Together with a group of local craftsmen and woman she set out wanting to have a fashion label that would be the best in her country and be the first stop for the stylish and important socialites, and hopefully one day grow into an international brand. Looking at this summer range, it seems she's off to a good start!
In just five years Lisa has turned her business from a personal idea into a real contender in the industry. Starting off as a seller of beaded and jewelled accessories, the brand has matured into a highly desirable luxury label which is recognized and respected throughout Nigeria and is starting to gain some traction in overseas markets as well.
What makes Lisa's success more amazing is that she's actually a law school graduate with two children and has never had formal training to become a fashion designer. Growing up in Nigeria nurtured her eye for colours, prints, patterns and how they fit together. Speaking with her, one gets the feeling that she really understands fashion and is deeply passionate about pursuing creativity.
Her JBL (Jewel by Lisa) line first gained interest for its unusual use of a local type of fabric called ankara. Typically the fabric is made of tightly woven cotton which then has its bright colours and patterns either screen or wax printed onto it. As it's a traditional fabric, over the last few decades ankara has been considered a fabric that no one with any style or position in society would be caught dead in. It was seen as common and had a reputation of being used only by poor or rural people.
JBL has been at the spearhead of a movement to change that attitude by bringing the fabric back to fashion in a contemporary way. Its taken time for people to change their perceptions, but now despite (or maybe because of) the fact that she almost always includes some ankara, the highest social butterfly's are desperate to have their own JBL outfit. JBL also kicked off a trend which sees traditional ankara prints, designs and colours screen printed onto silks, satins and even jersey - which has allowed for a new burst of creativity.
Showing at Arise Africa was, "all about correcting the perception that African fashion begins and ends at boubous and dashikis. African designers are moving forward and understanding that fashion is global and so we need a global perspective that allows us to be influenced by the rest of the world," Lisa says. Describing the inspiration/look for this new range is easy, "The main theme for this collection is 'Classics Redefined'. I wanted this collection to be an introduction to 'Jewel by Lisa' for South Africa and essentially the world. So it focuses on classic JBL pieces with a bit of an edge for the international market. The main idea is bright colour mixes, using many different patterns together and showing off a few pastel hues. With their hint of leather, flowing chiffon, and mixes of silk – classic JBL ankara pieces can be refined for an ever-chic African and global woman."
All the garments are hand-made with her local team in the JBL studio in Lagos, the largest metropolitan area in Nigeria. Aiming for the international market means that quality always has to be a top consideration so they only use ankara from Vlisco- Hollandis. JBL's signature look involves embellishment of the fabric with sequins, Swarovski crystals, beads, jewels and anything else that creates shine and texture. JBL was the first to do this kind of handwork on ankara and is one of the reasons it has become so popular. Due to the extensive handwork and craftsmanship that goes into each garment, everyone is slightly unique and on average takes 120 hours to complete.
Just a glimpse makes it immediately clear how feminine and vibrant the clothing is. First out was a slim cut, double-breasted, purple leather jacket combined with a fully beaded waist belt and a flared miniskirt made of multi-coloured ankara with beaded flowers following those on the print. More bright colours and intriguing patterns of ankara appeared and were offset with beige satin, bright red and gold raw silk and brown leather. A series of primary pink, yellow and blue chiffon and satin tunic's appliquéd with different shaped pieces of ankara added a playful edge to contrast with the careful structure and fit of many of the other outfits.
The mix and match colour ideal creates a similar attitude towards fabrics and their patterns, creating some amazing outfits. For example; a pair of gold, silk-satin trousers, an ankara jacket patterned and beaded in blue, green and brown flowers and swirls, with a lime, silky top hiding underneath and for added spice the jacket included a flared peplum using three types of leather, even a pink snake one! Another reoccurring feature was large blocks of solid colour sequins on collars, cuffs or distinct panels. Along with the intricately beaded belts, multi-coloured beads were also shaped into triangles, circles or stars and hung from purple ribbons to make large statement necklaces.
An item was actually fought for after the show as a number of people wanted to buy it. It was a simple, loosely styled ankara waist coat - the difference being that the entire surface of the garment had been beaded over in the original colours and patterns of the fabric, and jewels adorned the neckline. Priced at just over R2000 it almost seemed a steal for something so special.
Lisa says she is inspired by "The idea of 'International Chic', which is a woman who is stylish, confident, and city chic, with a wardrobe filled with desirable eclectic pieces picked up from her travels. A woman who's youthful exuberance speaks of an effortless and unrehearsed style." You know she's not just marketing, the evidence is right there in the clothing, and suddenly it becomes obvious that Jewel is the perfect name.