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Designing Vibrant + Joyous Clothes With A Cross-Continental Perspective

Studio Visit

‘Ulo’ means ‘home’ in Igbo – the African dialect spoken by designer Dinzi Amobi’s father. Dinzi was born in Nigeria, and then spent part of her life in London, before moving finally to Australia and pursuing a career as a lawyer. But, whilst working her corporate job, she would spend the evenings designing clothes with African fabrics that her friends and family would send from back home.

Eventually, Dinzi left her law career behind to pursue a fashion and homewares business, which she started from her kitchen table (with baby twins!). This is how Ulo Australia was born.

Dinzi now manages a small production team from her studio and retail showroom in Abbotsford Convent. They produce a couple of limited-run collections a year, all with fabric sourced from markets around Ghana, Tanzania and Nigeria.

23rd November, 2020

Ulo Australia is a three person-strong team, with a studio and retail showroom in Abbotsford Convent. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Founder and designer, Dinzi Amobi. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Dinzi uses wax fabrics to create her designs, the staple fabric of the African continent. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Ulo is built on a completely made-to-order business model. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Dinzi left behind her law career to pursue design, and started Ulo from her kitchen table! Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

‘When I moved to Australia, I would ask my family and friends who were still living in Nigeria at the time to send me a few metres of whatever fabrics they could find in the markets,’ says Dinzi. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

The sun-soaked studio and retail showroom at Abbotsford convent. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

‘All of our collections are inspired by what I was surrounded by growing up in Nigeria and then London. Whether it be home textiles or fashion, everything is motivated by the styles and shapes that filled my family home,’ says Dinzi. Photo – Amelia Stanwix for The Design Files.

Sasha Gattermayr
Monday 23rd November 2020

‘When I moved to Australia, I would ask my family and friends who were still living in Nigeria at the time to send me a few metres of whatever fabrics they could find in the markets.’ – Dinzi Amobi.

Sometimes, the most indirect route is the best path you could have taken.

Dinzi Amobi studied Ancient Latin, Greek and Ancient History at university, before going on to become a lawyer. By this point, she had already lived in both Nigeria and London, and would soon move to Australia to practise law. But this sprawling mesh of cultural influences is a unifying experience for Dinzi rather than a disparate one. Filling her life with the vibrant textiles of her heritage is a way for her to continuously connect with all these different meanings of home.

‘When I moved to Australia, I would ask my family and friends who were still living in Nigeria to send me a few metres of whatever fabrics they could find in the markets,’ she says. ‘Once they arrived, I would spend the evenings designing pieces to fill my home.’

Boxes of materials sourced from markets in Ghana, Tanzania and Nigeria would arrive at her doorstep, always containing mounds of the continent’s staple textile: wax fabric. Originating from the Netherlands, the production of the material was quickly adopted by African-owned facilities owing to the popularity of the designs around the continent. Now deeply entrenched in local market culture and fabric artisans, the boldly patterned and vibrantly adorned textiles carry stories of heritage and tradition in each design.

With a constant supply of these richly storied textiles streaming in from a network of stall-holders across Africa, Dinzi founded Ulo Australia from her kitchen table, focussing on handcrafted fashion and homewares, made from African wax fabrics. The business has since expanded to three full time staff, including Dinzi, operating from a studio and retail showroom in Abbotsford Convent.

‘All of our collections are inspired by what I was surrounded by growing up in Nigeria and then London,’ Dinzi explains. ‘Whether it be home textiles or fashion, everything is motivated by the styles and shapes that filled my family home.’

In addition to drawing on her personal history, Dinzi is inspired by other artists of the African diaspora who are constantly engaging with their heritage through design, such as Nigerian-British artist Yinka Ilori, or Nigerian fashion designer Lisa Folawiyo.

Dinzi’s designs are made using a mix of old and new techniques, mirroring the fusion of cultural identities she herself embodies. ‘We revisit archaic prints, use traditional textiles and craftsmanship, and merge these with modern, easy-to-wear styles,’ she says. Embedded in this contemporary approach is a deep understanding of sustainability principles and respect for a slow fashion business model.

Amongst all the ups and downs of this year, a delivery box of new fabrics still stirs the same amount of joy and delight as it used to when it was just Dinzi at her kitchen table. ‘It feels like we are opening up Africa,’ she says.

Ulo Australia’s studio and showroom is located at SH1.32 Sacred Heart Building, Abbotsford Convent at 1 St Helier Street, Abbotsford.

Loving Dinzi’s designs as much as we are? Check out the website here!

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The Design Files acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which we work, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

First Nations artists, designers, makers, and creative business owners are encouraged to submit their projects for coverage on The Design Files. Please email bea@thedesignfiles.net