Love them or hate them, the beloved 2000s Ugg Boots have an interesting past!
Ugg boots are a unisex sheepskin boot with fleece on the inside that originated in rural Australia. In the 1920s, shearers would wrap sheepskin around their feet to keep warm in the sheds, and eventually these turned into proper boots as they found them resistant to the lanolin on wool which would rot their regular boots. It’s estimated that the boots began being commercially manufactured in 1933 by Blue Mountains Ugg Boots of New South Wales, however Frank Mortel of Mortels Sheepskin Factory has stated that he began manufacturing the boots in the late 1950s.
Australian surfer Shane Stedman also states that he invented the term “ugg” when he began making his own in the late 60s by wrapping his feet in sheepskin when surfing in the winter months. Other people were making them and selling them on the side of the road, so he trademarked the name “UGH”, found a guy to add soles so he could walk on the beach, and soon word of mouth spread and he began selling them. He had them produced in a factory once they gained more popularity and sold 1500 pairs per week. He made them for 10 years, before selling the rights to American company Deckers in 1983 for $14,500 USD and a lifetime supply of ugg boots.
In the 70s, the boots were introduced to surf culture throughout the UK and US. It was only in the late 90s and throughout the mid 2000s that they became a fashion trend in North America. In Australia, the boots were considered unfashionable, and were typically worn as slippers. Sheepskin footwear accounts for 10 percent of footwear production in Australia.
The origin of the name Ugg has been contested as well. Frank Mortel claims that he named his sheepskin boots ugg boots in 1958 after his wife said the first pair he made were ugly. It is also thought that the term grew out of the variation called “fug boots” which were knee high sheepskin boots worn by Royal Air Force pilots during WWI.
In the 1970s UGG and UGH were both popularized as generic terms through advertisements, appearing in Californian surf magazines.
The official Australian-English dictionary included a definition for ugg boot as a generic term for sheepskin boots in its 1981 edition. Stedman complained and later editions included UGH as a trademark.
There have been many legal disputes over whether “ugg” is a protected trademark or generic term to describe the design and there are more than 70 registered trademarks using “ugg” in their logos and designs in Australia and New Zealand.
Surf shops in Santa Cruz and the San Fernando Valley would buy the boots from surfing events in Australia and bring them back to sell. In 1978, Australian manufacturer Country Leather caught the eye of Australian surfer Brian Smith who was living in Santa Monica, and his colleague Doug Jensen. They bought the boots but were unhappy with the quality and decided to trademark UGG and start their own company out of the US. They set up Ugg Imports, which became Ugg Holdings in 1987, and registered the trademark in 25 countries. Their UGGs gained international exposure when they were worn by the US Olympic Team in Lilliehammer’s 1994 Winter Olympics. 80% of sales in California were from Orange County surfers. In 1995 the San Diego Chargers wore his Uggs as well. His UGGs were manufactured in Australia, and then Smith sold Ugg Holdings to Deckers Outdoor Corporation for $14.6 million in August 1995.
Deckers was now in ownership of Ugg trademarks from the UK and the US and they marketed the boots as a fashion trend, expanding to celebrity endorsements like Kate Hudson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Lopex and Leonardo DiCaprio. The company reported US$689 million in UGG sales in 2008, almost a 50-fold increase from 1995.
In 2010, worldwide sales of ugg boots by Australian manufacturers combined equalled only 5.9% of Deckers "UGG"-branded sheepskin boots sales,with UGG dominating the world market. Deckers monopoly on the Ugg trend ended up having the Australian manufacturers band together to form the Australian Sheepskin Association, lead by several of the original Australian Ugg companies. They were able to protect Australia manufacturers’ rights to the word UGG, UG and UGH so they could no longer be sued by Deckers.