DESIGNER SPOTLIGHT: How African Designer Lisa Folawiyo Uses Ankara And African Fabrics In Innovative Ways

LIsa Folawiyo, an African Designer with unique style
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African Designer
African designer Lisa Folawiyo [Source:]
Discerning African women who are not only modern but also culturally aware,  pose a unique challenge to the African designer. They are in search of fashion designers who offer forward, edgy looks that are true to their culture. Modern African women are attracted to contemporary fashion that differs from the mainstream, but at the same time, is not out of place in cosmopolitan settings. Lisa Folawiyo, the recipient of the Africa Fashion Award in 2012, is a designer who fits the bill to a tee.

Why Lisa Folawiyo is an African Designer that Commands Respect

In 2015 Business of Fashion (BOF) recognized Lisa Folawiyo as one of the global fashion influencer brands. BOF is an international initiative that ranks persons of note in fashion. Publications such as Harper’s Bazaar, The New York Times, and Vogue have featured Lisa Folawiyo’s fashion line. Also, celebrities like Lupita Nyong’o, Lucy Liu, and Solange Knowles have appeared in her distinctive creations.

An African Designer’s unexpected Career Change

Lisa was born in Ikeja, Nigeria in 1976 to a Nigerian father and Trinidadian mother. She completed her secondary education at the Atlantic Hall in Lagos before proceeding to the University of Lagos to study law. However, after practicing law for a year, Lisa realized that she was in the wrong field. Therefore, after the birth of her daughter, she threw in the towel and started her fashion line from home. She explained her feelings in an interview with Vlisco,

“In 2004, there arose an unquenchable desire to express me through fashion design and have a loud voice heard in fashion the world over.’’

Lisa’s interest in fashion goes back to her childhood when she used to examine her mothers’ fashion choices with interest. However, over time, she developed her own individual style. Working with 12 yards of fabric and assistance from her mother’s seamstress, this African designer was ready to go. She produced 2 outfits that marked the beginning of her fashion line.

The birth of the Lisa Folawiyo Label

This luxury womenswear fashion label was launched in 2005, initially as ‘Jewel by Lisa’. The objective was to take Ankara, which has been worn by African women through the ages, and to transform it into fresh, modern, and exciting looks. Working with beading experts, Lisa transforms Ankara into a luxury fabric by adorning it with crystals, glass beads, and sequins. This African designer derives her inspiration from her surroundings, street style, random art, and also from her local culture. The outcome is contemporary, hand-made quality outfits.

From humble beginnings, her label has risen to the ranks of an internationally recognized fashion house. Vogue Italia featured her designs in 2012, and she has showrooms in Nigeria as well as New York.

Working towards sustainable fashion 

Lisa Folawiyo is keenly aware of the importance of sustainability Therefore, her brand promotes eco-friendly and ethical practices. One of Lisa Folawiyo’s factories runs entirely on solar power, eliminating the need for generators during power cuts. The brand also ensures that the entire supply chain is looked after and accorded dignity and respect. To avoid wastage, the size of the Lisa Folawiyo collections has been reduced and old prints have been repurposed.

This African fashion line is empowering women—up to 90% of the workforce is female. The brand is also making efforts to offer opportunities to women artisans. This has given them the support they lacked to develop their craft. Below are samples out of Lisa Folawiyo’s latest collection.

Lisa Folawiyo’s unique collections

African Designer
Photo credit: Lisa-Folawiyo-studio

This feminine full-skirted frock has cut-out sleeves. It features a unique mix of floral prints that blend well together presenting a contemporary yet edgy look.


African Designer Lisa Folawiyo's creation
Photo credit: Lisa-Folawiyo Source-Onchek. co

A bold creation featuring a playful ruffled boob tube and straight skirt in colors that should clash but surprisingly present a well-coordinated whole. The bright green earrings complete this original look.

Lisa Folawiyo, a leading African designer presents this original piece
Photo credit Lisa Folawiyo website Source:

A high-low shirtdress crafted out of two different Ankara fabrics. This outfit has cutouts on the sleeves and at the chest and is demure yet chic.

An edgy, tailored look from a leading African Designer

The tailored silhouette of this outfit makes a bold statement as it is created with two contrasting fabrics in similar hues. The outfit gives the impression of layers and opens out to a side slit.

A unique creation from Lisa Folawiyo, an African designer with style
Photo credit: Lisa-Folawiyo-studio

This is a classic Lisa Folawiyo creation featuring bright hues of clashing colors that interestingly result in a harmonious look. This alluring creation also portrays the use of different textures to create interest.


In an interview with Vogue, Lisa Folawiyo sums it well by saying that when it comes to fashion,

”People love that, the little elements of surprise, of mystery, of delight, of a whim. We’ve also been able to distinguish ourselves with our originality.”

Lisa Folawiyo has indeed distinguished herself with her originality. Even more importantly, her passion is rubbing off on craftsmen and artisans in the community. Her nudge is encouraging them to develop their skills, support their families, and grow in knowledge and expertise. What is your take on this African designer? Will you wear one of her designs if you get the chance? We would love to hear from you. 

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