Alára, founded by fashion powerhouse Reni Folawiyo, is a stunning concept store in the Nigerian capital of Lagos. Attracting visitors from around the world, the store’s egalitarian approach to luxury objects is hitting high notes across the globe. The brand, which is due to launch online in the next year, stocks fashion, art and design from all over Africa alongside Western luxury brands such as Valentino and Christian Louboutin. “It’s about beautifully made, bright, colorful, expressive things that have a story behind them. It’s about art, clothing, and design that’s unique and beautiful. It’s African but contemporary,” says Folawiyo.
Folawiyo broke ground on Alára in 2014, setting the stage for Nigeria’s first concept store and the continent’s second, following Cape Town’s Merchants on Long. “I decided it would be interesting to have the best stuff from all over the world along with the very best from Africa all in the same space to get people from outside Africa to see what was possible, but also to get people in Africa to understand the value of what they had,” Folawiyo explains. “It was a bit of an education on both sides.”
Situated in the heart of the city’s vibrant Victoria Island district, the striking red glass and metal Alára building was designed by Sir David Adjaye OBE, the British-Ghanaian architect responsible for such iconic buildings as The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. and The Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. Adjaye sees the project as setting the standard for the contemporary African luxury scene. “Reni Folawiyo is a pioneer whose determination and vision have created a contemporary visual language for African luxury. Architecturally, the concept of the Alára store is a celebration of design talent—an architectural promenade through the different parts of the program,” Adjaye says. “Socially, Reni Folawiyo has carved a way to promote emerging talent while establishing a creative hub and an essential new destination for Lagos.”
Folawiyo practiced as a lawyer for 10 years before launching the store. “I used to spend a lot of time with artists and designers and I had a lot of friends that were doing creative things and I enjoyed spending time with them,” Folawiyo explains of her motivation in starting Alára. Eventually, she found the confidence to make a career change, driven in part by the lack of parity between objects made in African countries and those made in the Western world. “I got the impression that although people were making these things, they didn’t feel as though what they were making was good enough to be on a certain level,” Folawiyo explains. “A lot of what people were doing hadn’t been properly celebrated and there were these very beautiful, very well-crafted African items that people didn’t know about.”
The original plan for Alára was to build a space for creative businesses adjacent to the store—an idea that is still in the works. Folawiyo and her team also added a fine dining restaurant, Nok and, following its success, the less formal Nok Garden restaurant; after that took off too, they began offering catering and event services. This adaptability helped the business thrive while remaining true to the heart of Alára—the passion for fine, beautiful objects and those who make them. “The store is about celebration and beauty, about self- determination and self-expression,” Folawiyo says.
In that vein, last year Folawiyo launched the Emerge Alára Awards to support young African talent, with Faith Oluwajimi of Bloke—an upcoming menswear label with an artisanal, quirky aesthetic that has already been featured in Vogue Italia—taking home the inaugural honor. “The Emerge Award has been a very great platform for me as a designer because it will allow me to grow as a creative and also as a luxury brand,” Oluwajimi says of the award. “It is a brand that continually explores the possibilities for the creation of knitted garments, which appeals to a community of people who are spiritually conscious art lovers,” Oluwajimi adds. “We are unconventional yet with an African identity.”