- As a fresh face to Taiwan’s market and Taiwanese fashion followers, can you please briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Valentin Ozich. I am the founder and Creative Director of menswear brand I Love Ugly.
- What is your growing background and how did it influence who are you today?
As a kid I had my fingers dipped in many pies. I use to skate a lot with my 4 brothers, building our own mini Skate-parks. Due to too many ankle injuries I started to seriously get into my football. What I loved about football is players were to a degree there own ‘brand’. The way you wore your boots, your socks, whether you jersey was tucked in or out usually complimented the way you played the game. I took a lot from this as well as music. I once upon a time had an experimental hip-hop group where I rapped and made the music, as well as designed the aesthetic for the group, and market it. It taught me to hustle and network with people. It also taught me how to package something up and sell it to make a profit. All these things I believe, helped influence where I am today.
- What obstacles and challenges have you faced along the way? Please briefly describe the most significant one.
Too many to mention. Being in this business or any business I might add, has its series of challenges and obstacles. I believe fashion though, is one of the most cut throat industries in the world, and to rise above you really need to have your ideas and business structure solid. I would say our most challenging was when we were over and above our heads in debt. We were relying on an account to pay us a very substantial amount of money at the time, and they didn’t. We really hurt. What it taught us and made us do, was change our business model so we would never be in that situation again. Our team is full of optimists. So when you take the approach of every ‘problem’ is just an opportunity in disguise, you end up moving forward and becoming resilient to these situations very quickly.
- What inspired you to become a designer or an owner of a brand?
I fell into it by accident to be honest. I never had the intentions to start a brand. I began selling cool t-shirts under the alias ‘I Love Ugly’ from there it began to snowball. I then began toying with other pieces. I always took the approach of going into it at a different angle, and it seemed to pay off.
- After all these struggles and challenges, how would you define yourself as a designer or a creative director today? Do you think it will change in the future?
That’s a pretty bold question. But what I would say, is I now have the confidence and trust in myself to take an idea and turn it into a reality to a level which I am happy with. I am constantly striving to better myself and for the brand to constantly be pushing boundaries on everything we do. I hope nothing changes in the future, the only person who can control that is myself. I believe as soon as you stop seeing flaws in your work, you have stopped growing as a creative. That’s the beautiful thing in the world of creativity…. there is no correct answer, and there is no end.
- Please use one sentence to describe your brand’s identity and aesthetics.
Sophisticated simplicity with a twist.
- Since AW14 collection is the first season for this brand to be in a store in Taiwan, can you briefly talk about the inspiration and focus for the AW14 collection?
Firstly, it’s a real honor for the gospel of the brand to be branching out to Taiwan. Every time we enter a new country, it humbles me and makes me appreciate to where the brand is at. As you all know, fashion is tough. You have to predict your trends a considerable amount of time in advance and hope that your customer, will be on board with it. As the time of the release of this collection was approaching we felt that, what we had designed 10 months ago wasn’t quite aligned with where our inspiration was at and where we believed I Love Ugly should be.
We ended up cutting a lot of what was originally designed and took a completely different approach in the designing of the new collection. We ended up opening ourselves up to get a lot more feedback from our staff members, especially our retail staff which we haven’t done before, especially in a regimented manner.
We have 4 flagship stores, so we now have the ability to get very direct customer feedback on how everything is being perceived. It’s a pretty powerful source of information if you take it on board. What we also find very helpful is our staff members understand the brand inside out, and are also big fans of it. This results in a constant flow of feedback and understanding if something is going to bang or not.
Also our Head Designer Zac Savulko was given a lot more freedom to move within the collection. He has been shadowing me for over 2 years now and since the business is getting significantly larger I am now moving into a full role of Creative Direction. Our design process has really flourished with Zac being much younger and up to date with how the market is moving, and I have now got a lot more room to look at things in a more holistic point of view . With all of the above as well as really getting in deeper with more classic mens tailored wear and fusing it with our take on sports and streetwear, we ended up creating something very unique. We are super happy with the result, and feel its by far I Love Uglys best work to date.
- Within the AW14 collection, what is your favorite garment that you think customers should definitely have it in their wardrobe?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t have one favorite piece in particular. I look at our collections in there entirety.
- For AW14, what styling advices would you give for readers and fashion followers in Taiwan?
I don’t usually give styling advice as such. But as I would say to everyone, be comfortable in your skin. No point trying to dress like someone who you have seen on a blog. The person looks like that, because those particular pieces were styled to look good on him or her. Our pieces are designed so everything can work with everything. Be experimental but at the same time, try to keep it classic.
- As a designer, you know that creating a collection is not only about constructing individual garments, but also having a vision for the entire look and style for the season. What is your own style and where is it mostly influenced from?
To be honest, I Love Ugly is to a degree my own personal style. I pour so much into it, I feel its taken on a personality of its own, which I have really helped craft. I get influenced from everywhere, I then process all the information and the result is what you see every month and in every product.
- Nowadays, a lot of brands are creating similar fits and just crowning their owns as “essentials.” In your opinion, what are some real essential garments that can survive through trends?
I believe, one of the biggest risks for a brand is to expose themselves to the mercy of a trend. Be individual, be innovative, be confident, and you will become your own trend. If your brand has a crystal clear vision, anything that goes on outside of that will not matter.
- Everyone knows that the fashion industry is getting very saturated and industrialized, how do you separate yourself/your brand from the crowd?
I think the fact that I Love Ugly is based in New Zealand which is so isolated from the rest of the world, has actually worked to our advantage. When you don’t have a sea of other brands to look to for inspiration, you end up creating something , that I hope to be unique and powerful. I believe it pays off. We are a niche brand, yet we have 4 I Love Ugly stores in New Zealand with a population of only 4.6 million people and are about to open our fifth flagship store in Los Angeles, California. The only reason is because we have stuck to our guns and have set a vision in place, which we abide to on a daily basis. We don’t sway to one side of the market just because everybody else is doing it, we believe that’s sheepish, and you end up becoming caught up in the discount and ‘whos got the cheapest price’ world. This is something that a lot find hard to resist, but you must persevere and be very mindful that this all about the long game. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and brand is exactly the same. Whenever you do see a brand pop up and rise to the top quickly, you often don’t see or hear from them ever again in an even quicker amount of time. It takes a while to adjust and build. What the consumer sees on the service level, is only about 30% of the work. What goes on behind closed doors to make that product get to market is a whole different ball game, and something that most are completely unaware of.
- With the explosion of social media’s power (tumblr and instagram) for people to share their inspiration and ideas, do you think it’s a bonus for designers to find more inspirations or do you think it’s a limitation for designers to come up with unique and creative ideas for developing his/her own identity? In other words, is social media a plus or minus to designers?
Social media is a complete plus, for us anyhow. We began our business right in the middle of the Global Financial Crisis. This is the time when the weak die and the strong survive. You are forced to be innovative because people are more hesitant to buy as they have much less disposable income. For us, we couldn’t afford to promote our brand using the conventional forms of advertising therefore we had to turn to free tools to spread our brand, and for us it was social media. Its great because you are directly talking to your customer. They can then pick up the brands ethos and tone in an instantaneous way, where is if we had an advert in a magazine, you would absolutely never get that same effect. Nowadays its not only about having a brand that creates great garments, but its who is the best at social media. It’s a much more complicated beast then what it even was 3 years ago.
- The fine line between streetwear and high-end fashion is blurring. Do you agree with this on-going movement? In your opinion, Is this trend/movement a good or bad thing for fashion industry?
Everything that’s currently going on, is a good thing. One movement leads to another, end of the day there are no rules therefore we should be receptive about what will happen next.
- In addition, the seasons are slowly blurring as well. Is this slowly becoming an issue for you to design garments according to just Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter?
Not at all. For a while now we have been a trans-seasonal brand. We have accounts all over the world, both Southern and Northern Hemisphere markets. So with this said, when its hot in one place of the world its cold in another. It also keeps things exciting for us. Nothing would bore us more then only designing for one hemisphere at a time.
- After this successful AW14 collection, what can we expect from the brand moving into next season and next year?
We have just released our own Fragrance which has been a great success. So we are looking at dabbling into more of these types of projects, as well as strengthening our existing programs such as footwear and leather goods. We will be looking at opening up a New York City store in 2015 as this has been an increasingly growing market for us in the last 12 months, also we have a few collaborations in the pipeline. As a company, we have huge aspirations. Our goal is to be the best menswear brand in the world. What that looks like, we don’t know. Its our job to make our brand visually look like that statement. By having this goal in place, it forces you to look at every detail of every garment and every social touch point, and every word you say with focus and precision. Every staff member knows it, therefore they carry themselves with pride and pour energy into what they are doing.
- Ne.Sense’s AW14 theme for the store and styling lookbook is “outcast.” The message we are trying to bring out is that everyone is an outcast in some way, which can be culturally, mentally, or physically. However, the ability to truly embrace your outcast-ness is the most organic way to find your own passion and identity. This is true because the moment when you discover that you are different is the moment that you know you are special for something. Have you experienced one of these turning moments in your life before? Please briefly describe it.
I grew up in a traditional Croatian family with 5 siblings. My parents had a very conventional way of looking at the world. Work hard, go to school, get a degree, get married, buy a house. They didn’t mention anything about doing what your passionate about and chasing your dreams, no matter what. I had to discover that myself, doing it the hard way. I went against all my parents beliefs, and did things completely opposite to all my friends and family. It was tough for me, as the last thing you want to do is have your flesh and blood disown you. But, I pursued on with my journey and have now created something that my parents are proud of and my siblings are inspired by. There’s a quote that I love which I have in one of our stores. ‘To lead the orchestra, you got to turn your back on the crowd’. That’s what I have done all my life.
- Ne.Sense, short for Necessity Sense, is a boutique store which has vision to raise appreciations toward art, design, and fashion in Taiwan. To you, what is necessity sense? In other words, what kind of sense do you think is necessary to live a high-quality life?
Look after your body and especially your mind. If you want to be successful, what comes with success is long hours, emotionally draining decisions and situations. If you want the best outcome, you need to be on you’re A-game at all times. So with this, I make sure im very careful about what I put inside my body. I nurture my mind on a daily with content and reading material that will only make me better tomorrow. When I go to do my job, I feel much lighter and reenergized, so the situation at hand, is given my 100% concentration.
- Do you have any teasing updates that you can share with us?
Not so much, we are excited to be working with you guys. We feel very aligned with your aesthetic and values and like that you take things beyond just clothing. To be perfectly honest, its pretty hard to keep secrets nowadays when instagram is almost part of your embodiment.
Great Talking to you guys.