Last year was a quiet year for men’s streetwear label I Love Ugly, if previous years are anything to go by.
The brand begun in 2008, with founder Valentine Ozich originally envisioning illustration and design collective that would profile musicians and artists around the world.
Clothing became the choice of creative outlet instead, and the minimalistic, on-trend menswear catapulted into the consciousness of young Kiwi males.
Its first store opened in Mount Eden in 2012, while that same year, I Love Ugly bet out Kowtow Clothing and Ingrid Starnes to win a $10,000 DHL Express Fashion Export Scholarship.
In 2014, it was one of the only fashion retailers amongst a sea of tech companies to make the Deloitte Fast 50.
Riding on a wave of success and great press, it seemed I Love Ugly could do no wrong. It expanded rapidly into the US and Australian markets with its bricks-and-mortar stores in 2015, snapping up prime real estate in Los Angeles and Melbourne.
But later that year, I Love Ugly hit a snag when its men’s jewellery campaign imagery came under heavy criticism due to the explicit nature of the photographs, which featured naked women.
Consumer backlash was swift, with an official ASA complaint was lodged. After initially responding with an identical campaign with the gender roles reversed, I Love Ugly withdrew the advertisements and offered forward an apology.
Speaking candidly in a sit-down interview, Ozich says the brand made the mistake of buying into its own hype a bit.
“Something within our culture is constant, never-ending improvement and looking at what we did wrong, but also what we did right. It’s being humble enough to know when we made a mistake,” he says.
“We became a lot humbler [after the ring incident] and we’ve still got a long way to go.”
Reflecting on the experience two years later, Ozich describes it as a catalyst for change within the company.
“The ring campaign was real controversial. The fact we stuck our neck and got really cut – it scared us a little bit. We almost used it as an opportunity to reset, as this project [Onitsuka Tiger collaboration] has been nearly two years in the making,” he says.
“For any artist, brand, company or musician, every six years or so you almost come to the end of your life cycle and you have to reflect and look at everything you’re doing and have to go in with a fresh perspective and re-approach everything with a different way of thinking.”