I Love Ugly proudly represents New Zealand as one of the country’s most coveted menswear brands that epitomises the definition of cool. The brand’s uncompromising approach to design and innovation is a refreshing take on the streetwear scene. Zara Overton caught up with designer Valentin to learn more about his inspiring take on business, celebrating 10 years of the brand and on his recent win as Newmarket’s Young Business Person of the Year.
N. Congratulations on being announced as Newmarket’s Young Business Person of the Year at the Newmarket Business Awards. What do awards like this mean to you?
I appreciate that. In all honesty, I’m not usually a fan of awards. I feel the most important award is knowing deep down that I’ve given it my all. However, this award was different. As you know I’ve had a challenging few years, so to be recognised as a successful businessman rather than just a designer is a great feeling. My confidence as an entrepreneur had taken a big hit after the turbulence the business had gone through so receiving this accolade gave me a boost of confidence and a reminder that my team and I are doing the right thing.
N. I Love Ugly celebrates its 10 year anniversary this month, a pretty huge achievement for the brand. Looking back on 10 years, what stands out as some of your highlights?
We have had many highlights which makes me feel blessed looking back retrospectively. The most notable moments were all our collaborations (Jansport, Onitsuka Tiger, Bailey Nelson, Jesse Draxler) as well as our store openings. But the biggest highlight was the LA store opening in 2015. There was a line of people outside waiting to come in. It was a real buzz. We just launched our new podcast titled the I Love Ugly Audio Show which is the number 1 podcast show in the country. This was a huge highlight for me, because we are competing in a brand new market and to reach the top so quickly is testament that we aren’t just a clothing brand and we can do anything we put our minds to.
N. The brand has been involved in some impressive collaborations with the likes of Onitsuka Tiger, and more recently collaborated on an eyewear collection with Bailey Nelson. How do collabs like these contribute to the I Love Ugly brand?
They are really important as they open us up to new markets and give our current fans something special. However, it’s important to balance the art with the science because it’s easy to get caught up in the art. What I mean by that is making sure we are doing the collaboration for the right reasons, and not overspending on things that look great and emotionally they get you excited, but knowing that it makes no financial sense.
If it doesn’t stack up financially it can do more bad than good.
N. You’re often asked for advice from budding designers or creatives in which you share the knowledge you’ve picked up along the way, answering questions on social media as well as through your online ‘Journal’. This level of accessibility and transparency is something that we don’t see particularly often in NZ. Why do you think it is important to share your insights/be so open?
Because if you don’t share knowledge you’re living in a scarcity mindset. If you’re open and share knowledge you have an abundance mindset. I choose to live with an abundance mindset. When you publicly share advice you crystallise your ideas which allows you to become a better thinker. You also have the added bonus of helping people succeed and avoid making the same mistakes I made. Nobody was doing this when I started, and I struggled, so I want to change that. I’m passionate about making my mark in this world, and right now I am starting by helping people avoid making the same mistakes I made in business and inspiring them to become a better version of themselves by sharing my philosophy of life.
N. On the topic of transparency, you have been incredibly open about the hardships and challenges that you have faced growing the business. What is one thing you have learnt from these experiences?
I learnt that these challenges and hardships were a necessary season in my life. Challenges and hardships aren’t bad, they are gifts and opportunities wrapped up in disguise, IF you begin to view them that way. This perspective has changed my life and made me realise that my biggest challenges have led to my biggest opportunities and allowed me to become the man I am today.
N. What is your all-time favourite piece from I Love Ugly?
I honestly have too many. I collect I Love Ugly jackets. I have around 40 of them. One day my sons will wear them, which I think will be pretty cool.
N. On the other side of this adversity, whilst the media are quick to point out and document the short falls and struggles that retailers and designers face, it is also important to celebrate the successes along the way. What do you do to celebrate success within the brand?
For a start, struggle is inevitable. It’s foolish to think struggle can be avoided, but we need to build upon those struggles rather than cutting people down when they experience them. The media’s very guilty for doing this. It is important to see struggle as progression. The closer you get to your goals the further you may feel sometimes. It’s 100% normal. It’s a paradox but it’s the truth. For us, we make sure we celebrate the small things, even the failures. The first Friday of every month we celebrate the successes and failures of the month prior. There’s always something to celebrate and learn from. We encourage the team to bring family, partners, kids and we talk, laugh, reflect and celebrate the wins and losses even if they are small.
N. What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Atomic Habits by James Clear and a lot of material around leadership, which is usually through Audible and podcasts. At any one time I might be reading 3-4 different books around different subject matters. Some of the best advice I received was the difference between you now and you in 5 years, is the books you read and the people you meet. That’s stuck with me.
N. Who are your favourite designers locally and internationally?
Internationally I like Norse Projects and Tres Bien (Sweden). Locally, I’ve always been a fan of Karen Walker and I also like what the young guys at Platform are doing.
N. And what’s on your workroom playlist?
The I Love Ugly studio playlist which is on Spotify.
N. Whilst we’ve seen the rise in digital, store experience is still a vital part of the brand. Can you tell us about I Love Ugly’s Newmarket space/store design?
This store was designed 6 years ago, after travels to Japan. It’s moody and designed to feel like a lounge. We have intentionally made it feel intimate and focused on all the different senses. Recently, we have wanted to modernise it, but every time we go to do it, we end up liking it how it is. One thing I do love, is that it’s the only black store in Newmarket!
N. The I Love Ugly brand ethos goes far beyond the clothing, accessories and stores, but also extends across your media channels, evident in the stories and quotes you share and bring to life on your website and social media. What is your overall brand mission/vision?
The overarching mission of everything we do is to creatively inspire our customers to reach their aspirations. Our vision is to be the best omni-channel menswear brand in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. Once we achieve that, it will be the world.
N. The rise of the streetwear trend has seen a far more casual approach to dressing. Do you think that the rising visibility of streetstyle blogs, fashion influencers and celebrities has had an influence on the way men dress themselves?
Absolutely, that will always be the case. I also think that the way the “office dress code” has changed in recent years. Men no longer need to wear a suit and tie every day. Instead, sneakers, chinos and a T-shirt is acceptable. This has changed the whole landscape.
N. What are some upcoming menswear trends we can expect to see instore?
I think that clean preppy look is coming back, but we will see.
N. Social media has become ever so important in reaching a brand or customer, an extension of the brand and often the first touchpoint that a customer might have with the brand/product. How has social media changed the way you do business?
Without social media we wouldn’t be in business. So, we treat it with respect. The biggest mistake businesses make is thinking that being on social media is simply posting product and that’s it. That couldn’t be further from the truth. That is like being in a room with your customers, not asking how their day is going and straight away selling to them without caring about who they are, what their name is, what they like, what stories they want to hear, and what value we can provide them with. If you are in a relationship and your attitude is to only take from the other person, that relationship isn’t going to last very long. The same is true for social media. People are valuing their time more than ever, and if you are not giving them something worth spending their attention on, you will lose them. At I Love Ugly we are all about building a relationship with the customer and giving them value. This attitude has changed the way we use the platform.
N. How do you and your wife, Eleanor Ozich (an author, chef and creative in her own right) juggle two creative careers with family life?
It’s tough at times because Eley is just as ambitious as I am. But we make it work. We always make sure that family is our number one priority and if things begin to go off kilter, we cancel everything to ensure we are spending quality time together and with the kids. That’s usually the cure for all issues that may arise. Family is everything.
N. In a world that never seems to switch off, what does down time look like for you?
Great question. Down time for me is exercising at least 4 days a week, intense breathing sessions to oxygenate my blood, meditation, reading, going for walks, and the ultimate is going off the grid for 5 days on a hunting trip in the middle of the South Island with my best friend. That will recharge me for weeks, and something we try to do 3-4 times a year.
N. Best part about having a store in Newmarket?
I love being able to stroll through Newmarket and knowing we have a store there. I also feel Newmarket is shifting to become something special in the retail sector.
N. If there was one thing you could change about the way New Zealand men dress, what would it be?
Be more authentic and just wear what you want to wear and don’t dress to impress anybody else but yourself.
N. What’s next for I Love Ugly?
To impact as many people as we can and prepare for the next ten years. The business we have today will need to be completely different a decade from now if we want to survive. I’m looking forward to that.
2-8 Osborne Street | @iloveugly | iloveugly.com