We recently ran an AMA (Ask Me Anything) through our Instagram Stories, with our Founder and Creative Director, Valentin Ozich. The most common question he was asked was “What was the hardest part about starting I Love Ugly”. He touched on the question but it’s a lot deeper than he realised. Due to the overwhelming response and the obvious need for people to hear more about this stuff he decided to go into a little more detail around it, revealing some secrets and unexpected things that can lead to a successful brand, business and life. He also believes this advice can be applied to any brand or person that is wanting to start something or get more out of life. See his response below:
The hardest thing about starting I Love Ugly was not knowing where to start, the constant rejection, the self-doubt the battle of feeling like quitting on a daily basis.
That to me was a shock to the system. Most things nowadays you can search on Google and it will quickly tell you the answer. Starting a fashion brand on the other hand is a different beast. The barriers to entry are so low, and from the outside, it looks so easy (which is why I did it). In reality, it's such a multifaceted business with so many moving parts that all need to work in harmony in order to be successful. On top of that, you really need to master your psychology and the ability to motivate yourself, your team and your customers on a daily basis. It’s the foundation of success. Nobody tells you about this part, which I believe is the most important.
I truly believe business is 20% skills and knowledge, 80% psychology. You need to develop the skills of resilience and perseverance to keep you going. You also need to keep seeking information and answers (even if people don't want to give it to you or if you have been rejected multiple times). How often do we see businesses or brands that are struggling, and they think the answer is to work harder or design their way out the problem. I was guilty of that for many years. Unfortunately, it rarely works, and if it does, it’s only a temporary fix for the problem.
85% of businesses fail in the first two years. 95% of businesses fail in 10 years. A lot of these brands make exceptional products. That’s not the part that makes them fail, it’s all the other stuff. The non-sexy stuff and the ‘non-tangible’ stuff that you can’t see.
When I started I Love Ugly in 2008 I was what I thought a below average guy. Beat up, broke, lost, limited skills, and an unexpected Father at 22 years old. The one thing I did have was a curiosity to learn and figure things out. I ran with that skill as well as my ability to draw and “kind of” design clothes. I couldn't sew, couldn't manage people, wasn't good at math or accounting and knew nothing about marketing. BUT, I was willing to learn and willing to do what it takes to succeed. These are some very important skills they don't teach you at fashion school (I didn't study fashion, I studied graphic design) and these are the things most people in the industry don't talk to you about. It’s almost become a secret, but I believe it shouldn't be.
What I also found was very few people (not all people) were willing to share information with me, so it had to be all figured out from scratch. That gets you down and frustrated because you don't know if what you're doing is actually working or getting you closer to your goals. What I also learnt was it takes a while to realise you’re even making progress. The closer you get, the further you feel. The closer you get to your plans the more disrupted they become. It’s called the “Paradox of progress”.
When stores or people say your product is crap, it's the last thing you want to hear, but it’s inevitable. It’s far easier for other people to criticise than to create something themselves. You are only hoping and expecting to hear good things. Unfortunately, very rarely does that happen so don’t let it get to you. The world is not crazy enough to reward a bunch of undeserving people. You’ve got to deserve praise and you’re certainly not entitled to it. You’ve got to have a burning desire to succeed and constantly believe in yourself. Faith is another biggy. I would often manifest things in my mind to the point they became so real I could touch and feel them. Once you begin focusing on something that badly it eventually becomes real if paired with persistence, hard work, patience and a never-ending desire to learn and expand your mind.
When I started, people said the name is wrong, the product’s too weird, the industry is too crowded, people are never going to buy online. If you listen to the naysayers, you will spend your whole life wondering what would have happened, and never make anything happen. This is where the awareness of knowing that being in business and building a brand is a game of mastering your own psychology more than it is of actual skills and talent. With a strong psychology, knowledge can be attained and skills can be learnt. With a strong psychology you understand the confusion, the upsets, the moments of clarity quickly turning to turmoil is just your brain processing new information.
Imagine what is going through a baby's mind when they begin learning to walk. Frustration, a lot of crying, a lot falling and certainly a lot of failed attempts, yet they persist until they figure it out. Imagine if you told them to stop because you can't bear to see them fail anymore so they end up ‘safe’ but remain a crawler for the rest of their life. Imagine how debilitating and frustrating that would be for them as they see all their friends and siblings are walkers or runners. The masses of people lead quiet lives of desperation. They wish but never act, they dream but never start because of the fear of failure. You need to develop the skills of resilience and perseverance to keep you going and you need to relentlessly keep seeking information even if people don't want to give it to you or if you have been rejected multiple times.
Of course, they will reject you because they did the hard yards and spent the money and time to attain it. It's part of the challenge and the process. Remember, that's normal, so expect it to happen. Let it be an “a-ha” moment. It feels abnormal, but it means you’re actually moving forward. The more you press toward the mark, the more you realise how far you have to go and how much you have to learn. When you look like your losing, have faith you are winning. When you feel like you’re going through a losing season you’re only going deeper, you’re maturing and getting stronger, more skilful and becoming more aware. Progress isn't pretty, that’s why it's so confusing, and that's why people don't progress. Think about the baby attempting to walk. It’s the paradox of progress ladies and gentleman.
Over the years, I have spent 10s of 1000s of dollars on personal development even when I couldn’t afford it. Through books, audiobooks, seminars and courses and spent 1000s of hours reading, listening to podcasts, reading articles, experimenting and becoming a student of success. It's given me the ability to bounce back from the hardest times, solve problems, and make my company survive especially in times where I nearly lost it all. I’m not recommending you do the same, but I do recommend you begin investing some time into it, it is essential and you don’t need it until you really do need it. Just having knowledge and skills will get you so far. Psychology takes you to the next level and makes you become an anomaly.
The information is out there, but it's probably not going to come from a single source because we are all different and all have different requirements. Therefore you need to learn to become more resourceful. What you want to do is learn from someone that has been through the trenches and can help you short-cut a lot of mistakes. Remember, these people are very busy, so you need to be patient or offer them something in return. Value for value, an eye for an eye. Alternatively, you can find this wisdom in books, YouTube clips, courses or Podcasts. They are out there, and a lot of the time its free information and very inexpensive.
Even to this day, 10 years on, I need to remind myself of the above. I need to eat my own cooking and apply what I teach. It’s now become hard-wired into my nervous system. I can now take control of my emotions once they get out of control after experiencing a setback because I know it means that I’m progressing forward. Write this formula on a sticky note and put it somewhere where you can constantly see it. Setbacks = invaluable education = progress. Very rarely do you go backwards after the setback if you have a growth mindset.
As my brand grows I'm continuing to learn and develop new skills which I don't have in order to go to the next level. I'm reaching out to people all the time that are more experienced and successful than me because I know they will help me get to that next level. In return, I offload everything I know to them. A wise person knows that everyone has something to teach. I'm constantly looking for smart people to be around or affiliated with because I know you become who spend time with. I also know that the next stage of personal development and growth is by helping others become successful. Growth and fulfilment come from contributing to others.
Now I know not all of us have the luxury of doing this, but the principles are still the same, whether you’re a 1 man team or a 100 man team so go for it. Don’t wait, don’t over think it and definitely don't let perfection get in the way of progress. Focus on what’s most important, not what's most impressive.
I wish someone told me this stuff in the beginning, but at the same time, I realise now the importance of discovering it for myself, as I now have the ability to share this information with you all today. Once you know and expect that rejection and obstacles are coming, you are better equipped when you do begin encountering it. People are silently begging to be led. I’m exactly the same. I’m hoping to reciprocate the knowledge I have learnt and wisdom I have gained by sharing this with you. Hopefully this mini-essay has the ability to change someone's life or perspective on the crap they may be going through.