As the founder of I Love Ugly, I thought it would be a good idea to give you some context as to why we decided to branch into womenswear. For the very early followers of the brand, you will know that once upon a time; we had an attempt at womenswear for a season or 2. However, due to the complexities of it and also with the growth of menswear, I decided to keep things simple, focus on my strengths, and park the idea for a while.

Twelve years later, we have decided to revisit it. Those who have been watching for the last 18 months can see we have slowly started incorporating female models into our campaigns dressed in menswear to gauge how receptive our audience would be.

To our surprise, we had nothing but positive feedback. We felt it was time to broaden our horizons as the demand for us to produce womenswear was only increasing. We could also see the same gap missing in the female market, which we were filling in the menswear market, so we enthusiastically took the leap.

I Love Ugly is a mindset and a way of living. We believe our design DNA and principles can translate to many other markets and product categories. This has been my vision since day one. With this in mind, we felt ready to expand our horizons and finally delve into womenswear properly.

I sat down with our womenswear designer, Amanda, and asked her a bunch of questions about the entire journey; from when the decision was made to begin womenswear, to her influences, challenges, and aspirations when conceptualising and executing this new era for I Love Ugly.


Enjoy the interview.

 

V = Valentin Ozich (Creative Director & Founder of I Love Ugly)

A = Amanda (Womenswear Designer at I Love Ugly)

 

V: Tell us about your background & previous experience in fashion.

A: I guess you could say my journey began with the completion of my Architecture Degree back in 2008, but I later changed direction to pursue fashion. In 2015 I moved from Melbourne to New York City, to assist in opening a new Acne Studios store. Working in retail built my drive to have a wider understanding of a brand/business. This impacts my design process, as clothing doesn't exist in a bubble; it feeds back from the customer and intertwines throughout the entire business. I then moved on to Area NYC, then Public School NYC, until ending up in London in 2017. Working in London at Net-a-Porter/Mr Porter, I learned a lot from handling the physical product by such a wide variety of brands. From sports labels like Nike, to high-end designer clothing such as FOG (Fear of God) and Jacquemus — even luxury brands like Balenciaga & Gucci. In 2020, I was offered a job with the product design team at Supreme. I was looking forward to learning from such a streetwear giant — but thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, I was ultimately unable to extend my working Visa, which brought me back to New Zealand.

Funny story — I was actually rejected for the position at ILU initially, however I used the principles written in V’s Article; How to Land Your Dream Job,’ to try again. I believe this showed my determination, and eventually led me to become successful in landing the role. It’s interesting how much I have been able to leverage my experience and all the skills I have picked up along my journey to thrive at I Love Ugly.

V: Since starting the brand, it's not often I sit on the sidelines wondering how a project will play out without getting my hands dirty doing the designs — however, I had faith that you had the skills and the vision to translate the menswear DNA into womenswear. What was the biggest challenge here for you?

A: The biggest challenge was probably the fact that we have already created a strong female following that likes what we’ve presented based on menswear. So being able to flow on from that and not scare away our current supporters. The second biggest challenge was not seeing myself as a womenswear designer. However, I think because of my personal preference to wear and design menswear, that this ended up being the answer to challenge number 1.

V: I love putting people in creative positions where they haven’t had experience before, as it brings a different flavour and challenge. Anyhow…. What's the biggest difference between designing for women and designing for men?

A: For womenswear I find there’s wider diversity between the fabric, fit, and detailing of a garment. Each element can completely change the overall look. However menswear stays a bit more traditional. Womenswear is also known to move faster with trends, and be more specific when it comes to colour options and all other fit and features, so choosing what to focus on in a smaller collection is a challenge.

V: What was it like transitioning from Assistant Menswear designer, working closely with me, to being the sole Womenswear Designer?

A: As you know, I initially turned down the role, and thought we would be much better off hiring a womenswear designer, especially since you wouldn’t be providing the overall direction as you do with the menswear. It wasn't till I did the research, and formed the basis of who and what the ILU woman stood for, and had drawn up the first collection did I then think "Ok, well… We've come this far". I realise now, the ILU woman had already started forming back when we did our first photoshoots with female models. By having an understanding of our menswear and being able to translate it to a female customer already, I see how I can reach out to this audience in a way that a new-hire probably wouldn't have done the same. Our womenswear design ethos aligns closely with our mens, so the transition has been relatively smooth. We're not creating a new brand, it's just a fresh extension to our current brand. I hope women continue to wear some of our menswear pieces and style it in their individual ways.

V: From your perspective what do you think is the biggest challenge for a brand known for menswear to diversify into womenswear?

A: Probably the fact that we’re presenting the two alongside each other. So you want the standard to be equivalent, for something completely new and different to sit next to a product that has been developing for over a decade. The womenswear needs to be exciting and different while still feeling somewhat familiar.

V: What are some fashion principles you live (and die) by?

A: Classic pieces. Pieces you buy because you love, or you know will be staple in your wardrobe season in, season out. Pieces you find yourself reaching for again and again because they're easy to wear, they're comfortable, and they make you feel good. I think this is also where coming from a menswear background is applicable to womenswear; finding key pieces, rather than chasing quick trends.

V: What does personal style mean to you?

A: Effortlessness. I find that if the way someone dresses compliments them, their personality and lifestyle, then it should be effortless.

V: We have also launched a collaboration with New Zealand female artist Kayra Yildiz within the collection. Why was this important for the debut, and how did it come about?

A: ILU began as an art project, so when we came across the idea to launch womenswear with an artist collaboration, it felt like the perfect final touch. I definitely wanted a graphic element in the collection, but something special. After asking around the office for recommendations, we landed on Kayra’s work. I feel the element of awe and intrigue created by her large scale hyperrealism paintings was perfect. I find Kayra very inspirational as a young artist and love her story behind the prints. We were thrilled that she wanted to work with us, especially for this first collection (and first collaboration we’ve done in a while!)

V: What are some of your favourite pieces from the upcoming collection?

A: The Xander Tailored Pant — such an easy piece to dress up or down, which is a statement I really do repeat way too often while designing (laughs). I'm all about pieces that can take you from work, to an event, or on vacation. The Riley Wrap Skirt. Clean and minimal, but with subtle detail from the wrap design and embroidered quote on the inside. I love those hidden little details for the wearer. And finally, the Cropped Hood. Never thought I would say that. I've always been so against these, yet I was determined to make it work. I think keeping an oversized, loose fit with hidden pockets does the trick, as we already offer the full length oversized Box Hood in the men's collection. It's nice to not have to constantly adjust a long hemline and be able to achieve a more flattering look with baggy or highwaisted pants.

V: With menswear being so successful for ILU, and its rich history, do you feel any pressure for Womenswear to achieve a similar level of success?

A: Well, yes when you say that (laughs). I have to say, it's a work in progress, I don't believe we have offered the “perfect” product yet. I think it's quite common for brands to tell you they've perfected something just for you, but the honest truth is that this is all new for us. We can't be “perfect.” The only way is to get it out there, listen to feedback, and continue to learn and grow with our customer.

V: I love that and couldn't agree more.

A: That’s what I most admire about I Love Ugly and your leadership; the ability to nurture whatever's working rather than relentlessly bashing at a dead end. Worse even, not realising it. To be able to pivot quickly and think outside the box. There isn't really such a thing as "problems" at ILU, it's just another challenge — something we can grow from to become better and stronger. I hope the brand ethos is felt through the clothes and customer experience. Our ethos stays as it always was and I believe we’ll be just as successful if we can continue to inspire our customers' lives through how they dress, think, and live, so they can become the best version of themselves and influence those around them.

V: What makes this new step for I Love Ugly special to you?

A: I remember when I first decided to change from architecture to fashion in 2012, I Love Ugly caught my eye. It felt new, and different, and I was drawn to the clean imagery (which is common in architecture). I now know it came from your immense attention to detail, and graphic design background. After being overseas for the last ten years, I was impressed to come back to see ILU still going strong, and learn about the story of collapse and growth. I was hugely motivated to work for the brand, and find a work environment in New Zealand that pushes growth on an international level.

 From the first photo shoot where I styled ILU on a woman, it's been amazing to see our female fan base grow in such a short period of time. I couldn't be more proud to have played such a pivotal part in solidifying the vision, and getting the brand ready for this next step in the journey.

V: Amanda, it's been amazing seeing you grow into this role, taking the bull by the horns and confidently navigating this unfamiliar territory. I believe this will be a success in its own right, and I also know that good thing's take time to shape and develop. Congrats on getting to this point. I look forward to bringing this to our community.

 

Thank you for reading this article, and your continued support of the brand.