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‘Never rush into business without doing proper market research and product testing’

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Ms. Tina Ndidi Ugo is a certified Fashion Entrepreneur, Interior Designer, Travel Consultant, Business Coach, Life Coach, Photographer and Blogger.

She holds a Masters of Business Administration (MBA) from Edge Hill University, Lancashire, United Kingdom. She also holds a post-graduate diploma in Business Management from London Business College and B.A (combined honours) in Philosophy and Political Science from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria.

She worked with the corporate sector for four years between 2002 and 2005, as a Customer Service Personnel, Ticketing & Reservation staff and a Marketing Executive respectively across three different sectors- insurance, aviation and publishing. She quit the corporate sector and became an entrepreneur in 2005 when set up her first Fashion Business.

In 2012 she started a full-time professional career in Fashion Design and Consultancy when she launched her brand DIDI Creations Limited.

The brand is currently incorporated and based in the UK. However, they have recently launched a flagship store in Lagos, Nigeria.

Since its launch Didi Creations have been featured in British Vogue, Elle, Glamour, Harpers Bazaar, Tatler, BBC Radio 4, Capital FM, Yahoo News, Reuters, Black Hair and Beauty, Pride Magazine, Working Moms, Genevieve, Today’s Woman, Vanguard Allure, Complete Fashion, ThisDay Style, The Guardian among others. DIDI has also showcased her collections in some of the world’s fashion capitals including London, New York, Paris, Lagos and Nairobi.

She recently set up her travel firm Didi Deluxe Travel Limited while Didi Deluxe Services handles the Interior Design aspect of her Business.

The fashion designer, who turns 40 this month, talks about her new store and other businesses with some advice for women who want to embark on business ventures.

Congratulations on the opening of your new shop, what is the reason for your homecoming?
Thanks. The need arose to meet up with our customer demands. Despite being registered and based in the United Kingdom, the brand was launched in Nigeria in June 2012. This is because Nigeria happens to be one of our major markets, apart from the USA and Europe. It actually took me six years to make up my mind on setting up a flagship store in Nigeria, as I had to test the waters first. However, prior to now, we have always had a presence here as we used to stock with several retail outlets in Lagos and Abuja.

We are here to create a seamless shopping experience, and generate sales. I’m hoping to give my clients value for their money and a seamless shopping experience that will have them returning. We will offer incentives to our clients and do promotional offers often. We have had loads of positive feedbacks from our Nigerian clientele, which is one of the major reasons we’ve gone ahead to set up a flagship store in Lagos. Hopefully, Abuja will be next.

You are known for doing luxury items, what are you offering in your new store and who are your target market?
My target clientele are the middle-income earners and high net-worth individuals. We’re still positioned as a luxury brand and cater for the savvy fashionistas who love to stand out from the crowd.
Our one-of-a-kind statement pieces can be found in our Lagos store similar to what can be found in our UK and online stores.

You’ll be 40 this month, tell us how you feel and how it all started with Didi Creations?
It feels amazing to be turning 40 and I’m happy for the woman I’ve become. Didi Creations was berthed in my bedroom shortly after my graduation from Edgehill Business School, where I was awarded an MBA in 2011. I’ve always loved the fashion industry while growing up and I’m still fascinated by fashion till date. So upon my graduation, I was torn between getting a job in the financial sector or setting up my own business. I decided to settle for the latter and the rest is history today.

I started designing clothing, bags, shoes and accessories as a result of my fetish for these fashion pieces. My personal love and preference for genuine leather and statement fashion pieces was also a huge factor. I believed I had something to offer on the fashion scene and had been told times without number by strangers, friends and family that I was quite creative, whenever I was seen in any of my designed custom- made sample pieces. Hence I decided to pull the bull by the horn and made up my mind to start designing as a means of livelihood.

Now you’re wearing many hats as an interior decorator, photographer etc. How do you juggle everything? Do you concentrate more on one aspect than the others?
Whenever I tell people I have six or seven full-time jobs, I always get this same question. Not so many people know I have six full-time jobs, so I get mixed reactions each time I say so. Apart from being a fashion entrepreneur, I’m a certified travel consultant, certified Interior Designer, business coach, life coach and a blogger. I recently started Didi Deluxe Travel Limited while Didi Deluxe Services takes care of the interior design and my other businesses.

I juggle it all by applying effective time management. To be honest, however, the fashion business takes the bulk of my time at the moment. In 2019, I plan to channel more energy towards the travel and interior design aspects of the business. Photography and blogging are hobbies at the moment and I don’t currently earn directly from both, but enjoy doing them.

As a Business Coach, I tend to encourage start-ups and entrepreneurship a lot. I have helped clients on their start-up journeys and currently mentor some, especially women and youths.

How do you plan to manage the Lagos end of your business since you’re not based in Lagos?
I currently work with a competent management team in Lagos. At the moment we have a brand manager, an accountant and a store assistant.

Tell us about your formative years, who were your major influences, your role models?
I was highly influenced by my beautiful mum, although she has passed on, she left her blueprints in me. She was such a strong woman, an entrepreneur, a fashionista and I picked up all these traits from her. She was literally my Idol. I used to watch and admire my stylish and beautiful mum and started emulating her style from an early age. She had a large collection of kaftans and boubous, as those were her signature attire.

That was why I fell in love with kaftans and boubous and have decided to make it my signature as well. She was very stylish and I bet she’ll be smiling at me and happy for the woman I’ve grown to become.
I come from a middle class family; my parents both worked with the Nigerian Ports Authority till my dad retired. My mum on the other hand quit the civil service in 1991 to set up her first business same year and had several others in her lifetime.
I actually got my entrepreneurial skills from her. I am the first child of my parents and had four siblings; I recently lost a sibling in January so I have three at the moment. We were all born in Lagos, and I had both my primary and secondary education in Lagos.

Growing up was fun for me as my siblings and I are close-knit. My mum was my best friend till her demise. As kids, we were involved in quite a lot of church activities because my dad was very active in church and is actually still a Lay Reader in the Anglican Communion till date. I was actively involved with the Girls Brigade, Girls Guild, Anglican Children Ministry and did represent my church in so many quiz competitions. I hardly got into trouble with my parents and peers, as I was a very careful child that never loved rough plays. At school, I was quite popular and was an above average pupil, which led to my having double promotions twice in primary school. I remember not being shy and always volunteering to partake in drama, debate, quiz and cultural dance groups.

When you compare doing business here and abroad, which one has been most challenging and how do you cope?
To be honest, both climes have its pluses and minuses.

Expatiate more on your new travel business, why venture into it? How lucrative has it been?
As an entrepreneur, I venture into sectors that I’m passionate about and monetise it.

Travel is one sector that I absolutely love, and my dream is actually to travel the world. I’ve visited over 30 countries at the moment and still counting. My selling point and marketing advantage for my travel business is that I’ve actually visited most of the places I sell as a tour package to my clients. Hence, I’m selling an experience and not just service as I give first-hand advice when I’m planning a vacation or trip for a client. I also blog and vlog about my travel adventures on my YouTube channel and this is another marketing strategy I use because when clients see these, they tend to become interested in these destinations.

What is style for you and who are your major style influences?
My take on style is “Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak.”
Style is personal, hence what works for one person may not work for another. My personal style really does vary day-to-day, depending on my mood and destination. However, I would say the following best describe my personal style: sophisticated, glamorous, bold, Afrocentric, chic, fierce and Sexy. I make an effort style-wise because I always love to make a statement and enjoy standing out from the crowd.

What do you have in your new collection?
My new collection is my Bead Bag Collection. DIDI Luxury Bead Bags are handmade in Africa using the finest beads sourced from across Africa. These beads are woven together to create our perfect one-of-a-kind pieces. At Didi Creations, we manufacture high quality, desirable ethical pieces because we believe it is possible to build a responsible fashion industry. Hence our productions are handmade by some of the most talented artisans across the globe.

The bead bags are part our ethical collection and I have five designs at the moment (rainbow collection, beach bags, multicolour, black and white stripes and the monochromes). I will unveil more designs in the future. Our Bead Bag Collection is a must-have. It’s a show-stopper bag for the bold and daring fashionistas who love to stand out from the crowd

As a businesswoman, what mistakes have you made that you would want other women to learn from?
I’d advise anyone venturing into business not to rush into it without doing proper market research and product testing. I’ve made a few mistakes, especially with production. I won’t forget in a hurry my experience with one manufacturer I met in Italy. Shortly after I launched my brand, I was still sourcing for manufacturers across the globe hence I visited several sourcing fairs. I met a manufacturer in one of such fairs in Italy, we had several meetings afterwards to finalise production requirements where I chose my leathers, did the sketching, specified my colours etc. To my utmost surprise, after I received my products (over a hundred handbags) it was totally different from what I wanted and all efforts to reach him on the phone proved abortive.

Lesson learned. Now I take it as a point of duty to visit the factories of my manufacturers prior to any business dealings.
Mention some of your favourite travel destinations.

I have quite a number to be honest. Norway remains top on my list as one of my favourite destinations till date. I was fascinated by the scenic views as we descended into Bergen Airport. I saw preserved nature and experienced the most beautiful waterfalls ever in Norway. Santorini Island in Greece is another destination I really love. The view of the white-washed buildings, the Caldera and Mediterranean Sea was breathtaking.

I also enjoyed watching the Sunrise and Sunset daily. I love Prague for its medieval feel. They have preserved their history and the Castle in Prague remains one of the biggest I have visited till date. Finally, Dubai remains my go-to place for a feel and taste of luxury.

Have you experienced any downtimes in business that wanted to make you give up? How do you manage to keep trudging on?
Yes I have a few times actually. The fashion industry is a very lucrative and fascinating sector. It comes with its challenges just like any other sector, however, top on the list include the fashion business being a very competitive and capital-intensive venture.

Hence if one is not genuinely passionate about it, it could become frustrating along the line as it takes a bit of time to break even or get any Return on Investment (ROI). My passion and love for fashion is my daily motivation and staying power.


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