Having quickly worked their way into many Kiwi males’ wardrobes, it has been I Love Ugly’s large fan bases in both Australia and the US that have accelerated the streetwear brand’s rapid ascent to global cult-status. One of the most innovative NZ menswear labels to launch in recent years, the past 18 months have been a challenging yet industrious chapter in I Love Ugly’s journey. Portia Campbell caught up with founder Valentin Ozich and discovered that their inspiring and resilient approaches to innovation and adversity are the very reason that they succeed.
N. Originally founded in 2008, I Love Ugly burst onto the streetwear scene in 2012 with its on-trend, minimalistic street-style menswear appealing to many young Kiwi males. Tell us how it all began…
It began with a dream to create a juggernaut brand. I began putting my illustrations on t-shirts and selling them. I took everyday as it came and made sure that I was constantly creating something unique.
N. Where did the name I Love Ugly came from?
When I was at university I came up with the words ‘I Love Ugly’ and began using them as my artist name, and then as a name of a magazine I started, which interviewed other visual artists and designers from around the world who I found on My Space. I figured starting a magazine was going to be a tough gig and started putting my illustrations onto clothing. I needed a name, so I decided to call my brand I Love Ugly. It made people curious and developed that sense of wonder, plus, it was memorable.
N. I Love Ugly’s honesty about the challenges of running a fashion label is refreshing and encouraging to follow. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in the past
I appreciate that. We weren’t using this honesty approach as a gimmick to get people talking about the brand; we just wanted to be transparent about what was going on. The truth always gets out, so it may as well come from us. The biggest challenge in the last 12 months was the banks tightening up on retail businesses due to a few big brands going into liquidation. We were given 7 days to pay back the same amount of debt most people would have 30 years to pay. We managed to get through it with insane hustle and team work. Once you go through that, you feel like you can take on anything.
N. At one stage, media suggested that the brand was in trouble, with international stores closing and 50% off sales. What happened and how have you managed to recover?
The ratio of negative news compared to positive news in the media nowadays is 20:1. So people should not believe everything the media says. Yes we shut down some international stores due to exponential rent increases and went on a big sale to clear some stock due to not wanting to pursue distribution anymore, but it wasn’t as bad as they made it out to be. ILU is an innovative company, so a certain degree of recklessness and insanity is necessary to advance in anything and to make new and remarkable discoveries. What great thing was ever accomplished without a bit of recklessness? We tried more things in the last few years than most businesses would try in their whole life. Any plunge into the unknown is reckless, but that’s where the treasure lies.
N. How do you deal with feedback like that in the media, especially when you know the truth about what’s happening behind the scenes?
It’s just part of it. It used to get to me, but I soon realized that you can’t expect to stick your neck out without some sort of backlash. I see struggle and negativity as a positive thing, and necessary for growth. I know that in order to win in this world, you must begin ‘doing’ at whatever cost and no matter what people say.
N. I Love Ugly’s Zespy pants have become an iconic staple in the wardrobes of many Kiwi males. Why do you think these particular pants have been so popular?
It’s because they are unique, they went against the grain, and we marketed it in a very unique way. It’s not only popular here, they are insanely popular in the US, UK and Australia.
N. I Love Ugly’s Generations campaign proposes a juxtaposition between young boys and their life aspirations, and older gentlemen and their life regrets, with both generations wearing past and present I Love Ugly pieces. Where did inspiration come from for this campaign?
This campaign illustrated our core message, which is to never give up on your dreams and aspirations no matter how radical or bizarre they are. It’s to show that smart and safe goals almost always end up being small goals. There’s an old saying that the masses of men lead quiet lives of desperation. The point of this campaign was to encourage people to think like a kid again, and don’t get to an age where you have regretted not pursuing your dreams.
N. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
To do something meaningful.
N. How do you start each day?
Gratitude. Followed by going outside immediately and breathing in fresh air. This is if my youngest son hasn’t woken me up before this.
N. When you design a collection, are you designing for a particular type of man? If so, who is he?
I am designing for a particular type of psychographic. Someone that embraces different, appreciates quality, and is independently minded. I really get in this zone and think about this psychographic. The creativity pours out after that.
N. Name 5 things you can’t live without.
My wife, my 3 kids and I Love Ugly.
N. I Love Ugly recently collaborated with Onitsuka Tiger to create the I Love Ugly x Onitsuka Tiger North-South Pack, 2 distinct sneakers representing both the north & south islands of New Zealand. This is the first time an Australasian brand has collaborated with one of the world’s oldest sportswear companies. How did the collaboration come about and what did it mean for I Love Ugly?
It came about from certain staff members from Asics being obsessed with ILU and continually coming into our LA store. From there we built a relationship and I went and visited their HQ to get the project going. It was a big deal for us, and we ended up selling over 370 pairs in 24 hours on our online store.
N. What is Newmarket’s best kept secret?
Rialto cinemas and Archie’s restaurant.
N. A large portion of I Love Ugly online following and customers, come from the US. How does the US retail market differ to NZ?
The US customer dives deep into brands once you have established a connection with them. They buy more frequently and really sport the brand, head to toe. They are passionate and are constantly looking for a brand that offers a point of difference. Even when we opened our LA store, customers were asking me to sign garments and taking photos with me. It was crazy.
N. It’s 10am on a Sunday, where will we find you and what are you doing?
Probably at my parents house, for our weekly family lunch.
N. A few of your Instagram posts suggest that you are often approached by others who wish to start their own labels. What is the single most important piece of advice that you’d give to them?
Just start. Whatever you make of yourself in the future hinges off making bold action today. Be genuine and authentic, keep hungry, stay persistent and most importantly, be patient. When you plant a seed today, don’t expect a tree tomorrow.
N. What’s next for I Love Ugly?
We are really doubling down on digital. We are going to re-enter the US aggressively. We are tweaking and grooming the brand to become the best in the world.
2-8 Osborne Street, Newmarket