I Love Ugly is quite clearly New Zealand's fastest growing clothing brand with a huge following online and internationally. Founder Valentin Ozichs and his team have all of the elements in place to ensure that I Love Ugly is only going to grow, in many directions.
interview: Yasmine Ganley photos: Oliver Rose
Yasmine Ganley: Hi Valentin, how you doing? What have you been up to? Valentin Ozichs: I just got back from Wellington today, we just opened a store in Wellington, in the Bank Arcade Building, it’s on the floor below street level so it feels quite secretive and exclusive down there. We have painted one wall black and the other wall white so it is a pretty cool space. We have a great team down there to kick things off, Wellington has such a cool vibe, great community feel, we had a good time down there. We even had queues at the door while trying to open! Wow things are really moving this year - you guys just recently opened your store within The Department Store too! Yeah, we have our own area in The Department Store now which is really cool, great allignment for us, we are really happy with the space we have created in there. We’re thinking big. We want a store in Tokyo and NYC in the next 24 months. How does your retail store go up against your online stores? Do you see a difference here? Oh, absolutely. Online is huge. Our online store will sell out of newly released products immediately. Normally, we will release a product on our blog or on our Facebook page first and then do a release in our stores the following day. What would you say your most desired piece would be? Probably our pants, our printed shirts, and our watches were really popular also. The best seller would be our five panel caps. Those caps are everywhere too! Where does the five panel concept come from? It was originally a military hat. I remember a resurgance of them happening when fixed gear bikes were all the rage! Yep, for sure, that was a huge movement for menswear overall. Have you always only concentrated on designing menswear? We used to do womenswear, but have been solely focused on menswear the past few years now. We have a lot of girls wearing our shirts and hats, though. I think one day we might think about introducing some womenswear pieces. Do any women work in the company? No, haha. Not yet. I think the boys would get too distracted! I’ve purposefully done that, no no I'm kidding....We do have an accounts lady starting with us one day a week, but she is much older, so it won’t matter so much! So who helps you with the designing and creative of the brand? We have introduced a Monday morning meeting that happens for about 3-4 hrs every week with four of my guys on the creative team. Any more than that would be a nightmare I think, we have a good flow and similar ideas but can all bring something new to the table. We talk about everything, what’s happening in the world, what we saw on the weekend and maybe a new blog, outfit, or something that has inspired us. This all leads into the brand and how we can adapt and move. We have also adopted a method that Google use; spending 20% of their time working on personal projects. To do so they completely isolate themselves from the normal day-to-day running of the business. From this time, 80% of their ideas are created eg. Gmail was created from this. I thought that was pretty genius, so we tried it and it worked it great. Who would you say your target male is? Who are you making I Love Ugly for? We have this picture framed in the main offices of a stream of words about the I Love Ugly man; describing what we does, where he lives, what cologne he wears, what he wears to the gym, what beer he drinks, it’s our go to “image” of words and everything we do has to surpass this ethos. eg: high-end, quality, premium, neutral, cultured, sophisticated, groomed, white walls, plants, art, high-end, jazz hip hop to name a few. We also have this theory of “the golden age” being 28-years-old. Because younger men would always want to dress older whereas older men wouldn’t always want to dress younger. We think 28-years-old is the golden age for our target male. So when did the I Love Ugly brand start and when did you feel things start to take off? I visited Tokyo six months ago and for me that was a real turning point for myself and the brand. I Love Ugly for me turned into a canvas, I wanted clean clothes and a clean canvas to start from again. I absolutely love the Japanese culture. They all look so similar so are forced to be so different and stand out. I think this is why they give all their attention to the details. This is something that I really admire. Since I have come back from Tokyo I am keeping that as my driving vision of where the I Love Ugly brand is heading. Our ethos is “sophisticated simplicity with a twist”. So what does the I Love Ugly customer experience when they walk into your stores? We have tried to make it that when a customer steps into our stores they are stepping into their ideal wardrobe. Each store, in a nutshell, is designed so everything a young man (18-30) needs, we have. We pick a particular smell, we play a particular type of music, everything is immaculate, the customer service is good and the whole experience is easy. We want people to not be scared of shopping, we want them to come out feeling ‘shit that was easy’. The guy serving me was good, the product is good and price is good...I’m happy. Buyers remorse is something all of us at I Love Ugly hate, so we want to eliminate that from our customer and have them returning for more. We are also thinking about adding a girl into one of our retail spaces, as a trial, to see how that affects the brand from a retail point of view. We eventually want to open stores in the UK, Canada, South America, Australia, Denmark and California. They're next on the list. We want to open in New York, Tokyo, Paris, Sydney, then more after that.
You have an amazing following online, a powerful blog and your Facebook page is in overdrive! We have a blog, I like to see it as a visual diary of our ideal world, I love looking at that page, it represents everything we are as a brand. We have around 34,000 fans on Facebook and add around 1000 a day. That’s amazing! Are you creating specific online content for your website, blogs and Tumblr? Absolutely. We just scored an account with Dover Street Market through our presence online. Congratulations! What do you think of other websites/blogs around online? Do you feel other online outlets have helped you with you spreading your brand, ideas and message around? I think Hypebeast have helped push our product for sure. They are product driven sites and this definitely helps with sales and new customers. On the other hand I also think that smaller niche blogs have helped push our voice across the internet. These blogs are so important to us as I think they are who influences the product sites and it trickles down into sales from there. We have just got our product to be worn by ASAP Rocky and School Boy Q. Hip hop is important to us. I heard that Kanye West wears your pants! Ha ha, yeah I think so. From the images I saw they were exactly our pants, but they did also resemble Raf Simon’s pants so I’m not going to deny it and I’m not going to claim it either. But yeah, it did our brand pretty good either way. So tell us about your team behind the scenes. Who works for you and what do they do? I think that you get the people in your life you deserve. I think everyone that works closely to me came to me for what ever reason beyond my control. Zac is my right hand man, he helps me with the design side of things. Ash, he is the driver of all of our content. Can you talk about your design approach and process - maybe an example of an idea or image that you or your creative team has bought to the Monday creative meetings which has followed through to product design? Creating the I Love Ugly man. Creating his world and then designing products for this guy and for his world. Prior to this we just had a blank canvas with a clean aesthetic. The Monday meetings bought this idea out and really built on it. At the moment I am designing for 2014, and I am just trusting my eye and instinct all the way. Do you design pieces that are for editorial use only? Yeah, we call them “bait products”. Pieces that lure the customer in and then we have the basics to back them up. We also like to think of our market as a pyramid - our aim being to target the top stylists and influencers at the top of the tier which will then hopefully drip down into the masses and turn into sales. Talk us through the last collection, what were the feature designs from that? I designed some sick pieces - jackets with pig-skin suede arms. Also, some pieces with embroidery patches that we are really excited about. In a general sense, what inspires you Valentin? Travel. Im planning on going to Las Vegas, Berlin and New York for the tradeshows, not to show, just to look around and soak it all up. I recently watched Killing Him Softly a film with Brad Pitt, that was epic, you have to see that. And have you seen Tom Ford’s movie? A Single Man? Yes, I have, amazing. It is done so well. You should watch the doco on him too Where His Pants Take Him - he comes across so well in it, I was really inspired by that. Cool, so what’s next for I Love Ugly? I would like to create lines of everything; cologne, shoes, sunglasses, get some really great collabs going. We have some amazing collabs in the mix for next season which are hush-hush at the minute but I am so excited about that. What about designing furniture, it seems like something you would like to branch into? I already do! Ha ha! Me and a couple of friends have a furniture company called SKV. You should check it out!