Tina Ndi Ugo started her full-time professional career as a fashion designer and consultant in 2021 when she launched the brand DIDI Creations. A proven fashion entrepreneur, she has showcased her collections in some of the fashion capitals of the world including London, New York. Paris, Lagos and Nairobi.
The British-Nigerian holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Edge Hill University, Lancashire, England. She 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 (2002 to 2005) as a marketing executive in insurance, aviation and publishing. But she left the corporate sector and became an entrepreneur in 2005, founding her first venture, Black Cashmere Ventures, before starting a full-time fashion career in fashion design. DIDI Innovations is currently incorporated and based in the United Kingdom, with a flagship store in Lagos.
In this interview with Maria Diamond, she talks about her career journey, her life as an entrepreneur and the impact of fashion on the global economy.
Tell us about your background, were you born and raised in Nigeria or England?
I was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria. I had my primary and secondary education in Lagos and obtained my undergraduate degree from the University of Ibadan, with a Bachelor of Arts (Combined Honours) degree in Philosophy and Political Science. In the year After losing my mother in 2009, I moved to the UK for further studies in 2010.
I am from a working class family and the first of five children. My late parents worked with the Nigerian Ports Authority for over ten years, but my mother quit at some point to start her own restaurant business, while my father continued until he retired.
I was called the role model in school and church. I represented my primary school in several functions. I remember how proud my parents were when they saw me at the NTA at events like this at the National Stadium Surulere. I have been actively involved with the Girls’ Brigade, the Girls’ Guild and the Anglican Children’s Ministry, and have represented my church in many quiz competitions. I was a very careful child and never got into trouble with my parents or peers. I was very popular and smart at school, which led to my double promotion in primary school.
At what point did you decide to go into fashion design full-time and what informed the creations of Fashion DDI?
I decided to go into fashion designing as a full-time career as I have a passion for fashion and believe I have something to offer the sector. The name ‘DIDI Creations’ is derived from my middle name, Nidi. At some point in my life, it became certain that I would enter the fashion industry because of my lifestyle and creativity.
After completing my undergraduate degree, I worked with three different corporate sectors for a few years, but the truth is that I was not satisfied with my job at the time. So, as annoying as it sounds, I continued to change jobs every year between 2002-2005. While I was still working in the corporate sector and running a fashion business on the side, I realized that I was earning more from selling clothes, bags and shoes than my salary.
I finally decided to make my career outside of fashion, because I had done it as a hobby and side hustle for ten years prior to launching my brand, so I was sure I had a passion for it. I also know that I have to give it my all to enable me to grow the brand effectively. So, after getting my master’s degree in England, I decided to specialize in management consulting and fashion entrepreneurship. This saw me start DIDI Creations Ltd. in 2012.
Which fashion category do you design for and why?
Because of my love for these fashion pieces, I started designing clothes, bags, shoes and accessories. My personal love and preference for genuine leather and statement fashion pieces was also a big factor. However, I only design clothes for some runway shows, but for my luggage and accessories collections I like to follow the global fashion calendar.
Since my brand is positioned as an affordable luxury brand, I decided to focus on designing bags and accessories and from my market research I found that women spend more on their bags and accessories than on clothes.
After showing your collections in some of the capitals of the world, the brand is unique?
The hallmark of the brand is our attention to detail; We have maintained our brand promise and core values since our inception. I’m very particular about getting it right and that’s why I work with the best and most trusted craftsmen around the world. For example, all of our leather goods are all handmade in Italy.
It seems that many fashion lovers trust male fashion designers more, what are your thoughts on this?
I think it’s because the narrative has been like this for so long that it just stays put. However, I believe that every designer is unique and has something to offer regardless of their gender.
As a British-Nigerian based in Britain, how did you set up the flagship store in Lagos, why did you feel the need to locate your business here?
Nigeria is a consumer market and continues to be one of the largest markets for luxury goods and I felt as an affordable luxury brand, it was important for DD Creative to be present in Nigeria. I believe that having a brand in Nigeria will enable us to monetize middle income and high net worth customers. Ever since I started the brand ten years ago, Nigeria and the United States have been our biggest markets.
Based on your experience, what is your perception of the Nigerian fashion industry compared to other countries you have worked in?
Nigerians are very talented and create mind-blowing pieces, however, I would say the Nigerian fashion industry needs a more conducive environment to get their beautiful designs to the rest of the world.
What would you say is the main challenge in the Nigerian fashion industry?
This is difficult and not specific to Nigeria, so I will not limit my response to Nigeria. Raising capital to effectively maintain a fashion business remains a major challenge. Regardless of geographic location, the fashion industry is a very capital-intensive sector; Because there is a global fashion calendar, many designers, including myself, tend to work together.
Fashion designers always need capital to enable them to develop new collections or create them regularly, but many investors do not see the potential in this very profitable sector. This is why you see many designers go bankrupt after a while.
It’s rare for designers to combine adult collections with children’s collections, how did you inspire this with DD Creative Kids?
My daughter is the inspiration behind DD Creative Kids and has been the brand ambassador since its launch in 2016. In the year I saw a gap in the market because I knew that other moms, like myself, loved decorating their babies with cute statement pieces.
I opened the headbands and skirts first and named them after my daughter. Today our kids collections include bags, fascinators, handmade tutu dresses, party wear, hair accessories etc.
Take us back to where the brand was 10 years ago and where it is now, what has changed?
One of the biggest challenges back then was production and quality control. I have had many horrible experiences with manufacturers in Italy, Nigeria, Ghana and China. Logistics was another challenge, especially for our production in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Finally, putting the products on the shelves of retailers, because no matter how good a product or service is, it needs to be seen and people need to know that it exists. So, I’ve spent quite a bit of money at concession stores since I started. When I started, our retail stores and customer base were mainly in the UK and Nigeria.
Today, they have not only successfully sorted out production, logistics and quality control, but are now located in 25 countries including UK, USA, Nigeria, Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Europe, North Africa and 15 countries. We plan to continue expanding into new markets in the UAE.
Do you see yourself one day relocating fully to Nigeria and still continuing DD’s innovations internationally?
As a global brand, DIDI Innovations can work from any geographical location. However, as for moving to Nigeria, my daughter is currently my boss and priority and as she is still in her prime, there are no immediate plans to relocate. Maybe one day when you’re older, who knows, I’ll have to reconsider.
Fashion entrepreneur, interior designer, travel consultant, business and life coach, photographer and blogger, how do you juggle it all?
Although the fashion business currently takes up most of my time, I manage it all by practicing effective time management.
In the year In 2020, I planned to channel more energy into the travel and interior design aspects of the business, but the pandemic has slowed me down, so it’s still a work in progress.
My specialty is luxury and family travel. I currently do travel consulting through referrals to friends and family and clients. Photography and blogging are hobbies at the moment and I don’t currently have a direct income from either, but it’s a form of escape for me so I enjoy doing it.
As a business coach, I like to encourage startups and entrepreneurship a lot. I have helped clients on their startup journey and currently mentor some, especially women and young people.
As a woman who wears many professional hats, how do you balance your personal life?
Most of the jobs I’ve started are in areas I’m passionate about. So, most of the time, I always enjoy doing them, even though I get tired sometimes. However, I’m big on my physical and mental well-being, so I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and take lots of short breaks and trips to rejuvenate every once in a while. That’s why I don’t burn it.
Do you think you would do better if you were a man?
I’m a mom too, so motherhood is really more demanding than anything I do. Maybe, if I were a man and not dealing with motherhood and parenting, I would be doing more. Having said that, when I became a mother, my zeal to succeed increased because I had to succeed and leave a legacy for my daughter.
I only had one business before I met her. Today, I have 8-10 different businesses, so I’m probably fine where I am with him regardless of my gender.