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Things Are Changing – How A Small Kiwi Brand Is Competing (And Winning) On The Global Stage

Guest blog by Ben Lawton

15 years ago, before we had the booming e-commerce industry we do today, starting a fashion brand wasn’t a task for the faint of heart.

It involved raising (a lot) of capital, leasing property for the store, and hoping – praying, even – that your edgy designs would be well-received.

That applied to even the smallest of brands. The really hard part was growing your brand – taking it from small-time to the big leagues.

It wasn’t what you knew; it was who you knew.

Sure, some of that stuff still rings true today. Luckily for today’s entrepreneurs, however, the growing part is a loteasier. 

Nowadays, the little guys don’t have to cosy up to the big guys to get ahead. Taking your brand international isn’t a pipe dream for all but the most well connected and well-funded of entrepreneurs.

The little guys can “punch above their weight”, so to speak. And it’s all thanks to the digital revolution we’re part of. Now, you don't need PR firms to get the word out for you – the internet is your megaphone.

Take I Love Ugly as an example…

How a small kiwi brand is on its way to world domination

I Love Ugly, a kiwi-based fashion brand, have grown into an international powerhouse. The two founders, Valentin Ozich and Barnaby Marshall, are in their twenties. Yes, you should be jealous.

Despite the brand’s relative infancy, the pair have already opened up 6 stores – 4 in New Zealand, 1 in Australia, and 1 in Los Angeles. And they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

They have an international customer base. Their brand is known all over the world. They’ve opened up a store in LA, one of the most unforgiving – and let’s not forget, glamorous – retail spots in the world.

10 years ago, success like this – especially on such a global scale – would have needed huge amounts of capital. A well-padded little black book of contacts wouldn’t hurt, either.

Yet the two entrepreneurs needed hardly any of that. They’ve got the internet – and their brand’s popular social media profiles – to thank for their rise to the top.

At today’s date, I Love Ugly's Facebook page has 244,322 followers. Their Instagram profile has roughly half of that. A large portion of their sales come from their beautifully designed website, which serves customers everywhere from Auckland to Paris.

The two founders are obviously talented, but for all we know they wouldn’t have had the success they have if it wasn't for the tools at their disposal.

Luckily for you and me, the helping hand that today’s digital age has given them is open for everyone. You just have to make the most of it. Don’t believe me? Google “successful young entrepreneurs”… almost all of them heavily promote their companies online. The digital age I keep rattling on about has given entrepreneurs rocket fuel to add to the fire.

If, like I Love Ugly’s founders, you’re a kiwi entrepreneur who wants to starting competing on the global stage, here are the key things you need to take away from I Love Ugly's success story.

Ride the social media wave

Much of I Love Ugly's success comes from its popular social media profiles – mainly Facebook and Instagram.

15 years ago, things would be much different: success on I Love Ugly's scale would have involved celebrity endorsements, pricey ad campaigns and cosying up to the right people for that much-needed PR.

Luckily, that's no longer the case. Facebook can be your ad agency, Instagram your PR department. 

In I Love Ugly's case, Facebook and Instagram worked so well because they're mainly used for pleasure. People use them for reasons – among others – of social inclusion and vain indulgence. Which, as we all know, is fashion's power play.

But what if you're not in the fashion biz? What if, like me, you do something a bit more mundane? 

In my case, I offer services to other businesses. Posting freshly-lensed photos on Facebook would make no sense. If anything, they’d scare clients off. Plus, it's rare that people use Facebook and Instagram while they're in a working mindset.

LinkedIn, on the other hand, is perfect if you sell to businesses...

...I won't give away the game here, mainly because there's another article I've penned on the topic of promoting yourself on LinkedIn. But know this: no matter which medium fits your brand, you'd be a fool not to ride the social media wave.

It beats the long, painful climb that was a rite of passage for entrepreneurs not too long ago.

Use the internet as a platform for offline marketing

One of my favourite one-liners is the saying “stand on the shoulders of giants”.

And really, that's exactly what today's digital age has given us: the ability to reap the rewards of other peoples' hard work.

That's exactly what I Love Ugly's founders did so well: they used the internet as a platform to grow their brand much faster than 'traditional' marketing would allow.

Rather than waiting years for the right introduction or a streak of luck, they took a shortcut. They gave themselves street-cred by growing their brand online, and then used their new-found credibility to grow their offline presence.

For me, at least, that's exactly what the internet's all about. It gives us little guys the chance to punch way above our weight. We don't need to claw our way up or ask for permission. The internet makes us tall enough to get to the top on our own.