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Then + Now With Valentin Ozich — 15 Year Anniversary

Then + Now With Valentin Ozich — 15 Year Anniversary

Valentin Ozich founded I Love Ugly 15 years ago from his bedroom in Auckland, NZ. Initially a passion project, ILU was conceived through late nights spent pondering over a rapidly expanding body of designs and illustrations. With no business experience, no fashion experience, and a bold vision to create a global brand, I Love Ugly was born.

As you celebrate the 15th anniversary of I Love Ugly, could you share some key milestones or turning points in the evolution of the brand over the years? How has the business transformed since its inception? 

The most significant milestone is that we're still standing. The fashion world is inherently challenging, with the odds stacked against success. The demands for innovation, the competition, and constant evolution, along with the personal growth required to drive the brand forward, is lot of pressure and requires a lot of energy.  

Comparing the business we are today to when I first started it in my bedroom 15 years ago is incomparable. When I first started, all I had was a vision. It was my most valuable asset. No prior business experience, no funds, no existing customer base, no team, and I didn’t even know how to turn on a sewing machine. Now, we've amassed valuable business experience, established a loyal customer base, built an incredibly talented team and continue to expand on our vision. 

Its part of my daily ritual to be grateful and appreciative to have reached this point as we have had so many near death experiences. I'm aware that this level of success isn't guaranteed for everyone so I'm reminded how blessed I am every single day. 

 
Many successful entrepreneurs experience personal growth alongside their businesses. How has your journey with I Love Ugly contributed to your personal development? Are there any significant lessons or experiences that stand out? 

I firmly believe that the most testing moments in life offer the most profound lessons and blessings. Some of the most successful and happiest individuals I know have faced significant challenges in their lives, yet they've chosen to view these experiences as gifts rather than burdens. It's a common mistake for people to wish for fewer problems, when in fact, I believe that can be their greatest obstacle.

My journey with I Love Ugly has been a profound learning experience considering when I came into this game I was young, naive and had no experience. I simply viewed business as a reflection of life itself. Both are filled with highs and lows and figured early on that in order for the business to grow, I'm going to have to personally grow. It's how we navigate and carry ourselves through the tough times that truly shapes our character and defines us as individuals. 

How has I Love Ugly managed to evolve while staying true to its core values and aesthetics? What principles have been instrumental in this process? 
We were resolute in upholding our values, even when faced with the temptation to stray away from them. We never compromised the integrity of the brand for short-term financial gains. Our commitment to consistency prevailed, irrespective of market trends or the actions of other brands. We embraced our uniqueness, about doing things differently, and weren’t scared of failure, regardless of potential consequences. Above all, we maintained a dedication to a people-first culture.
 
Reflecting on the past 15 years, can you share a specific instance where a challenge or setback turned into an opportunity for growth, both for you and the brand? How did you navigate this situation, and what did you learn from it? 
While I was in Melbourne, we had a significant outstanding balance from a wholesale account. The payment deadline passed without them settling the amount, and it took them nearly 60 days to settle the bill. This experience was a wakeup call for me. It made me realise that, for our survival, we couldn't depend on anyone but ourselves. It was at that juncture we decided to become a direct-to-consumer brand, and to cut all wholesale. Looking back, it may seem like an obvious choice, but at the time, it was a bold and innovative move. Their delayed payment turned out to be one of the greatest blessings we received. 
 
In celebration of the ILU 15-year anniversary we are looking back to look forward with our “Then + Now” Campaign. We are looking at why evolution is important and to who we are and how we move forward. In what ways do you believe the early days and the initial vision of I Love Ugly continue to shape the brand's future?  

When I founded I Love Ugly, it was a manifestation of my passion for art and design. The name itself, "I Love Ugly," was a declaration of my dedication to art, creativity, and realising one's unique vision, whatever the heck that may be. I was convinced it would not only intrigue, but also spark curiosity in people. 

For me, I Love Ugly served as a canvas for projecting my perspective on the world. It was about unearthing the unconventional, about embracing being the outlier and standing out from the crowd. I believe that embedding this ethos into the brand's DNA over the past 15 years has not only shaped its past, but will continue to define its future. 

If you look back over the last 15 years both in the business and in your personal life what would advice would you give your younger-self?  

- Success in your business doesn't define your overall success as a person. 

- Success in your personal life defines how successful you are.  

- Building a brand isn't for everyone. It demands substantial personal sacrifices – be mindful of that. 

- Your kids are only young once, and remember, you're the youngest you'll ever be at this very moment. 

- Take vacations before you think you need them. 

- Avoid the error of overestimating what you can achieve in a year and underestimating what you can accomplish in 15 years. 

- Practice patience. 

- There's more to life than work.

Where do you see yourself and ILU in another 15 years? 

I aspire to maintain good health, strong relationships with my partner, children, family and friends, and have a constant drive for self-improvement. I also to help as many people as I can in some capacity.  

As for I Love Ugly, I envision it evolving into a revered heritage brand with a larger global presence, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the most esteemed brands worldwide. I can also envision it expanding beyond clothing, venturing into realms like music, education, and mindset. Who knows, maybe even our very own university someday! 

What advice would you tell your future self? 

Savor this moment; life passes by so god-damn quickly. Keep learning, keep making mistakes, and keep broadening your horizons. Health is paramount. Never take it for granted, invest in it daily. Regardless of your character and aspirations, life has its own course, accept this. Embrace the present, as it can quickly change. Take pride in who you are, aim to be a virtuous person, and don't shy away from building something meaningful. Remember, it's equally crucial to know when to take breaks in your life as the resets are just as important as the doing the work. 

Click here to view the full 15 year Anniversary Collection

 

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