Creator Q&A: Valentin Ozich, Founder of I Love Ugly
Valentin Ozich is the Founder and Creative Director of Auckland, New Zealand-based menswear brand I Love Ugly. The label is internationally recognized by their original fits, designs, and minimalist streetwear aesthetic. In their journey to rapid success, I Love Ugly found themselves having to recalibrate their entire business and culture to get back to what makes the brand excel. We sit down to talk all things I Love Ugly as we explore the professional and personal narrative of brand visionary Valentin Ozich.
This article was featured in the Revel iOS app for men's fashion (https://appsto.re/us/fcUP7.i)
See full interview here: https://app.joinrevel.com/web/share?capsuleId=229
GOING BACK TO THE START OF I LOVE UGLY. WHATS UP THERE. PAINT THE PICTURE FOR ME.
I started I Love Ugly in 2008 with the dream of starting the best menswear brand in the world. I didn't know exactly what that meant at the time, but I could definitely feel it. I basically took the first step and began the journey, which is always one of the hardest parts. I had to become a great persuader and convince not only other people, but myself about this vision I had. When it first started I was naive but had bold ambitions ... those 2 ingredients can be a real driver for success if you use them smartly in the beginning stages.
WHAT'S THE OVERALL BRAND GOAL OF I LOVE UGLY? DOES THIS RESONATE WITH YOUR STORY AS A FOUNDER?
The goal of I Love Ugly is to become the brand of this generation. We want to empower our customer as opposed to just take from them. We want to contribute and add value to their lives as oppose to just offering them a t-shirt to buy. I Love Ugly's mission is to inspire our customer to reach their aspirations and actually give them the drive to do those things in life that they thought were just dreams. We do this by showcasing normal people that are doing incredible things, and showing our customer that they too could be like this person. Theres an old saying that the masses of men lead quiet lives of desperation. What I take from this is that the majority of people want to do something remarkable with their lives, but they are paralysed by fear and negative beliefs. I was once like this, but used this brand as a vehicle to break through it. I was just a graphic designer, but now im running a multi-million dollar brand thats going from strength to strength. If I believed all the bullshit my mind comes up with if I let it run wild, theres no way I would be where I am today. I now use I Love Ugly as a voice and platform to spread this message far and wide. Its not just a clothing company, its a brand that will make people get up in the morning and do that thing they have been avoiding.
CAN YOU ATTRIBUTE ANYTHING TO THE SUCCESS AND PROGRESSION OF I LOVE UGLY?
Naivety, hunger and vision. Full stop. Honestly, one of the biggest set backs is over analyzing and letting fear creep in to the point you don't start. But hunger is a biggie. If you don't have the hunger you ain't going to make it. Usually hunger is triggered from a painful or pleasurable experience. In my case it was pain. After I had a 3 month premature daughter I was depressed and hadn't got my shit together. I really used this as leverage and off I went.
THAT'S A GREAT POINT. DO YOU THINK ONE OF THE THREE (NAIVEITY, HUNGER, VISION) STRIKES YOU AS MOST IMPORTANT?
They're all extremely important. For example, naivety was a fantastic way for me to get educated quickly in business. Because I did a lot (and failed a lot) in such a short amount of time, but I don't recommend this for everyone. Now, I'm a lot wiser and wont ever make those same mistakes... because it fuckin' hurts and is damn hard to get out of. BUT, if you still have the hunger and the clear vision in mind, you can get through it. The biggest example was quickly expanding our international presence to meet the demand. We were growing quickly in the US and Australia, so thought the smartest thing to do was open an expensive LA and Melbourne store and also open ourselves up to a huge amount of wholesale accounts globally. Everything was going great until a few things changed, and we made some little mistakes that lead to some big problems. We didn't have enough governance within the business and loss control of the steering wheel. The way I look at it, is when you're driving a car without knowing how to read the dashboard, you're going to run into problems pretty quickly. Thats exactly what happened to us with the business.
HOW HAVE YOU KEEP THE SHIP MOVING FORWARD DURING THIS PROCESS?
Perseverance. Perseverance is what keeps you going when the going gets tough. Whatever you do, there's going to be times when you feel like quitting because its too damn hard or feel like you're going backwards. The main thing is to keep pushing forward. Keep believing and without realizing it, success or that breakthrough you have been after is just around the corner.
MOVING FORWARD TO THE EVOLUTION OF I LOVE UGLY AND THE TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS ALONG THE WAY, WHAT LED TO THE RESURGENCE CREATIVELY-SPEAKING? WAS IT SOMETHING THAT CAN CUSTOMERS CAN FEEL?
I think the customer knows us a lot better now. I know they found it refreshing that we weren't afraid to show our scars and admit that we fucked up. Too many brands nowadays cover up their mistakes and never admit to anything. We are about honesty and celebrating mistakes, because the mistakes are what make you. I feel we have a deeper connection with our customer and we now have an obligation to deliver. It's an exciting time.
DID YOU HAVE TO TAKE ANY STEPS BACK TO MOVE FORWARD?
Yes, we had to shut down 4 flagship stores, make 1/2 our staff redundant and shutdown majority of our wholesale business in order to reset and get our operating costs down. It meant we halved our revenue but it was one of those necessary things to do to survive. We have now reset and are finding our feet again. It's exciting because its made us more nimble and astute with what's going on in today's retail market. I feel with what we have upcoming and with the ideas that are coming out of the studio, it's going to make it an exciting next few years for us.
WHAT BECAME THE FOCUS TO GET I LOVE UGLY BACK TO WHERE IT IS TODAY?
Going back to basics. Doing the simple things right. You can be the coolest brand in the world with the dopest clothes, but if your inventory management and financial governance within your business is weak, you wont be able to go very far. We are also very focused right now on the internal culture, and getting the best people working for our company. Great people is what make's great companies great, so this should be one of the biggest priorities of any leader.
IN REGARDS TO THE INTERNAL CULTURE YOU MENTIONED, WHAT WAS THAT LIKE DURING THIS TRANSITION / BACK TO BASICS PERIOD?
The culture at I Love Ugly has always been great. We are a New Zealand brand, at the corner of the world, with bold ambitions of always wanting to punch above our weight. This attitude percolated throughout the whole business. Everything we did or put out, we always asked ourselves, 'does this look like the best'? So when we did run into trouble, is was very tough breaking the news to the team, who we all cared about dearly. Some people understood, some didn't. But at the end of the day, we were all sad more than anything. We have a real family culture at I Love Ugly, and the employees really put their heart into the brand, so when you're told that we are making some changes, it really hurts.
FROM PRODUCTS TO BRANDING TO BRAND MESSAGE, I LOVE UGLY IS VERY STRONG. WHAT DO YOU THINK MAKES I LOVE UGLY THE BRAND THAT STANDS TODAY?
We set very high standards. The competition is so fierce today, and brands are just getting better and better. Its important that we stand out and not blend in. We are all very clear on our brands principles, and remind ourselves of these principles in whatever we do.
WHAT ARE A FEW OF THE BIGGEST LEARNING LESSONS YOU TOOK AWAY AS AN ENTREPRENEUR STARTING YOUR OWN COMPANY?
Make sure to keep things simple. People have this tendency that by making things more complex means will lead to a greater result. I really disagree with this thinking. I have learnt that simple is best in all aspects of life and business. Also whenever you enter into a new opportunity ask yourself these 3 questions:
- Whats the upside of this opportunity?
- Whats the downside of this opportunity?
- If the downside happens, will it destroy my business?
If I asked myself those 3 questions, and answered them honestly and with real facts, as opposed to just my emotions, I would be in a very different position and would have avoided a lot of mistakes.
TO ANYONE STARTING A FASHION LABEL, WHAT WOULD YOU TELL THEM AS A FIRST STEP? ANY POINTERS ALONG THE WAY?
Before you start, spend a good amount of time thinking about what you are doing, what you want to achieve and why. It needs to be a compelling reason and something that really moves you, and it cant just be motivated by money. Once you think you have those answers, find some smart people that aren't going to bullshit you and get them to challenge it. It's amazing to hear the feedback someone has to an idea you may think is brilliant. You always want to get someone that's not in the trenches with you, because they will see the things you don't, and will ask you the questions you have not yet thought about. There's so much information out there on how to start a brand, but there's not enough information out there about the importance of thinking before you act. Quite often than not, setting aside 10 minutes with no distractions and just thinking, can give you some of the most profound ideas and breakthroughs that no book or blog will give you.
We want to send a special thank you to Valentin Ozich for his time. I Love Ugly can be found on Revel or via the @iloveugly website: www.iloveugly.com