I’m Nina, and I create things that fulfill me. Whatever I enjoy at the moment – I do.
MILICA magazine presents DI U DI, a brand of handmade bags and accessories by street artist Nina (Di Ujdi). After finishing a graphic arts high school, Nina graduated at Faculty of Philology in Belgrade, majoring in Spanish Language and Literature. That’s when she got a sewing machine, started making stencils and designing collections that she plans on expanding spontaneously, without any pre-conceived plan.
For starters, can you tell us what DI U DI means?
I started doing street art when I was in high school. I was mostly interested in stencils. Most of my friends did graffiti, but I was more into smaller illustrations. That’s when i thought of Di Ujdi as a street-art name. It really reminds me of that time now, the youth and the revolt. When I saw into literature, I would do a Lorca stencil everywhere, for example. When I was starting out, street art was a man’s world, but a lot has changed after ten years and I notice more and more girls are giving it a try. I’ve never been discouraged by this.
Street art was my own personal freedom and means expression. All these roadblocks we attribute to a gender division are internalized. When you realize you can do whatever you want, then there’s no stopping you, it doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman. At the end of the day, you just do your thing.
When I started making bags, I thought it’d be good to have a new name, and I called them DI U DI. I don’t feel really close to it lately, it’s seems too distant, like some cold brand. I am not a brand, I don’t just make designer bags. I am everything I do, and it’s not just bags, I draw, I write, I make jewellery. So I want to combine all that under the name Di Ujdi.
How did you get started?
I’ve wanted to buy a sewing machine for a long time, to make things for myself. My grandmother was a seamstress but she never taught me how to sew. She would say “Nina, don’t, you’ll hurt your fingers, let me do it”. And it was like that every time. Then in 2015 I had my first solo exhibition at the Center For Graphic Art. It went really well. Most of the work was textile glued to wood, that I then used as a background for my stencils.
When I sold my first two pieces, I thought “That’s it, I’m buying a sewing machine!”. So I started experimenting. I didn’t take a course or anything, I learned by myself, from Youtube tutorials, I was trying different things for a few months and then I looked for materials, I found something that was actually used for tents, and I made my first collection of backpacks, then I found some plastic tarpaulin covers that I liked a lot and then that’s what I worked with. They’re usually used for trucks, they’re very resilient.
I’ve chosen materials that aren’t traditionally used for bags. Although Freitag bags are also made from recycled tarps. There’s probably a lot more people who experiment with it, but not here. I’ve also found this gray material that’s used for boats! My idea was to find materials that are traditionally used for something else, and make them functional for what I want to make.
A bag is probably the most important accessory for every woman. Did you want to create something that you yourself needed?
Most of the things I end up doing develop unconsciously. I’m not one of those people who get an idea and then plan it out, process it and eventually publish it. For me, I get an idea of of nowhere and I get interested. I started out with just wanting that sewing machine. Then I wanted to make bags, because I had very little and I didn’t really like them. I wanted to make something I’d like. First I made a pretty basic bag, but then I got interested in finding new ways to do it and making something completely different.
I started from one piece of material, folding it over and thinking how can I create something minimal and unusual from this one piece. Something weird. I experimented with my machine. You start sewing and all of a sudden you have something you can wear.
There’s an expansion of handwork brands in the last few years. A lot of people try their luck in the business, and it became trendy to wear such unique pieces.
Definitely! I think everyone, including me, just had enough. I’m frustrated that everything is the same. The whole idea of creating low-quality clothes so you have to change them and buy new ones more often.
People want more than that. They want to buy from someone they can establish contact with. I mean literally, someone that can touch them. At least virtually. The expansion of these worthless, replicated items made us think about what we want to buy and why.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been listening to The Velvet Underground and reading about Andy Warhol while getting ready, but I feel like designing bags is, in a way, connected to some pop-culture genres.
Yeah, now that you’ve mentioned Andy Warhol, I was very interested in him in high school, especially when I started doing stencils, because he did some similar things. There might be something to that. I’ve never thought about that, maybe it’s not that direct. I’m also a big fan of Matisse from when he did collages. He made different shapes in striking colors and put them together. I love Basquiat too. They’ve probably even been role models for me.
It’s like when, for example, you read a book and start writing immediately after. You’re still impressed by it and it’s possible you start writing in a similar manner, that you pick up some form that you later turn in to something original. You don’t think you’re being led by it, like maybe you see some color references and then later put them together in your own way.
While we were deciding on a location to take photos, Nina sent us a photo of her workspace.
The room I work in has a corner for everything- painting, sewing, computers. Then Vida comes in and starts playing with everything. I adjusted the way I work, to make it closer to her. She paints, watercolors. Before, I was obsessed with everything being precise and clean. But that’s not me. I’m the chaos from the photo, I’m impulsive.
Do you live from Di u Di?
I have another job too! I was feeling very apathetic, in January, then I got the idea to learn code! My brothers are programmers, so they recommend I take an online course on Codecademy, learn HTML and CSS. So I started with that and then I got into outbound marketing, and this software company was looking for someone to write their blog.
Marketing’s not what I expected, it’s not gross, it’s not lying, it doesn’t have to be. I’m fascinated with online apps that are being made now. I do research and write about this world. There’s so many apps that just help you do everything faster. That’s why I think investing in an online presentation and content is so important. I don’t want to spend my time at markets, waiting for someone to come and take a look. Fashion markets tire me and I think they’re a waste of time.
Does someone help you with work and marketing?
I do everything myself! I did the logo myself, I photographed most of the bags myself. Audrey Stecinjo did the fashion editorial on Facebook. I made a profile on Easy and soon enough Qurator asked me tome a part of their designer product offer. The bags started selling and I realized I should just move online completely.
DI U DI: fb
I’m also a part of this project where we do a street-art tour. Our plan is to open up a studio gallery where we’ll have a shop, too. So when I think about opening a store, I think about that. Designer things tattoo art, street art.
What do you do now?
You see, now I am experimenting. I spray PVC tarpaulins and I make bags of them now. I do not want to restrict myself from anything because I often change phases to do something else.
I would never devote myself to a single thing. I work impulsively, always what I like and what I feel at this moment.
I’m Nina, I create things that fulfill me. Whatever I enjoy at the moment – I do.