Ugg boots (sometimes called uggs) are a unisex style of sheepskin boots from Australia and New Zealand. The boots are typically made of twin-faced sheepskin with fleece on the inside, a tanned outer surface and a synthetic sole. Ugg boots originated as utilitarian footwear worn for warmth, and were often worn by surfers during the 1960s. In the 1970s, the boots were introduced to the surf culture of the United Kingdom and the United States. Ugg boots emerged as a fashion trend in the United States in the late 1990s and as a world-wide trend in the mid-2000s. In Australia they are worn predominantly as slippers and often associated with "daggy" fashion sense, and "bogan" culture. Noteworthy Australian manufacturers of ugg boots include Luda Productions (which has roughly 75 percent of the market share in Australia), EMU Australia, and Uggs-N-Rugs.
The name of the boots in varieties other than Australian English and New Zealand English is complicated by a legal dispute between some manufacturers of ugg boots as to whether "ugg" is a protected trademark, or a generic term and thus ineligible for trademark protection. In Australia and New Zealand, where the term is a generic one, more than 70 registered trade marks include the term "ugg" in various logos and designs. But the fact that the term was not widely recognised outside of Australia and New Zealand before being trademarked in the United States has meant that in much of the rest of the world, it has not been considered generic for legal purposes. This has allowed the American-based Deckers Outdoor Corporation and its subsidiary, UGG Australia, to obtain trademarks on the term "ugg" in over 130 other countries. As such, even if made by Australian or New Zealand manufacturers, ugg boots cannot be sold under that name outside of Australia and New Zealand without violating these trademarks, and for this reason it is Deckers and the UGG brand whose sales dominate the world market.
The origins of the Australian ugg boot style are disputed, with both Australia and New Zealand laying claim. Artisanal sheepskin boots were known in rural Australia during the 1920s, and were reportedly worn by shearers as they found them resistant to wool yolk, which would rot their ordinary boots. However the date of commercial manufacturing began remains unclear. They were reportedly being manufactured in 1933 by Blue Mountains Ugg Boots of New South Wales. Frank Mortel of Mortels Sheepskin Factory has stated that he began manufacturing the boots in the late 1950s. Lifelong surfer Shane Stedman of Australia has stated in interviews that he invented the ugg boot. Perth sheepskin boot manufacturers Bruce and Bronwyn McDougall of Uggs-N-Rugs have manufactured the boots since the late 1970s.
The origin of the term "ugg" is also disputed. Stedman registered the trademark "UGH-BOOTS" in Australia in 1971, and in 1982 registered the "UGH" trademark. Frank Mortel claims that he named his company's sheepskin sheepskin boots "ugg boots" in 1958 after his wife commented that the first pair he made were "ugly." Some accounts have suggested that the term grew out of earlier variations, such as the "fug boots" worn by United Kingdom Royal Air Force pilots during World War I.
The 1970s saw the emergence of advertising using the UGG and UGH terms both in trade names and as a generic term in Australia. The Macquarie Dictionary of the Australian language first included a definition for "ugg boot" as a generic term for sheepskin boots in its 1981 edition. (After Stedman complained to the editors of Macquarie, a trademark notation was added to subsequent editions indicating that "UGH" was a trade mark).
In the 1970s, ugg boots became popular among competitive surfers. After movie theatres in Sydney banned ugg boots and ripped jeans, the footwear became somewhat popular in the youth market as a sign of rebellion. Sheepskin footwear accounts for around 10 percent of footwear production in Australia.
Surfing helped popularise the boots outside Australia and New Zealand. Advertisements for Australian sheepskin boots first appeared in Californian surf magazines in 1970. By the mid-1970s, several surf shops in Santa Cruz, California and the San Fernando Valley were selling a limited number of boots purchased by the shops' owners while visiting surfing events in Australia. In 1978, a Western Australian manufacturer of sheepskin boots, Country Leather, advertised outside Australia for distributors to sell its sheepskin boots, which were made from sheepskin sourced from Jackson's Tannery in Geelong, Victoria. Seeing the popularity of the boots among American surfers, Australian surfer Brian Smith, then living in Santa Monica, California, bought boots from Country Leater but was unhappy with the brand and decided to register IGG as his own trademark. Family friends invested $20,000 into the new venture and the group set up Ugg Imports. Due to other business commitments, in 1979 Jensen handed over his share of the company to Smith. In 1987 Smith registered Ugg Holdings Inc. and in 1985 registered a U.S. trademark on a ram's head logo with the words "Original UGG Boot UGG Australia." In 1995, Ugg Holdings purchased Stedman's various trademarks. As for the ugg name, Smith stated: "We always called them uggs, long before it was trademarked."
Shoe manufacturer Hide & Feet in Newquay, Cornwall began manufacturing sheepskin boots in 1973, and in 1990 Nick Whitworth and his wife Kath bought the business and registered "UGG" as a trade mark in the UK. Due to increasing popularity and sales, in 1991 the company changed its name to "The Original Ugg Co." In 1999, Whitworth sold the company name and the British UGG trade mark to Deckers Outdoor Corporation, renaming his company the Celtic Sheepskin Company.
By 1994, UGG boots had grown in status among surfers in California with 80% of sales in southern Orange County where Ugg Holdings saw an increase in sales of 60 percent on the previous season. Smith's UGG boots gained international exposure when they were worn by the U.S. Olympic team in Lillehammer for the 1994 Winter Olympics. Australian manufacturers also saw an increase in exports of sheepskin boots to the United States, although Ugg Holdings retained an estimated 80% market share. By the end of the year, Country Leather had opened its own shop in Redondo Beach to promote an expansion of the brand from its established surf market into mainstream footwear sales and Ugg Holdings began sourcing UGG boots directly from Jackson's Tannery, which had changed its name to EMU Australia. In early 1995, Smith promoted the UGG AUSTRALIA brand on the Rush Limbaugh show, which spurred sales while the brand gained further exposure when the San Diego Chargers started wearing them. According to retailers, it was not just the footwear that attracted consumers, but the "made in Australia" tie-in as the boots were a unique product only available from Australia and Australian products were at that time very popular. In August 1995, Smith sold Ugg Holdings to Deckers Outdoor Corporation for $14.6 million. In 1996 Deckers registered the various trademarks for "UGG" in the US. In 1999, Ruth Davis, vice president of marketing for Deckers Outdoor Corp stated in an interview: "In Australia, there's a lot of sheep, and Ugg is the generic word for sheepskin footwear. We made it a brand name in the [United] States."
Generally worn for warmth and comfort, Australian ugg boots had never been considered fashionable in their country of origin. But the Deckers UGG brand emerged as a fashion trend in the US through Deckers' actions to promote it as a high fashion brand. Deckers solicited endorsements from celebrities such as Kate Hudson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lopez, and product placements in television series such as Sex and the City, and films such as Raising Helen. This marketing campaign "led to an exponential growth in the brand's popularity and recognizability." Oprah Winfrey received a free pair; she then bought 350 pairs for her entire production staff, and eventually featured UGG brand boots as one of her "Favorite Things" on her TV talk show in 2000. Other actresses who discovered UGG brand boots through surf shops began wearing them. The company reported US$689 million in UGG sales in 2008, almost a 50-fold increase from 1995. By way of contrast, ugg boots in Australia were worn predominantly as slippers and associated with "daggy fashion sense, bogan behaviour" and the "outer suburbs" when worn in public. According to Australian fashion stylist Justin Craig: "The only people who get away with wearing them are models, who give out the message: 'I'm so beautiful, I can look good in any crap."
Traditional Australian ugg boots are made from sheepskins with fleece attached. The fleece is tanned into the leather and the boot is assembled with the fleece on the inside. Some ugg boots have a synthetic sole, commonly made from Ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). The stitching is often prominent on the outside of the boot. The natural insulative properties of sheepskin gives isothermal properties to the boots: the thick fleecy fibres on the inner part of the boots wick moisture and allow air to circulate, keeping the feet at body temperature and allowing the boots to keep feet warm in cold weather and cool in hot weather. The original design was a pull-on boot in natural (undyed) tan sheepskin, about 10 inches (25 cm) in height, with rounded, almost shapeless uppers; this is now described as the "classic" design. Produced by a number of manufacturers, they come in a variety of colours, including black, pink, blue, chestnut, and fuchsia. They are available in both pull-on and lace-up varieties and their height can range from just above the ankle to above the knee.
Some variations of ugg style boots have also been made from kangaroo fur and leather. There are also synthetic boots. Although derided as "fake" by some in the industry, their lower price made them appealing to large retail chains such as Myer.
Animal rights and health criticism
Similar to the sourcing of leather, sheep-skin is a by-product of processing sheep for human consumption; sheep are not killed for their skins. Because it is a by-product, the supply of sheep-skin is limited by the number of sheep processed for the meat industry. The rise in the popularity of "UGG"-branded ugg boots has been the "driving force" in recent shortages, which have seen sheep-skin prices from 2010 to 2012 increase by up to 80%.
Being one of many clothing products made from animal skin, the production of sheepskin boots has been the subject of criticism by the animal rights movement. In the decade beginning in 2000, the group called for the boycott of sheepskin boots and their replacement with alternatives not made from animal skin. In 2007, Pamela Anderson, realizing that the boots were made of skin called for a boycott on her website. In February 2008, the Princeton Animal Welfare Society staged a campus protest against the fur industry, particularly attacking the sheepskin boot industry. "Students lay in the newly fallen snow on the Frist Campus Center's North Front Lawn on Friday afternoon, feigning death, wearing coats covered with fake blood and sporting signs that read, 'What if you were killed for your coat?' "
The trademarking of the UGG name has been the subject of dispute in several countries. Deckers Outdoor Corporation has won such disputes in the United States, the Netherlands, and Turkey. In Australia and New Zealand, ugg is a generic term. The trademark for "Ugh-Boots" has been removed from the trademark registry for non-use. Outside Australia and New Zealand, UGG (written in capital letters) is a registered trademark of Deckers Outdoor Corporation.
The first trademark application for UGG in the United States was filed by Brian Smith’s company in 1984. In the 1990’s, Smith and then Deckers secured additional registrations in the US and other countries. In 1999, Deckers began asserting its new trademark and sent out cease and desist letters to Australian manufacturers that were selling sheepskin boots outside of Australia via the internet. By the early 2000s, demand for UGG boots was soaring with Australian and US based manufacturers selling sheepskin boots over the Internet. There was confusion among consumers between generic ugg boots made in Australia and Deckers' UGG brand boots. Deckers' law firm Middletons of Melbourne began a serious effort to halt the Australian companies' sales by sending cease and desist letters to a number of Australian and US based manufacturers, preventing them from selling sheepskin boots using the UGG trademark on eBay or from using the word in their registered business names or domain names. Deckers initiated numerous domain name actions under the UDRP.
In response to these actions by Deckers, some Australian manufacturers formed the Australian Sheepskin Association to fight the corporation's claim, arguing that "ugg" is a generic term referring to flat-heeled, pull-on sheepskin boots. One of these manufacturers, Perth's Uggs-N-Rugs, who had been manufacturing ugg boots since 1978 and selling them online since 1996, appealed to Australian trademark regulators. The officer who heard the case stated that the "evidence overwhelmingly supports the proposition that the terms (ugg, ugh and ug boots) are interchangeably used to describe a specific style of sheepskin boot and are the first and most natural way in which to describe these goods." In 2006 Uggs-N-Rugs won the right to use the term UGG BOOT/S and variations such as UGH BOOT/S within Australia. Deckers retained the trademark rights to their UGG logo in Australia as trademark protection only applies to the way the mark appears in its entirety and not the words it contains. IP Australia also ruled that the trademark "UGH-boots" (with hyphen) should be removed from the trademark register for non-use as Deckers had only been using the UGG logo, not the UGH marks. This 2006 ruling applies only in Australia and Deckers still owns the trademarks in other jurisdictions such as the US, China, Japan and the European Union.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ugg boots.|
- Documentary film on the trademark dispute: Produced and directed by Susan Lambert, Jumping Dog Productions (14 September 2006). "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugg boot". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Missing or empty
- "Save Our Aussie Icon" – campaign against the trademark
- US Patent and Trademark Office: "" Trademark Search"
- World Intellectual Property Office: "Trademark Search"
- A listing of Deckers Outdoor Corporation trademarks containing the word UGG, registered in over 100 countries.