Princess Abah Folawiyo and Fashion are inseparable. Her creative concepts flow in a vision like manner that she finds easy to interpret perfectly. The quality of her breathtaking and innovative designs are enough to fetch her the crown of Queen of Fashion Designs. Her knowledge of fabrics combinations, colours, cutting and sewing were not acquired in any classroom, they were naturally inborn. Princess Abah had already set up Labanella Creations as a fashion house before she attended the London Fashion School just to acquire a certificate.
Her passion and commitment to fashion is such that she designs from her heart, rather than from her head, and so she puts in a lot of loving effort into every design at Labanella, making sure that what she makes for people are what she would wear herself.
She founded Labanella creations in 1978, and in 1981, it was formally incorporated as a limited liability company. The outfit, one of the foremost and most successful in the country, became a pace setter and has participated in fashion shows, in some of the world’s major fashion centres such as London, Paris and New York. In 1986, the company staged shows in many West African countries in a project known as “Labanella Goes Ecowest”. Back in 1963, Princess Abah had emerged as the best designer at VC-10, award in Ghana. Presently she is the matron of Fashion Designers Association of West Africa (FADEWA) and the Matron of Honour of Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN).
Over the years, Labanella fashion house had pioneered several trends. According to her “I used to make corporate clothes, but when I realized that Nigerian women are on the plump side, I reviewed my position. I do not subscribe to the trend women squeeze into fitted clothes.” Her desire to make clothes that suit the figures of her clients largely influenced Labanella’s inclination to Kaftans, Culottes and Jilabias.
The contributions of Princess Zainab Abah Folawiyo cannot be easily chronicled. Describing her as a quintessential pace setter in fashion designing who deserves wide acclaim on the African Continent would not be enough for a woman who lives, breathes and talks fashion. She has left indelible footprints for thousands of current and potential players in the industry to follow.
Perhaps someday, and in her lifetime, she would be given due recognition, especially by the government of Nigeria. Perhaps one day, her art and contributions would become a course of study in Nigerian and African institutions of higher learning. When that day comes, Princess Abah Folawiyo would have received some of what is due her, for her immense input into the making of a new order in fashion designing.
On May 18th during the Africa Fashion Week Nigeria at the Eko Hotels, Princess Abah Folawiyo’s creations will be on the runway as a source of inspiration to millions of Nigerian fashion followers, including designers, connoisseurs, students and dealers. In this interview, the doyen of Nigerian Fashion reveals why she supports Africa Fashion Week Nigeria.
Q: For the first time after several years, you will be going on the runway again for Africa Fashion Week Nigeria, what is the reason?
Folawiyo: It is a worthy cause, I mean Africa Fashion Week Nigeria. Many Nigerian fashion designers of excellent quality end up being mere roadside tailors and dressmakers because they lacked the platform that will give them maximum exposure. This is the first time that an organization will take up the task of providing this pedestal to help launch the careers of young people whom would have been lost in obscurity for lack of showcasing opportunities. I am pleased to have such a thing happening in my lifetime, to boost my own contributions to the fashion industry. When they called on me to help, I accepted to do the runway show for them to inspire the younger generations.
Q: How many dresses will you be showcasing?
Folawiyo: Oh quite a lot, I hope there will be enough time for me.
Q: Will you make the dresses freshly for the runway or are they old ones?
Folawiyo: oh, there are no old ones! Even though I have retired, my clients still won’t leave me alone. They keep on coming and persuading me to help them out with what to wear to this occasion and that. So I find myself making new dresses and still setting the pace! You see, it is one thing for you to see what others are making; it is another thing to take it and personalize it into your own custom pattern. That is what I tell all my students over the years; don’t be a copycat, put something of yourself in all your designs. So I have a lot of designs that are top of the echelon and were made for my clients who are up there in the scheme of things in the society. That is what I am going to exhibit at the runway.
Q: Your creations are usually practical wearable dresses, often plus size. How will they fit the models that will be on the runway?
Folawiyo: You know I asked them the same question but Ronke, the founder, she said that they have plus size models that will model dresses created for the real African woman so I have absolutely nothing to worry about.
Q: your show will be coming up at the gala event?
Folawiyo: Yes on the 18th of May at Eko Hotels. It will be among the final shows to crown the event. I particularly love the honour of being able to motivate young Nigerian fashion designers, to tell them that they could still make it. The world is facing an economic meltdown; there are no more jobs for our youth anywhere on the globe. The world has to embrace a paradigm shift whereby young people now create jobs for themselves and others rather than looking for ready-made jobs. The fashion industry is one of the easiest platforms that enable self employment and micro job creation. This Festival is one of the best ways to promote the fashion industry. I feel honoured to be the highpoint of this project.