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Carly Duguid: Building Brands Beyond Tennis

Learn how Naomi Osaka’s creative director is using her experience in fashion to turn Evolve athletes into aesthetic superstars.

Have you seen Naomi Osaka lately?

From posting pics in Paris to appearing on awnings all over America and Japan, the talented tennis phenom has become an icon in sport and also in fashion.

Because of the busy schedule associated with the ATP tour and brand building at her agency, Evolve, Osaka is all over the world when it comes to matches and photo shoots, yet everywhere at once when it comes to visibility.

To balance this duality, Osaka relies heavily and collaboratively on her creative director, Carly Duguid.

“A lot of my job is being Naomi when she can’t be there,” Carly told Boardroom. “She still has her day job and still plays tennis. I think I know her better than anyone else when it comes to business and tastes.”

Carly Duguid
Evolve’s Stuart Duguid, Naomi Osaka, and Carly Duguid (photo by Brad Ogbanna)

As seen by Osaka’s four Grand Slams on the court backed by her massive earnings off the court, the business of being Naomi Osaka is a busy one. Still swamped with training for tennis, Osaka elicits a schedule that consists of practice, phone calls with founders, and even appearances for her recent book release.

While the world is beginning to know Naomi Osaka as a boss, they’ve long loved the tennis talent’s penchant for fashion on and off the court. This is the part of the business where Carly is both consigliere and collaborator, creatively directing Osaka’s many power moves in the world of sportswear, streetwear, and couture.

At a photo shoot for Osaka’s next collaborative launch, Boardroom talked to Carly to discuss her own stylish ascent.

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Fashionably Early

When it comes to merging sports, fashion, and business, Michael Jordan isn’t the only accomplished graduate from the University of North Carolina.

Since earning her degree and spreading her wings at Chapel Hill, Carly Duguid made the leap from PR intern to corporate management. Sensing a need to do something professional yet more creative, she set her sights on a bespoke suiting company based out of Washington, DC.

Early on, she saw firsthand how high-quality product was cut, sewn, and consumed. Understanding formal attire gave her a great appreciation for detail and craftsmanship, setting her up for a more modern move to Los Angeles. Soon at Saint Laurent and later FRAME Denim, she learned the ropes of outfitting high-profile clients and allocating products to accounts across the country.

All the while, her husband Stuart Duguid was managing Naomi Osaka. Although the talented tennis star was crushing it on the court, she shared aspirations with Stuart that were much closer to the skillset attained by Carly.

Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Dreaming of appearing in the pages of Vogue and on the cover of Harper’s BAZAAR, Stuart saw his wife as the person with the proper tools to help Osaka become a force in fashion.

“Naomi came to me and said, ‘I want to be in fashion,'” Stuart told Boardroom. “Then it’s on me to make that a reality.”

It was clear Naomi had the passion, platform, and talent, while Carly carried a holistic understanding of the industry.

“She loves fashion design,” says Carly. “It’s her biggest thing. With so many deals coming her way in fashion, I was stepping in as her right hand because she knew me and trusted me.”

Since stepping in, Carly has helped Naomi carve a lane that’s unmatched in prestige — and perhaps profit — when considering any of her active athlete peers.

Whether on the court, on the cover, or on the runway, Osaka is making a name for herself in fashion since shyly asking her manager years ago if that dream could be a reality. Because of this, she’s working with the biggest brands in the world as more than just an ambassador but also a designer.

It’s all part of the plan Carly carefully curates day to day.

The Sport of Style

As alluded to, Naomi Osaka is very busy.

As seen by recent campaigns and collaborations with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Levi’s, and more, she’s making an impact on the world of fashion perhaps much like she’s moved mountains in tennis.

“She won a Grand Slam every year for four years,” Carly says. “Her world has completely opened up and she can do anything she wants.”

What Osaka eventually wants is her own brand. Until then, she’s learning from industry titans in real-time as a means to not only raise her profits and profile but, more importantly, get a master’s degree in design.

“Design is my true passion,” Osaka told Boardroom. “I think my strategy has always been to collaborate with the best designers in the world at the best brands, like Louis Vuitton, Levi’s, TAG Huer, and Nike. To learn as much as I can from those experiences.”

Carly Duguid
Photo by Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

While Osaka has been learning from that experience, it’s on Carly to carry out that strategy.

“You have to really work strategically about how you position players and how you get to that mark,” says Carly. “There’s a huge amount of foresight that goes into everything. When we design with Nike, it doesn’t come out for a year and a half.”

Osaka is one of the most marketable athletes at the $174 billion brand. Since signing with Nike in 2019, Osaka’s gone from having her own custom looks on the court to having her own custom-designed line in stores.

“Nike has given her NOC: her own collection that comes out twice a year,” says Carly. “We sit at massive Nike meetings several times a year. She sees samples and is a part of every step of the process.”

It’s this type of leverage, strategy, and insider access that positions Naomi as not just another endorser but a brand and designer in her own right.

“I’ve really been a sponge and have tried to absorb a wealth of knowledge,” said Osaka.

Last month, Naomi and Nike launched the latest NOC collection to the masses. Though uniquely crafted with the tech of the Beaverton brand and the eye of Osaka, Carly notes that the line is made for all to wear with much more on the way.

“So far NOC has been athleisure with an updated twist,” Carly says. “It’s unique and it stands out. Going forward, you’re going to see a lot more streetwear-inspired pieces and a lot more elevation. It will still have pieces that are accessible from price and wear, but it’s stepping up in having statement pieces.”

Thus far, Naomi’s Nike line leans into her unique upbringing which spans ancestry from Japan and Haiti. Computer-generated camo print plays to the coordinates of her parents, while multiple pieces are made to be gender-neutral.

On top of it all, select styles see her famed Lucky Cat logo literally holding the Swoosh, perhaps a parallel to the type of creative control she holds.

“She’ll come up with sketches, pass them to the brand, and most of the time they’ll bring them right to life,” Carly says. “Anything she puts her stamp on in designing? It’s always a nervous excitement. We’ve had great success so far with everything she’s done.”

At Evolve, the agency Naomi and her agent Stuart co-founded, Carly’s taking her talents to the fiery style of signee Nick Kyrgios while still working on the brand and aesthetic for both athletes on a daily basis.

“Stu and I work very closely on two separate sides of the business,” Carly says. “He’s doing everything on the deal side and I’m more brand strategy and creative. I’m in the weeds with Naomi and Nick creating their brand identity and the brand identity for Evolve as a company.”

So, what’s next for Naomi and Nick where fashion is concerned? Carly is constantly at work with perhaps future Evolve athletes soon entering the fold.

The Evolve Advantage

Earning an estimated $60 million in 2022 alone, Naomi Osaka is on top of the world when it comes to raking in the dough.

Still, this doesn’t mean you’ll soon see her likeness in lookbooks for any company eager to hand out checks.

“When we think about partnerships, it’s not about money. It’s what feels like a good fit,” Carly says. “We really lean into things that make sense for their personalities on and off the court.”

At this moment in Naomi’s design journey, it’s a mix of runway couture, streetwear, and athletic apparel.

Photo by Chaz Niell/Getty Images

Across the court, Nick’s lane of looks is more focused but just as unique.

“Nick loves basketball, so Stuart went to Nike and said, ‘He’s different. He has this appeal and he loves basketball, we want to put him in something that incorporates that and makes him feel like him,’” says Carly.

“Nike agreed.”

While Carly has helped build Naomi Osaka’s status in the fashion world with Nick next on the ascent, she notes that the sole focus on Osaka has been the ingredient to much of the success.

Still, she remains open to the day when Evolve brings on even more athletes.

“My skillset is transferable to athletes looking to build their business outside of sport and in fashion and culture,” Carly says.

As the creative director for Osaka, it means continuing to collaborate with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Levi’s, and Nike, furthering the education of Osaka where design is concerned.

Accessing all this high-level information and experience is key for Naomi’s bigger aspirations in fashion, which will likely take full shape in years to come.

“At some point, it’s no secret that I’d like to design for my own brand,” says Osaka.

Serving as her righthand, Carly sees it happening at some point with much certainty. Still, she sees there’s a lot to learn.

“Naomi as a designer really wants to build her brand with an eye for fashion,” says Carly. “So often, a lot of her design ideas are very statement and would be unaffordable if we could actually make it.”

Through the tutelage of Carly Duguid and her opportunities at many big brands, Osaka will continue to hone her craft as a power player in the world of fashion. 2023 will see more launches with Nike, Levi’s, and more, making her one of the most hands-on athletes in the arenas of sportswear, streetwear, and beyond.

“The proof is in the pudding: She has an eye for design and we’re lucky that our brand partners have been flexible and accepting with her ideas,” says Carly.

“I’ve always known that about her, but the world didn’t know until we started doing the collaborations.”

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About The Author
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook is a Staff Writer covering culture, sports, and fashion for Boardroom. Prior to signing on, Ian spent a decade at Nice Kicks as a writer and editor. Over the course of his career, he's been published by the likes of Complex, Jordan Brand, GOAT, Cali BBQ Media, SoleSavy, and 19Nine. Ian spends all his free time hooping and he's heard on multiple occasions that Drake and Nas have read his work, so that's pretty tight.
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