It’s been roughly five months since I moved to Melbourne this time around (the first time was in 2007 for a year). Somehow, I had managed to block out the winters and I have only fond memories of the summers. However, as we approach winter in the Southern Hemisphere, I’ve settled in enough to seek out the Antiguan connections I had been given contacts for before leaving Antigua back in February 2022.
One such connection is Dinzi Amobi-Sanderson, a lawyer turned designer and small business owner. She is the cousin of one of my swim clients back in Antigua and a few weeks ago I decided to stop by her storefront in the city suburbs of Melbourne. I had followed her brand, Ulo Australia, on Instagram even before leaving Antigua and was enchanted by the colour and prints of the African textiles she uses for home decor and womenswear.
Visiting her store was like being embraced by a warm breeze. Well-lit, bright colours arranged by tone and pattern and a good sense of feng shui made Dinzi’s store a comfortable and refreshing space to be in.
The Melbourne Vibe
If you’re wondering what Melbourne is like, I once saw a graphic that summed it pretty well. Melbourne is like New York while Syndey is like California. In Dinzi’s impression, Melbourne is more akin to London, the city where she spent her formative years. However, it is her Nigerian heritage that Dinzi brings to her creative work. Born in Nigeria to a Nigerian father, even when her family moved to London when she was 7 years old, she was still surrounded by Nigerian culture.
Being warm on the inside
For Dinzi, the warmth, the outside living, and the vibrant colours of Nigeria have been her source of inspiration. So much so that the name of her brand “Ulo” means home in Igbo, the language she speaks in her Nigerian settings. Although Dinzi lived in the warmer city of Syndey for a few years, about four years ago, she and her Melbournian husband decided to move to Melbourne so that they could be closer to his family.
To make herself feel more at home, she began creating home decor pieces with African prints to brighten up her living and communal spaces. These pieces quickly became conversation starters that led to Dinzi sharing tales of her Nigerian heritage.
In 2019, she had her first pop-up show and in three days she sold out all her stock in what was supposed to be a two-week pop-up. She had established that she had a market! Within the following year, she transitioned to going full-time on her design business, stepping away from her corporate life as a lawyer. With the pandemic, Dinzi transitioned to selling colourful masks and made-to-order houseware and women’s clothes.
Australians, having had the world’s longest lockdown, have been venturing outside, adapting and creating what is now the new and evolving “normal”. Part of that is that many people no longer live in the city of Melbourne but have taken up residence in the suburbs and countryside.
It has, therefore, been a bold move for Ulo Australia to set up a storefront in the city. However, Dinzi knows her market. The women that buy from her much prefer to come into the store, feel and see the fabric, try on the clothes and make their purchases there. Furthermore, for Dinzi, Instagram has been a great marketing tool and it is where people engage with her most online.
At the time of writing, Dinzi is slowing down her production of womenswear pieces and solidifying her trajectory in home decor. It is in this domain she feels the most creative and I must admit, for me, it is the most impactful. Looking at the lampshades made of African prints and textile makes me want to bring that vibrancy into my own home.
Home is what you make it
Dinzi admits that in Australia it’s harder to connect with her Nigerian and African community since the diaspora here is much smaller than in London. I empathize with that, given the small community of West Indians in Melbourne that I’m still seeking out. However, Ulo Australia reminds me that home is what I make of it. So, if I need a bit of warmth and vibrancy in my life, I can seek it out, through myself, my creativity and of course, with pieces like that of Dinzi’s home decor.