‘Nigerian fashion industry needs a more enabling environment’
Tina Ndidi Ugo started a full-time professional career in fashion design and consultancy when she launched her brand, DIDI Creations in 2012. A certified fashion entrepreneur, she has showcased her collections in some of the world’s fashion capitals, including London, New York, Paris, Lagos and Nairobi.
The British-Nigerian holds a Master 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 a Bachelor of Arts (BA combined Honours) in Philosophy and Political Science from The University of Ibadan, Nigeria.
Tina worked in the corporate sector for four years (between 2002 and 2005) as a Marketing Executive in insurance, aviation and publishing. She, however, quit the corporate sector and became an entrepreneur in 2005, when she set up her first business, Black Cashmere Ventures, before going into a full-time fashion career in fashion designing. DIDI Creations is currently incorporated and based in the United Kingdom, with a flagship store in Lagos.
In this interview with MARIA DIAMOND, she spoke on her career journey, life as an entrepreneur and the impact of fashion on the global economy.
Tell us about your upbringing, were you born and raised in Nigeria or in the UK?
I WAS born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. I had my primary and high school education in Lagos and obtained my first degree from the University of Ibadan, where I bagged a Bachelor of Arts (Combined Honours) degree in Philosophy and Political Science. I moved to the United Kingdom in 2010 for further studies after I lost my mum in 2009.
I’m from a close-knit working-class family and the first of five children. My late parents worked with the Nigerian Ports Authority for over a decade, however, my mum quit to set up her restaurant business at some point, while my dad continued till he retired.
I was often referred to as a role model kid both at school and church. I represented my primary school in a number of activities. I remember how proud my parents were when they spotted me on NTA during one of such events at the National Stadium, Surulere. I was actively involved with the Girls Brigade, Girls Guild, and 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. At school, I was quite popular and brilliant, which led to my having double promotions twice in primary school.
At what point did you decide to go into a fashion designing career full time and what informed the fashion brand DIDI Creations?
I decided to go into fashion designing as a full-time career because I am passionate about fashion and believe I had something to offer the sector. The name ‘DIDI Creations’ was derived from my middle name Ndidi. At some point in my life, it became almost certain that I would end up in the fashion industry as a result of my lifestyle and knack for creativity.
Upon my graduation after my first degree, I worked with three different corporate sectors for a few years, but the truth was that I never had job satisfaction at the time. So, as awkward as it sounds, I kept on changing jobs every year between 2002-2005. While I was still working in the corporate sector and doing my fashion business as a side hustle, I realised I was actually making more money from selling clothes, bags and Shoes than my Salary.
I finally decided to make a career out of fashion, because I had done it as a hobby and side hustle for over ten years prior to when I launched my brand, hence I was certain I was genuinely passionate about it. I also knew I needed to give it my all to enable me to grow the brand effectively. So, after my Masters’s degree in the UK, I decided to specialise as a Management Consultant and a Fashion Entrepreneur. This saw me launching DIDI Creations Ltd. in 2012.
What category of fashion do you design and why?
I started designing clothing, bags, shoes and accessories as a result of my passion for these fashion pieces. My personal love and preference for genuine leather and statement fashion pieces was also a huge factor. However, I only design clothing for some runway shows whereas I tend to follow the global fashion calendar for my bags and accessories collections.
I decided to focus on designing bags and accessories because my brand is positioned as an affordable luxury brand and during my market research, I discovered women were more likely to spend more on their bags and accessories than on clothes.
Having showcased your collections in some of the world’s capitals, what stands the brand out?
What stands the brand out is our attention to detail; we have kept to our brand promise and core values since we launched. I am very particular about perfectly finishing which is why I work with some of the best and trusted artisans across the globe. For instance, all our leather goods are all handmade in Italy.
It seems a number of fashion lovers trust male fashion designers more, what’s your take on this?
I think it’s because the narrative has been that way for so long, hence it just lingers on. However, I believe every designer is peculiar and has something to offer irrespective of their gender.
As a British-Nigerian based in Britain, how did you pull off a flagship store in Lagos, why did you feel the need to have your business here too?
Nigeria is a consumer market and remains one of the biggest markets for luxury goods and I felt as an affordable luxury brand, it was important for DIDI Creations to have a presence in Nigeria. I believe the presence of the brand in Nigeria will enable us to cash in on the middle-income earners and high-net-worth clientele. Since I launched the brand a decade ago, Nigeria and the United States have remained our biggest markets to date.
Based on your experience, what is your perception of the Nigerian fashion industry compared to the other countries where you have worked?
Nigerians are very talented and also create mind-blowing pieces, however, I’d say the Nigerian fashion Industry needs a more enabling environment to get their beautiful designs out there to the rest of the world.
What would you say is the major challenge in the Nigerian fashion industry?
This is a tricky one and not peculiar to Nigeria, so I won’t limit my response to Nigeria. Raising capital to effectively nurture a fashion business remains a major challenge. The fashion industry, irrespective of geographic location, is a very capital-intensive sector; because there is a global fashion calendar most designers, including myself, tend to work with.
Fashion Designers always need capital to enable them to scale up or constantly create new collections, however, not so many investors would see the potential in this very lucrative sector. This is why you see several designers go bankrupt after a while.
It’s rare to have designers fuse adult collections with that of children, how did you pull this up with DIDI Creation Kids?
My daughter is the inspiration for DIDI Creations kids and she’s been the brand ambassador since its launch in 2016 till date. After I had her in 2015, I wanted to buy really big headbands and bows for her and couldn’t find any in the shops I visited. Straight up, I saw a gap in the market, as I knew there would be other mums like myself who would love to adorn their little ones in stylish statement pieces.
I launched the headbands and dresses first and named them after my daughter. Today our kiddies’ collections include bags, fascinators, handmade tutu dresses, party dresses, hair accessories etc.
Take us to where the brand was 10 years ago and where it is now, what has changed?
One of the biggest challenges then was production and quality control. I had quite a number of devastating experiences with manufacturers in Italy, Nigeria, Ghana and China. Logistics was another challenge, especially for those pieces we manufactured in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Finally, getting the products out there on the shelves of retailers, because no matter how good a product or service is, it needs to be visible and people need to be aware it exists. So, I spent quite a bit on concession stores after I launched. When I started, our retail outlets and clientele base were mainly in the UK and Nigeria.
Today, not only have we successfully sorted production, logistics and quality control, we are now available and present in about 25 countries, including the UK, USA, Nigeria, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, 15 countries in Europe, North Africa and the UAE. We plan to continue expanding into new markets.
Do you see yourself ever relocating fully to Nigeria someday and still sustain DIDI Creations globally?
As a global brand, DIDI Creations can be operated from any geographic location. However, as regards relocating to Nigeria, my daughter is my boss and priority at the moment and because she’s still in her formative years, there is no immediate plan to relocate. Maybe someday when she’s older, who knows I may have a rethink.
Fashion Entrepreneur, Interior Designer, Travel Consultant, Business and Life Coach, Photographer and Blogger, how do you juggle all these?
I juggle it all by applying effective time management, though the fashion business takes the bulk of my time at the moment.
In 2020, I planned to channel more energy toward the Travel and Interior Design aspects of the business, but the pandemic slowed me down, so it’s still a work in progress.
My speciality is luxury and family travel. I currently do travel consultations for friends and family and clients I get through referrals. Photography and Blogging are hobbies at the moment and I don’t currently earn directly from both, but enjoy doing it nonetheless as it’s a form of escapism for me.
As a Business Coach, I tend to encourage startups and entrepreneurship a lot. I have helped clients on their startup journeys and currently mentor some, especially women and youths.
As a woman who wears many professional caps, how do you strike a balance with your personal life?
Most of the works I’ve ventured into are sectors I’m passionate about. So, most times, it doesn’t literally feel like work as I always enjoy doing them, though I get overwhelmed sometimes. Nonetheless, I’m big on both my physical and mental well-being, so I endeavour to keep a healthy lifestyle and take several short breaks and trips at intervals to rejuvenate. This is why I don’t burn out.
Do you think you would be doing better if you were a man?
I’m an intentional mum so motherhood is actually the most demanding of everything I do as a matter of fact. Perhaps, if I were a man and didn’t have to deal with motherhood and parenting, I could have been doing a lot more. Having said that, my zeal to succeed increased when I became a mum, as I owe it to my daughter to succeed and also leave her a legacy.
Before I had her, I owned just one business. Today, I own 8-10 different businesses, so maybe I’m just fine where I am with it all irrespective of my gender.