NATIVE Exclusive: Following his break in comedy, Justin Ugonna Is Looking To Conquer The Fashion World

"I just want people to feel like part of a community."

You’ve probably heard of Justin Ugonna, a US-based Nigerian content creator fondly known on the timeline as Justin UG. His funny skits and videos flood social media timelines stirring viral discussions for days on end or land on popular blogging sites where they are re-shared by his loyal fans. His career has been nothing short of colourful, despite him only being 24-years-old.


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With a degree in IT from Georgia Southern University, Justin Ugonna’s career in the creative field might seem unicorn but he’s always been naturally creative right from a young. He made his career start with internet comedy through the popular video app, Vine. Here, Justin would share videos and challenges which naturally lent itself to the app’s viral nature, bolstering his profile to eyes and ears both home and abroad. It quickly became clear that he would be no stranger to creativity.

Now with over 200,000 followers on Instagram, he has made his mark as one of the leading Nigerian comedy creators today.  However, in spite of the mark he has left on the comedy space in Nigeria, it is worth noting that Justin cannot simply be described as simply a comedian. He is also a multi-disciplinary creator with work spanning across different industries from acting, to filmmaking, to fashion design. In more recent years, he has made a more official foray into fashion by creating  the luxury streetwear brand known as For the Geng.

Created in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic, Justin’s brand strives to find the middle ground between luxury and streetwear is a top priority for Justin Ugonna’s brand. This is exemplified by the brands website which features high quality accessories and graphic tees, but with nothing above $100 dollars. For the Geng also references its founders’ Nigerian heritage, particularly with the release of a football jersey in honour of the Nigerian Super Eagles team. 


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In this interview we speak to Justin about his career leading up to now, why he went into fashion in the first and the challenges that he has faced so far.

His words which follow below have been lightly edited for clarity.

NATIVE: You’re a filmmaker, designer and actor among other things. How do you juggle all this? Do you ever find it difficult?

Justin: Difficult, yes. There’s a lot of things to do, especially when you have to try and be the best at each and every one of these things. That’s when the difficult part comes in. I’m the type of person that if I feel like I can do something and I know it won’t be trash, then I’ll go ahead and do it. That’s why with designing, I thought ‘I love wearing clothes. I think I know what could look good, so i’m just going to try it out. With music, I thought the same thing too. Nobody is going to stop me from making music. It may not be the best but it’s not terrible. I’m just going to go ahead and do it. So I’d say it’s difficult but its something I really enjoy doing.

NATIVE: You learnt quite early on that comedy is a currency in the Nigerian culture space. What did you learn back then about influence and the power you wielded in your corner of the internet?

Justin: Once you have people who follow you and admire your work, that influence is there. Do I feel like I have that influence? Maybe just a bit.

NATIVE: Of course, as someone who works on the Internet, you’re no stranger to the negative sides of social media and how negative it can become. What are some of the ways you stay afloat or detox from social media when the pressure gets too much?

Justin: When I first got into the limelight, I was carrying myself in a way where I’d never want to get that negative energy. But somehow it just found me. When things of this nature happen, I try to just drift away from social media in general. But that could also hurt you, in the sense that if people feel you’re not giving them what they want again, they’ll stop following you. I still feel like just leaving social media sometimes is my own way of handling issues. I don’t get a lot of negativity but when I do, it really affects me. I could have hundreds of positive ones but just that one negative one could just put me in a terrible place. Right now, I feel like everyone is very insensitive. I started making content eleven years ago on Vine. Then, people just wanted to laugh. But right now, anything you say, someone could look at it in a hundred different ways and there could be misinterpretations.


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NATIVE: What other ways do you stay true to yourself?

Justin: I feel like you have to believe in yourself. With me, I know that whatever I’m putting out I’ve put a lot of work into it. So, I know that no matter what people are saying, at the end of the day, I’m still good at what I do. 

NATIVE: Why did you decide to go into fashion?

Justin: I love to dress well. I love seeing people who know how to dress well. I feel like I’ve also had this business mindset probably since I was in secondary school. I feel like I can make things that people would love to wear. I started making things for myself and people would ask where I got it done and who designed it. I would tell them I did it myself, but if they want it they can pay me and I can get it done for them. It started growing from there and I started branching into streetwear, just diversifying myself. The people I’d say had a big impact were the owner of Telfar and Virgil Abloh.

NATIVE: Is streetwear something you’ve always been interested in?

Justin: With my brand, what I’m trying to do is find that middle ground between luxury and streetwear. Where someone could wear something and have it be seen as luxury, but style it a different way and it’s seen as streetwear. I also want to show people you can find good quality at a very good price. So people could buy my products and feel like this is money well spent, and I’m glad that this has been the case. I want everyone to wear good quality stuff.   


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NATIVE: How did the idea for ‘For The Geng’ come about? 

Justin: I think it was in December 2020. I had a group of friends and i was making T-shirts for them. People that support me called themselves UG Geng. I didn’t want my name to be the focus, so I needed something people associate me with but could also stand on its own. I used to have merch like any other Youtuber but I felt like I wanted to make it a proper brand where anyone could get it. ‘For the Geng’ sort of means for the people. I just want people to feel like part of a community. I feel like it’s a weird name for a brand, but I like weird stuff.

NATIVE: What were the biggest challenges in starting your brand? 

Justin: Money. I didn’t know how much it would take until I got to my first major collection. I had to really open my eyes to what people in the fashion industry actually go through. I had to do a lot of learning because I’m coming in as someone who studied IT and never did anything fashion-related. I had to learn about the game so when I started I’d be equipped. And I’m still learning, I don’t think you ever stop learning in this industry. But once you start, things just fall into place.


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NATIVE: Was there any major resource you used to learn?

Justin: Youtube was a major source. Just watching interviews of people who had their own brands. There are so many interviews of Virgil Abloh speaking about the whole production process. I also reached out to a couple of people who work in the industry. I also bought a couple of courses, so a variety of things.

NATIVE: What do you think about sustainability and what are some of the sustainable practices you adopt at your brand?

Justin: I’d say it’s important, not just in fashion but in different industries. It’s something I definitely take into consideration while working on ‘For The Geng.’

NATIVE: You’ve popularly reworked Nigerian jerseys and constantly borrowing inspiration from your country’s past to dictate current tastes. What are some of the ways in which you wear your hometown/country with pride?

Justin: Before anything I feel like I’m a Nigerian, so I like to put the country on the map. Obviously Nigeria is not the best place to be right now, so I like to shine any kind of light that I can.


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NATIVE: What do you think about the current state of streetwear, specifically in Nigeria?

Justin: In the past few years, I feel like the growth has been insane. I feel like people like Virgil have made streetwear more visible, not just in Nigeria. It’s just amazing seeing streetwear growing rapidly in the place I’m coming from. With the likes of people like Ireti who is doing a big job making sure the streetwear culture stands and keeps going.

NATIVE: Has the vision for For The Geng changed significantly over time? I know you mentioned a rebrand a while back. 

Justin: I’d say the only major change that has happened was that at first, I wanted it to be a full streetwear brand. After some time, I felt like I could incorporate luxury into it. That has been a major change but every other thing has stayed the same. It’s become more broad rather than focusing on one aspect. It gives me more freedom rather than putting me in a box of just streetwear.

NATIVE: What are the next steps for your brand and for you? 

Justin: As a creative I’m trying so hard to get into the Hollywood/ Nollywood scene. If I can’t get into that, I’m trying to find a way to eventually get that big break. Even if it’s with creating more short films or maybe a feature film. With my brand I feel like I still have to prove a point to people. Because people see you as a comedian and all of a sudden you’re doing clothing. I don’t think they take comedians as seriously when you try to branch out. But I’m just taking my time, making people know that I know what I’m doing and that this is for the long run. I also just designed my first bag and I’m about to release that next month under my brand. 


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Featured image credits/NATIVE