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Sisi Abah Folawiyo: Doyen Of African Fashion @ 80

One can’t help but notice that Sisi Abah Folawiyo makes an effort to stay stylish. Her aura is clearly determined by her meticulously patterned personae. She is a strong, smart, and vivacious woman who loves to make the best out of life and stay happy come what may.

She is the wife of the late Baba Adinni of the Yoruba race, Wahab Iyanda Folawiyo, an astute businessman and philanthropist.
Notably, Sisi Aba Folawiyo is a well-respected octogenarian with stern character and poise.

She is the mother of Segun Awolowo, a renowned legal practitioner, who was the Executive Director of the Nigerian Export Promotion Council, and the President of National Trade Promotion Organizations (TPOs) from ECOWAS member States. Sisi Abba is blessed with three lovely grandchildren from Segun, her only son.

Her fashion style has earned her a place in the pantheon of great fashion icons in Africa, hence her moniker as the doyen of African fashion. Her designs have created cultural conversations and have trend-worthy appeal as notable figures who patronized her in her prime still seek her services till date.

She has a fashion house called ‘Labanella’ with the golden touch influencing designers and fashionistas alike.

In this exclusive interview with MediaRoomHub, the ever elegant and stylish Sisi Abah takes us through the journey of her life and hands a few advices to younger Nigerians.

Q: Tell us about your heritage?

A: My mother is from Ghana, Accra. I was born there and grew up there before I came to Nigeria. So, I am half Ghana and half Nigerian. I went to school there and I can speak all the Ghanaian languages up till today.

Q: There has been a long age battle between Nigerians and Ghanaians about ‘Jollof Rice’. Nigerians say theirs is better than that of Ghana and vise-versa. To you as a half Nigerian and half Ghanaian, which is better?

A: Nigerian Jollof is better than Ghana Jollof. We make better Jollof here in Nigeria, I can tell you that. They have their own way of making jollof rice which is very oily, but we don’t make our own like that here in Nigeria. So, I prefer the Nigerian jollof rice anyway, anytime, but I love Ghana kenkey. Kenkey, fried fish, and pepper are lovely.

Q: Which is your favourite meal in Accra?

A: Kenkey and fried fish.

Q: Which is your favourite meal in Nigeria?

A: Eba and Okra soup.

Q: Can you describe the last moment before your husband, late Chief Folawiyo’s death?

A: I spoke to him in the morning. I told him that I was going to Ilorin for Bola Shagaya’s father’s funeral, so he said I can go, but I should come back on time. I was even happy that he allowed me to go. I was there when they called me to start coming that Chief was sick again, so I rushed back. I didn’t even wait for the reception at the event or anything. Mrs. Babangida was there, he escorted me to my car. And I went straight to the hospital that he was taken to, and that was where I was until he passed on—I was sleeping there with him till he passed on. So, that was the last moment we shared before he died.

Q: A lot of girls have gone under the knife to enhance their boobs and butt, what is your take on cosmetic surgery in general?

A: I don’t like it either. Like when I had the eyes bag, Florence was telling me to go for surgery—she even said she can take me there, but I said no way. That’s how God wants me to look and that’s the way I will look till I die. I am not going to do any cosmetic surgery on my body or my face or anywhere, no. I am natural from up to down like you saw when I wore my clothes. I can take off my clothes in front of anybody, I don’t care. I don’t believe in all those things at all.

Q: What advice do you have for them?

A: My advice to them is, they should stop all this rubbish they are doing. They should stop it and be their natural self like their mother gave birth to them. If their mothers didn’t do that and are still pretty, then I don’t know where they got that from. It’s ridiculous, I don’t like it. Whoever has not done it should not try it, and those who have done it, if you are lucky, will stay with it—some of them, their breast will be falling off and they would have to go back to do another operation to maintain their bodies and it cost them a lot of money. I think they are spoiling all that God had given them.

Q: Next year is the general election, what advice do you have for the youths in terms of how to go about the election?

A: Well, the youths should stay calm and vote for who they love—who they want. There should not be any riot or fight. They should just be calm and do what is right. That’s my advice for them.

Q: When you are most free and wish to relax, which is your favourite holiday spot in the world?

A: My favourite before used to be London. I use to go to London a lot. I had a home there.

Q: Why London?

A: We all grew up going to London, and it was like a second home in Nigeria. I love it there. I love Dubai too; I love Dubai very much. I use to go to Bayroot those years. When Ghana airways launched their first flight, I won the competition as Miss Ghana airwaves and they took me to Bayroot on holiday and from there I went to London.

Q: What advice do you have for women who believe only marriage validates their success and fulfilment?

A: Marriage is not a do-or-die affair. If you are lucky to have the right man, then marriage is sweet. You will enjoy the marriage. But if you are not lucky to have the right man, and the man doesn’t have the right woman, that’s where the problem starts. It is just a question of ‘luck’ with it. It is not a do-or-die affair. If you are lucky, you are lucky, if you are not lucky then, you are not lucky. Some women are not lucky with their men, and vice versa.

Q: Do you advise a woman should endure domestic violence?

A: No, I don’t advise that. If a man is violent and beating you every day, pack your load and go. I don’t believe in violence. My late husband never touched me, in fact, all the men I have married, none of them ever touched me in my life. I don’t even touch my housekeepers, how much more. It is not worth it. Love has to be love all the way through. And you both have to understand each other. Understanding is the most important thing in marriage.

Q: If you were to go on a luxury trip now, what are the five things you will take along with you?

A: I will take my lovely clothes, and shoes because these days I don’t do shopping anymore and then have money in my purse and that’s all. You don’t need anything going on a holiday or wherever. You just go and enjoy yourself, go to the movies, theater and lunch.

Q: Looking back, what sweet memories of your youthful age do you have?

A: We were partying and clubbing. I love clubbing a lot. When I got to London, as soon as I dropped my suitcase, I was always looking for a club to go to at night to go and dance. I love dancing a whole lot and that’s one of the things that makes me happy and I love shopping too.

Q: Who inspires you in the fashion world?

A: I inspire myself. I look at myself in the mirror and say ‘wow, Abah you look beautiful.’

Q: What advice do you have for women who do not have self-confidence—they put on clothes and do not feel confident in them?

A: They have to go and learn, maybe from the designers. Most women wear the wrong clothes on their bodies. You have to know what suits you, what you wear that people will admire. Most women make that mistake and that’s why they don’t have that confidence in themselves.

Q: Is it possible that a woman emerges as the president of Nigeria someday?

A: Well, it is possible, if the right woman comes out, she will win. That is if the men will not press her down because the men are not giving the women equal chance at all. It is possible.

Q: What is your advice for women in politics?

A: I don’t think politics is meant for women at all, especially in this part of the world, and even all over the world. Look at Hilary Clinton, when she went to contest as the President of America, did she win? No! It is very tough for women. We don’t know what will break that for us. I would wish a woman to become the president of Nigeria someday, maybe it won’t be in my time, maybe when I’m gone, I don’t know, but it could happen.

Q: When you were a young designer, which celebrity did you fantasize about styling—wishing she wore an outfit designed by you?

A: Elizabeth Taylor, I loved her. I can’t even describe how much I love her.

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