and other celebratory events by friends and family members to exhibit their close ties and create a most colorful event. Ankara is also used in Africa to tell folktales, a quality Folawiyo employs for her own stories–each hand crafted garment an embodiment of several layers of history, from the custom-made prints to hand embellishment with sequins, beads and crystals, by skilled craftsmen.
Lisa Folawiyo’s influences growing up in a family of four are many and can be likened to the complex and varied patterns of her fabrics. She attended Adrao International School for her nursery education and then Saint Saviour’s School for primary before moving to Federal Government College, Illorin for junior secondary II and III. Folawiyo later attended Suleja Academy in Abuja for gifted children, but stayed for only two terms before completing her secondary school education at Atlantic Hall in Lagos. She recalls fond memories from her childhood, “I remember then I was about seven years old. We used to live at old Ikoyi. You know the streets were not like they are now. Then they were residential as it is supposed to be, and we used to go for long rides on our bicycles. Our parents let us go out at night to buy suya even when we were so young with a group of other kids. We rode bikes, played on the streets; it was fun. I’m not that old you know? (laughs) But it is different now.”
Folawiyo earned her B.L from University of Lagos and moved on to Law School, where she gained her MLD. With no formal training as a designer, but armed with a passion for clothes and an innate sense of style, Lisa Folawiyo started her label at home after the birth of her daughter in 2005. Today, she has achieved global recognition and her work has appeared at the Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week Spring/ Summer ‘10 & ’12 collections. She has also shown her work at the Lagos Fashion and Design Week, as well as presented her AW ‘12/Resort ‘13 Collection at the prestigious Pitti W Tradeshowin Florence.
When asked about her role models and influences, names like Duro Olowu for his clever use of African print, and Jasmine Lebon and Sienna Miller as style icons, pop up. She would also like to raid the wardrobes of Victoria Beckham, Diane Kruger and Kellies. However, Folawiyo draws her greatest inspiration from her mother. “I would proudly say my mother is a virtuous woman, as in Proverbs 31. She is very hardworking; she came from Trinidad and Tobago to settle in Nigeria and worked her way to the top of the ladder with the (Nigerian) government. She served God, and she is still serving him with all her heart; she is a giver and also a disciplinarian.”
Being heavily influenced by her mum, Folawiyo is deeply religious and is passionate for God, her business and family. Her life’s philosophy is about serving God. Despite all the global attention, Folawiyo is still much the mother and family woman. She talks about when she got married, when she had her kids, and when she finished at Law School and got called to the Bar, as the high points of her life. However, fashion expert Helen Jennings observes that Jewel by Lisa came into its own when Folawiyo introduced her own custom-made Ankara-inspired prints on cotton, georgette and royal and shantung silks. Since then, Jewel by Lisa has collaborated with global brands such as Blackberry and L’Oreal, to create limited edition Blackberry phone cases and lipstick and nail polish covers, respectively.
More recently, the label showcased its Spring/Summer 2013 collection in Milan at the Vogue Talent Exhibition in collaboration with Vogue Italia. With many celebrities adorning the brand, Jewel by Lisa continues to be a purveyor of sophisticated elegance and has been featured in several leading publications including The New York Times, Style.com, BBC.co.uk, MTV.co.uk, Dazeddigital.com, ModaOperandi.com, Lucky, Women’s Wear Daily, Harpersbazaar.co.uk, The Financial Times Online, Glamour Magazine, Essence, Arise, Ebony, Marie Claire, Vogue.co.uk, and Vogue.it.