If you are social media savvy, then chances are you know exactly who Justin Ugonna is. Better known as Justin Ug, the Georgia Southern University graduate is many things on different days. His rise to stardom can be traced back to the days when Vine, the platform that allowed creators to share short, funny clips reigned supreme.
Today, Justin UG’s videos are popular on Tik-Tok which many refer to as a reinvention of the Vine app, and Instagram where he has a following of over 200,000. Undeniably, he has made success in the world of content creation, and now Justin, content creator, IT degree holder and filmmaker, has begun spreading his tentacles into the fashion industry.
We caught up with Justin to discuss his transition into fashion and the plans he has for his brand, For The Geng.
Did you always know you were going to be a creative?
No actually, I wanted to be a doctor but then I’m SS1. I think I had failed my Physics and Chemistry test and I was like yeah, science is not the way. I was going to switch to arts and study theatre arts but my mom didn’t buy the idea, she wanted medicine or engineering like the typical Nigerian parent, so I decided to see science through for her.
You’ve said before that you hid your social media fame from your parents for a long time?
Yeah, I hid the fact that I was social media famous from my parents for a very long time. I got exposed when one of my videos got to my mom through one of her friends on WhatsApp. At the time I had successfully hidden the content I was making from them for seven years. Sometimes when we went to church, people would come up to my mom and tell her “oh, your son is doing well,” and she would just be so confused until she saw the videos and since then she’s been following me on all social media platforms.
And how did she take finding out you were social media famous?
She was upset because her friends knew about it but she was very clueless, so naturally, she was upset. Also, at that point in time, I wasn’t really doing well in college and she just assumed that was why. But later on, both my mom and dad came around and they were fine with it. They only insisted that I finish school and get some kind of working experience then I could go ahead and do whatever I wanted.
You’ve been putting out content for a really long time, from the days of Vine up until now when TikTok is the new rave. What are some of the most important takeaways from all your years of being a content creator?
One major takeaway for me is being able to change your direction. Most of the people who were making videos around the time I started making videos or inspired me to begin making videos don’t even put out content anymore, they are doing other things right now and I believe it’s because they didn’t know when to switch or when to start giving people what they wanted to see. Over some time, people began to switch from the Vine type skits to much longer videos because that’s what people wanted to see. I think that’s one thing that really helped me, knowing when to move, because if I couldn’t adapt to what people wanted, I don’t know if I’d still be relevant in that space today.
You work as a content creator, with an IT degree, you are a filmmaker and at the same time, you have a fashion brand. How do you manage to strike a balance?
There’s a popular saying that goes “Jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” It can get hard juggling all these things at once, but at the same time, I can’t fall my own hand. I have to make sure I check all the boxes and pull my weight so that I can prove to people that everything I’m doing is important to me.
For most influencers or content creators, the relationship they have with fashion is inputting out merch. What inspired you to delve fully into the fashion industry and take it a step further than just branded merchandise?
First, thank you for acknowledging that this is not just merch because sometimes people see me and just ask about my merch and I have to explain every time that this is not merchandise. For The Geng is a whole brand, it doesn’t have anything to do with me. I started off making clothes for myself, designing varsity jackets and people always asked where I got my clothes from, so I decided to test the market with eyewear sometime last year, and it did well. I enjoyed every single stage, from production down to the shipping and it didn’t even feel like work to me at all.
One of your most popular creations is your remake of Nigeria’s 1994 World Cup jersey, something that is pretty nostalgic for a lot of people. Do you think your background influences the pieces you design?
I draw inspiration from a lot of places, it could be from my childhood, or anywhere in general. For the jersey, however, I’ve always liked the Super Eagles jerseys and there was something spectacular about the 1994 set. That particular jersey was one of my favourites and I’ve been looking everywhere for it, and I still haven’t found it. When I began working on a remake, I didn’t know what reaction to expect, especially considering the calibre of people who have worn that jersey. It was honestly a fifty-fifty thing for me because I could put it out and get backlash but the reaction was great. I know it’s a cliche thing to say, but I always try to see how I can put Nigeria on the map and there’s more stuff I plan to work on that is going to highlight my Nigerianess. That’s one thing I took from Virgil Abloh because he was big on repping Ghana, and working with Ghanian creators and I think it’s really important to remember where it is that we are coming from.
Who would you consider your influences? Where do you draw inspiration from?
One person I would really consider an influence is Telfar Clemens, the owner of Telfar. I really like what Telfar has done with the brand, its aesthetics and how they interact with customers. Generally, though, I draw inspiration from anywhere. One time I thought about how my shorts wouldn’t look so great once I got into the pool with them, and I thought, why don’t I design shorts that will look stylish in and out of the water? So I went ahead and did that.
What’s your personal style like?
Comfort. I’m a simple T-shirt and jeans guy, you won’t catch me layering four jackets! I Like to keep things very simple, comfortable, yet stylish.
Do you think your style reflects in your fashion brand, For The Geng?
Definitely, 100%. I feel like if I have to put out clothes, it has to be something that I’m comfortable and happy wearing myself. FTG is an intersection of luxury and streetwear so I always think about how the pieces I create will look when styled either way. The quality of the materials I use is always top-notch and my designs are versatile.
What is the creative process like for you right now?
So far, it’s been a one-man thing. I’ve only just found a team of four very recently, as recent as two weeks ago. I know what the vision is for me, so it was important that I found people whose ideas aligned with the vision I have for the brand. Before the team, I just sent my designs to my parents or my friends to get their opinions.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced with the FTG brand?
The biggest challenge I’ve faced is honestly, money. Having a proper brand, scaling and marketing is a big deal. But I believe with time, word will get out and everything will take shape. I’ve only been doing this for about five months, so it’s still in its early stages and there’s still enough time to make it work.
Generally, what has the reception been like and what are your goals for FTG?
The reception has been amazing! I’ve had people from all over the world message us on Instagram, making enquiries and it’s just mind-blowing to me. In about two years, I want to open a store in the US and in five years, a store in Nigeria. I also want to begin retailing FTG pieces, making FTG readily available in retail stores.