The Ugly future of men's fashion

16:00, Nov 20 2012
Valentin Ozich
UGLY, BUT THEY LOVE IT: Valentin Ozich, of clothing brand I Love Ugly.

Designing clothes is the latest thing for a group of musicians who are behind the latest must-have men's brand, I Love Ugly.

Seven of the 10-strong Auckland label are either musicians or they used to play music, and when they are designing, they always have music playing.

Music is so key to their clothing brand, which is loved by Kate Sylvester's teenage sons, that I Love Ugly is even releasing its own giveaway album.

Brand founder Valentin Ozich has won the sought-after $10,000 DHL Express Fashion Export Scholarship 2012, beating Wellington finalist Kowtow, a clothing and accessories label, and Auckland finalist Ingrid Starnes, a womenswear designer.

The lifestyle brand sells fashionable men's clothing and products, such as watches, bags and shoes, globally from an online store, two Auckland boutiques, and its new Wellington store, which opened in the Old Bank Arcade last week.

I Love Ugly has product stocked in boutiques around the world, and the brand is more popular overseas than here.


"Since day dot, my vision was export, because that's a big market," says Ozich. "Our vision is to be one of the strongest menswear brands in the world."

Discussing the release of a signature cologne called Frank, developed with a French perfumier, next month, the 27-year-old says: "Visually, people know what I Love Ugly is, and now we want to tap into the senses".

I Love Ugly worked with various artists, such as Brooklyn artist Oddisee, to compile the giveaway album - a mix of electro, alternative and hip-hop styles made exclusively for the brand.

Ozich, a former hip-hop electro band member, says the album is not for sale, but will be given away at special events and for special customers.

With so many in the workroom being former musicians, "for our design process, there always has to be music, because that helps the ideas flow".

Instead of sticking to the traditional New Zealand retail model and creating two collections a year, I Love Ugly has started to release 11 annual product drops, each one made up of 20 to 40 garments and products.

"Nowadays, young people's attention spans are so small you have to constantly keep them entertained," he says.

"So we have adapted our business model to cater to that."

A strong brand signature is the focus on custom prints, which include florals, fruits, paisley, stripes and Daffy Duck.

Panelled caps, T-shirts, shirts, pants and shorts, are priced between $59 and $120, and the brand's top-selling item is the Zespy pant, a low-crotch style made of cotton.

Highlighting Ozich's attention to detail, a sticky note on these pants says, "Zespys are tight around your legs when you first put them on. After the first few hours of wear, they will loosen up. Sometimes in life you have to sacrifice short-term comfort for long-term style. Enjoy I Love Ugly."

Ozich always aims to think outside the square, which is evident from the embossing on the buttons, and the position of the ties on shorts - on the side instead of in the middle.

Auckland designer Kate Sylvester, one of the judges, says I Love Ugly is an aspirational brand appealing to both younger consumers and 35 to 40-year-olds. Her sons are big fans.

Mindfood's Carolyn Enting (former Dominion Post fashion editor), also a judge, says the other entries were really strong, but I Love Ugly "hit the nail on the head in terms of what guys are wanting to wear now".

With little happening in menswear, I Love Ugly is hitting on a market which has previously been neglected. "You've got to take your cap off to a brand that 12-year-old boys want to wear."

The prize pack includes $10,000 towards international freight and coaching in freight and logistics from DHL Express, while Fashion Industry New Zealand provides mentoring, as well as an annual subscription membership.

Having studied graphic design at Auckland's Unitec, Ozich has no formal fashion qualifications, so he says he will get the most out of the mentoring.

Born and bred in Auckland, he started I Love Ugly in 2008 in his spare time from working at the T-shirt company AS Colour.

He left the job when I Love Ugly started to grow.

Next, he plans to open I Love Ugly stores in Tokyo, New York, Berlin and Australia.

Past winners of the scholarship include the womenswear and lingerie label Lonely Hearts, Wellington-based clothing brand Twenty Seven Names, and Hamilton-based clothing label NYNE.