How New Zealand’s ‘I Love Ugly’ Edged out Streetwear in the Pursuit of Attaining the Lifestyle Label
Evan Dale // Nov 1, 2020
I Love Ugly. It’s a bold central affirmation from which to outwardly cultivate a brand, let alone to build a brand into one of the most intriguingly design motivated and understatedly consistent collectives in the underbelly of an oversaturated streetwear market. And yet, without a glimpse in their portfolio that any eye would likely consider ugly, the New Zealand brand, born and bred, has spent more than a decade curating a blend between the idyllically minimal and the omnipresent statement. More often than not, their garments are less of what one might consider a traditional statement piece – instead more of a lifestyle staple; and yet each of their releases seem to make their respective, unsilenceable statement through tactio-visual detail by way of an ingrained, obsessive decade-long study of material and pattern.
It was in 2008 that founder and Creative Director, Valentin Ozich – then a graphics university student – began materializing his love for art and design into wearable works with a vision emerging through the mire. It was in 2009 when an initial collection surfaced from that original spark. In 2011, the aspiration to develop the best premium streetwear brand in the world, and a subsequent start of the next chapter. And a decade later? They haven’t not succeeded. Comparative adjectives are subjective after all, and for many who’ve sported an I Love Ugly piece through the years, there’s a case to be made that it’s at once that customer’s most reliable, most situationally applicable, and most unique piece in their wardrobe. And the fact that the company is achieving to some undeniable extent the very thing they sought after ten years back – all the way from Auckland – says even more about how it is that I Love Ugly hasn’t only disrupted but altered the course of streetwear through the golden era of modern streetwear’s rise.
2019 in particular was a milestone year for I Love Ugly. A dozen collections marked their release calendar as one of the most prolifically consistent creative teams in the fashion spectrum. Balancing the undeniably vain edges of any fashion brand pursuit, they also wrote, edited, and published eight articles on personal growth not only for fans of their own work or aspiring creatives, but simply for everyone. Along with a 10th anniversary line, an art collection, videographical pursuits, and a constant stream of more creativity-oriented engagements, they spent time curating a blog on humanhood and the pursuit of the internal bloom, edging out their competitors who claim lifestyle but only supply the clothing shell that a lifestyle actually requires. To truly spin a streetwear brand into an all-encompassing collective walking hand-in-hand with their customers through life, I Love Ugly knew they had to do some dirty work – or at least remove themselves from the design board, communicate their own utilitarian thoughts on life, and avoid sounding preachingly pedestaled. They succeeded, and their timing couldn’t have been better.
2020 brought with it, well… 2020. And for a streetwear brand to already have an ingrained passion for communicating with and connecting to the growth and mental health of their ever-growing clientele made them a particularly delicate tour-de-force in fashion. Fashion, after all, stalled out for a moment there. Human beings were home, uncomfortable about the state of their world, and in turn finding comfort in their sweatpants. I Love Ugly happens to make particularly comfortable sweatpants and hoodies and sweaters, and sweatshorts and socks and underwear, too. They also relayed their own strife of coronavirus life to their customers through more articles like ‘How to build an unshakable mindset amidst a global pandemic' while also releasing a notebook collaboration with Mi-Goals to help customers focus on growth at a time when it seemed like everything around them was wilting. Long story short, I Love Ugly has a profound understanding of the real-world applications that a streetwear brand with ever-expanding aspirations towards a more broad strokes label like lifestyle can and should contribute to a customer’s actual arch. Honesty and forthright conversations on the state of it all are what has long led to the necessity of their design through style, so for a tightknit team with an open mind, that same line of thinking organically flowed into other arenas of communicative creativity.
So, where is I Love Ugly now? Well, life is wide-ranging and unpredictable, so the brand – with Valentin Ozich at the helm – follows suit. A podcast exploring all things creativity and business à la Jeff Staples now 30 episodes deep; a continued exploration of clothing and accessories that has tapped into everything from leather bags to sunglasses; a growing blogspace for meditative thought; collaboration opportunities with a line of featuring creatives down the street; art prints, book suggestions. I Love Ugly hasn’t infiltrated, but carefully introduced themselves to so many lines of creative work that we’re surely missing a lot of it here. But what should be taken away most is that I Love Ugly successfully evolved so far beyond the simple little beautifully vain things that all streetwear and fashion brands dabble in, and into the ugly truths of life, that their name breathes of more clarity than it ever has before.
Quality goods for the independent mind.