CUSTODIAN of style, Sisi Abah Folawiyo as she is fondly called will turn 70 on Sunday, July 22, 2012. The woman of style, who has great wealth of experience in life and in the fashion industry opened the doors of her Ikoyi, Lagos home to ENCOMIUM Weekly on Friday, July 20, 2012. She told us how it feels to be 70, what she missed about her late husband, the fashion industry and sundry issues.
Clocking 70 is not a joke, how do you feel ma?
I feel the same, it is the same Abah I used to be, age is just a number that you count.
Is there anything special about being 70?
There is nothing special as far as I am concerned. That age is just a number, I am very happy that I am able to make 70, I pray that I make more than 70 years by the grace of God.
What has changed about you at 70?
Nothing has changed and nothing is going to change. I will still remain the same Abah that people know me to be. Nothing will change.
You don’t look 70, can you tell us the secret?
Do I? I will say have peace of mind, be happy within yourself, you will get beautiful and younger. Think of good things Insha Allah. I don’t have any problem and I pray that I will not have by the grace of Allah.
At this time, life expectancy is below 50 years, what gave you the grace of clocking 70 years and in good health?
Thanks be to Almighty Allah, it is only God that can do everything, I thank Him for that grace.
What is the greatest lesson life has taught you?
I have always been a very happy person, I have learnt to be sober, love people and wish everybody well. I have learnt how to love. You will see some people who cannot smile back at others, as long as you smile at me, I will smile back, I interact with everybody.
Any regret at 70?
No, whatsoever, I thank God. If I have to come back to this world, I still want to make people happy. You can never see Abah sad, never.
Will you say that you are fulfilled at 70?
Oh yes, I am fulfilled. I worked very hard when I was younger, though I have retired but I am not tired. I still make one or two dresses for few customers that love me and have remained with me. I just make those dresses just to relax.
Other than being into fashion business, can you still recall your childhood dreams and obsessions?
I didn’t go into the fashion business, I was born into it. My mother was a fashion designer, in fact, all members of my family can cut and sew. I was born into it.
Do you still keep any of your childhood friends?
Yes, I still keep a lot of them. I have so many of them. Even my friends in Ghana, I don’t think your magazine will take it if I mention them all.
At your age, you are still fashion forward, what is the secret?
It is within me, that is what God has sent me to do and that is what I am doing, so there is no secret. I have not done any other job apart from designing all my life. Since I grew up, I have been sewing, while I was in school, I was sewing for my teachers. It is something that God has ordained me to be.
Can you remember the greatest decision you have ever made?
I have no decision to take, I just live my life. I stay focused to my goals and I don’t change.
When will you say was the worst time or day of your life?
Maybe, when I lost the father of my son and when I lost my husband.
We all worship one God, it is just that we have different ways of worshipping Him. In Islam, I have a direct contact with my God, I pray to Him directly, I can pray within myself as well, I don’t expect somebody to kneel down and pray for me. I talk to my God and ask Him what I want. I find it very easy to communicate that way.
In an interview, you said you knew your late husband since your growing up days, if you could turn back the hands of time, would you have married him when you were growing up?
That was God’s timing for me. He destined us to get married in our old age, he has said it that in my old age, I will settle down with someone that will love me and I will love him too and he will take care of me. I have had a beautiful life. My first husband was a prince, I married him, we divorced and then I married Alhaji Folawiyo. God always gives me someone to comfort me and take care of me. I have no regret.
As a custodian of fashion, is the younger generation getting it right?
Yes, most of them are getting it right. In Nigeria now, everybody is a designer. Lawyers, doctors, everybody is a designer, once they can cut and sew, but the real designers know what they are doing and they are doing it well. I support what they are doing, I am the matron of honour of Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN). They are getting on fine. Though, I don’t fancy what some of them are doing, maybe because I can’t wear what they wear. I have created my own style, I can’t change it for anything. Anyway, the people they make clothes for love them, I don’t appreciate it when you show off certain parts of the body. But if it is fashion and the world has accepted it, let it be.
If you were to change something about the fashion industry, what will that be?
Most of our designers copy from abroad and even the ones they copy, you cannot see anybody dressing naked or half naked. I believe fashion depicts decency, you are supposed to cover up yourself. You will look beautiful that way than showing off parts of your body. When I was in real business, none of my customers chooses style for me, they just bring their fabrics, I will look at them and make what will suit their body shape. I do my designs according to the look of the person, I don’t dictate to them, they take my advice and by the time I am done, they will appreciate their style and they will be happy. That is what designers are supposed to be doing, they are supposed to tell their customers what to put on and what not to put on.
As a mother and grandmother, what are the things that keep you going?
First as a grand mom, my grandchildren keep me going. When I wake up and see them, I am happy. I have only just one child, a son, his wife is also my daughter, then their children, we are all one happy family. I thank God for that.
What legacy would you like to leave for the coming generation?
I will start with the designers. I was a workaholic when I was still active in business, I worked round the clock. Ideas come from my brain, you will see me wake up early in the morning designing. At times, I don’t really sleep, I will be cutting and going things, waiting for my workers to come in the morning and take them to the factory. I loved what I was doing. Whatever you do, do it properly, any kind of vocation, grab it and put all effort into it. That is my advice to all designers.
Designers now are trying, it is just that the government is not supporting us, they should lift all designers up and let us join designers abroad for their fashion week. I was planning to take fashion design abroad and to West Africa as a whole but I had a fatal accident on the way. We were in Cotonou, we were going to Abidjan for a show. But I couldn’t make it because of the accident. I had to come back home, I had to abort it. I thought God didn’t want me to fulfill that dream. But I will like designers to go all over the world. Nigerian designers are very good, our designers will contest favourably with anyone abroad.
Do you still feel the absence of your husband in your life?
Very much, especially now, what I told him then was that we would go on a cruise, he liked going on cruise. I also told him that I would have my party in England, he would say, ‘Beni ti e ri’ (that is how you love it). I am sure if he was alive, he would have done it for me. He used to do whatever I wanted. I thank God that all his children love me, I am surrounded by all of them, some people are unlucky, their step children will not like them. I thank God that they all love me.
What more do you want from God, who has given you the best?
Long life and good health.
How are you celebrating?
It will be quiet because we are in Ramadan, we are fasting. Maybe when we finish fasting, I have not yet decided. But I will do a lot of prayers.
Do you exercise to keep fit?
No, I don’t believe in it. I don’t want to stress myself, we are not the fat type in my family.
- SHADE WESLEY-METIBOGUN
This story was first published in Encomium Weekly edition of Tuesday, Jul 24, 2012