Tina Ugo: Driven By Entrepreneuship
Words By – Yemisi Suleiman
London-based fashion entrepreneur, Tina Ndidi Ugo was fortunate enough to find out early on in life what she was passionate about and make it a career choice. After obtaining a degree in Philosophy and Political Science from The University of Ibadan, and an MBA from Edge Hill University, Lancashire, United Kingdom, Tina had a stint with the corporate sector before deciding the time was right to become her own boss. She quit the corporate sector and became an Entrepreneur in 2005 when she set up her first business. In 2012, she started a full time professional career in Fashion Design and Consultancy with the launch of her brand DIDI Creations limited. Nine years on, her eponymous brand is now a global business spanning fashion, home deco, travel amongst others.
The Brand which is currently incorporated and based in the United Kingdom, with stockists in Nigeria and a huge clientele across the globe, is famous for its exotic collection of luxury handbags, crafted with a unique afrocentric edge.
Tina, who also holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in Business Management from London Business College, shares her inspiring story from inception, her winning strategy for COVID19, present inspirations, future ambitions and more.
When did you first know you wanted to be a designer?
To be honest, I’ll say the fashion industry was inevitable and innate for me, as I always believed I had something to offer because of my creativity. I 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.
You are a fashion designer and you also design leather accessories, which did you begin with?
I started designing clothes first, then, 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 am so passionate about fashion and style, to the extent that I’m a collector of most fashion items and accessories.
How easy was it for you to transition from being an employee to being an entrepreneur, and at what point was DIDI Creations launched?
It was not much of a problem because I have always loved the fashion industry while growing up; I’m still fascinated by fashion to date. So, upon my graduation, I was torn between getting a job in the financial sector and setting up my own business. I decided to settle for the latter and the rest is history today. However, prior to launching my brands, I worked with three different corporate sectors (Insurance, Aviation and Publishing sectors) between 2002 and 2005. I kept changing jobs every year as there was no real job satisfaction, however, I’ll forever be grateful for some of the professional experiences I gathered while at my 9-5 jobs because they helped prepare me.
I quit the corporate world in 2005 to pursue my entrepreneurial dream. This saw me setting up my first business (BLACK Cashmere Ventures) in 2005. DIDI Creations was launched in 2012, while DIDI Creations Kids was launched in 2016. DIDI Creations was berthed in my Bedroom shortly after my graduation from Edgehill Business School where I was awarded a Master of Business Administration in 2011. At the beginning, I knew I wanted to build a global fashion brand that would outlive me. So, I gave it my all. I have set up a few other businesses afterwards including; DIDI Creations Ltd, DIDI Deluxe Services Ltd, DIDI Deluxe Travel Ltd. and POP UP Nigeria Ltd.
What are some of the challenges encountered in the course of running your business?
One of the biggest challenges is production and quality control. I have had quite a number of devastating experiences with manufacturers and Artisans in Italy, Nigeria, Ghana and China. Logistics is also another challenge, especially for those pieces we manufacture in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. Finally, getting the products out there on the shelves of major departmental stores has not been easy, and it is really a major challenge because no matter how good your product or service is, it needs to be visible and people need to be aware it exists.
For one who’s into luxury fashion, how has COVID19 impacted your business?
My dream has always been to set up multiple businesses, to enable me to have multiple streams of income.
During the COVID19 lockdown, it became obvious that people were more interested in buying items to make their home stay more comfortable.
That was when I decided there was no better time to launch my two new brands; DIDI Deluxe Home and VVIP Lingerie.
Now that I have set up 7 different businesses, I’ll focus on nurturing them.
What would you say are some of the highlights or memorable moments in your career and life that you would always cherish?
My most memorable moment in life was my pregnancy journey and giving birth to my daughter. Words can’t explain my feelings when I saw her for the first time.
Also, the day I officially launched DIDI Creations eight years ago, remains fresh in my memory. One of my memorable highlights after launching would be when I had my first live interview in 2013 during the Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4, discussing African Fashion, prior to my first runway showcase in London. Another was when I took my first bow on the stage as a Fashion designer during Africa Fashion Week London 2013. (I’ve taken several other bows over the years in London, New York, Kenya, and Lagos).
In 2016, I opened the show at Africa Fashion Week London and took a bow with my 7 months old daughter; I’d say that experience and moment was priceless for me. I have also cherished being featured in almost all the major fashion magazines in the UK, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria over the years; including British Vogue, Elle, Tatler, Harper’s Bazaar, Glamour, Glam Africa, Pride, Genevieve magazine, TW magazine, Working Moms, Complete fashion and several others.
I won’t forget in a hurry the brand exposure I got when my brand was chosen alongside 29 other British brands by the UK Department for International Trade in 2017, to have our products retailed in a major mall in Paris for a whole month.
You are also a travel consultant, how did that happen, from fashion designing?
Travel is my own form of escapism. My dream is to travel the world and at the moment, I’ve visited about 30 countries (and counting).
I tend to monetise anything I am passionate about. So, in 2017, I decided to do a Travel Consultant Certificate Course. After I completed the course and became certified, I registered and set up my travel business the same year- DIDI Deluxe Travel.
As a travel consultant, what do you look for in a vacation package for your clients?
Value for money is important to me as a Travel Consultant. So I always look out for the best deal packages for my clients.
I specialise in bespoke Luxury travel, Solo travel and Family travel at the moment.
What recommendations would you give a couple looking for a romantic getaway?
I would have a consultation with them, to verify their needs and preferences before recommending because, there is no one rule that fits all for romantic getaways and vacations. There are different types of travellers; some couples would prefer beach getaways, some safaris, while others would prefer outdoors, yet some others would opt for retreats and spa getaways etc.
However, if i were to recommend based on my personal preference, then “The Maldives” would be top on the list for a romantic getaway.
How do you manage the different businesses you run?
I juggle it all by applying effective time management. However, to be honest, the fashion business takes the bulk of my time at the moment. I call myself a serial entrepreneur because I actually enjoy starting and running new businesses simultaneously.
At the moment, I have 10 different small businesses. So, I have decided to take a break with launching new start ups, to enable me focus and scale up the existing ones.
How has the digital world shaped your business and design directions?
The digital world has been really beneficial to my business in recent times; especially in the last year. As you’re aware, the world is a global village and digitalisation has enabled more people across the globe to discover my brand. We recently got invited by several online wholesale retailers across the globe for collaborations including; Faire (USA, Canada, Europe), Ankorstore (France) , Tradeling (UAE, Egypt and Middleeast) They all found out about us online.
What lessons would you say you have learnt over the years as an entrepreneur?
Based on experience over the years, I have learnt to do more market research and product testing before going into full production for new lines and collections.
Who or what do you consider as the greatest influence in your life and career?
My late mother was my greatest influence and role model. She was such a hard-working beautiful woman and serial entrepreneur, so I grew up emulating her. In her lifetime, she ventured into the beauty, food and Fashion industry respectively. We eventually became unofficial business partners at some point before her demise.
You seemed very fond of your mom. Tell us a bit about your growing up years and events that shaped you into the woman you are today?
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 the same year and had several others in her lifetime. (They are both blessed memories now). I actually got my entrepreneurial skills from mum. I am the first child of my parents and had four siblings, I recently lost a sibling in 2018 so I have three at the moment.
We were all born in Lagos, and I had both my primary and secondary education in Lagos before proceeding for my first degree at the University of Ibadan, before moving to the UK for further studies.
Growing up was fun for me as I and my siblings are close-knit. My mother 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. He remained a Lay Reader in the Anglican Communion until last year when he passed away. I was actively involved with the Girls Brigade, Girls Guild, Anglican Children Ministry and did represent my church in quiz competitions. I hardly got into trouble with my parents and peers as I was a very careful child. My mum taught me to always believe in myself and never give up on my dreams. 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. Growing up, my mother was literally my Idol. I used to watch and admire my stylish and beautiful mom and started emulating her style from an early age. She had a large collection of Kaftans and Boubous as those were her signature attires. That was why I fell in love with Kaftans and boubous and have decided to make it my signature as well.
She was very elegant and I believe she will be smiling at me and happy for the woman I’ve grown to become.
When you are not working, how do you relax?
I am an avid lover of nature so, I relax by watching and capturing the sunrise, seaside, birds, cloud formations and sunsets.
What does style mean to you and what wouldn’t you do in the name of fashion?
Style for me is a way of saying who I am without uttering a word. Style radiates in everything one does not necessarily only in fashion. I wouldn’t follow a fashion trend if it doesn’t align with my personal style.
Where do you hope to see your business in the next few years?
I hope to see my business expand into new markets and also have a main stake in the sector.
If you had to advise young people who want to go into the sector, what would you tell them?
I’ll let them know it’s a very capital intensive sector. Hence, anyone venturing into it, needs to have the will to persevere and passion to continue when the chips are down.
What are some of the other things that occupy your time?
Let’s just say, I literally work round the clock. Apart from being hands on mum to my daughter, I’m also a certified Travel Consultant, Business Coach, an Amateur Photographer, Freelance Web Developer, Freelance Graphic Designer, a Blogger and Vlogger.