13 September, 2013

Australia's world famous furry fashion statement

Melbourne Herald Sun, Thursday September 12, 2013 

Around the world it's Australia's best known, most recognised fashion brand. Ask the stylish from Los Angeles to Moscow, from Cape Town to Beijing about the home of their favourite footwear and you'll be told "Australia".

Except that the product is not Australian owned, or made, or always using our materials. I'm talking about the boots and shoes from UGG Australia. All that's Australian is the name.

The story is complex and is 50 years old or 2500 years old depending on where you want to start.

The piece of sheepskin sewn into a boot shape is one of mankind's oldest forms of footwear, even found on a Chinese mummy from 500 BC. But it was the surfin' seventies that gave the bogan ugg boot new charm, when they were picked up by surfers to keep their feet warm between rides, on winter days.

Soon they spread to the surfers of California and one day in 1978 an Aussie surfer called Brian Smith set up Ugg Imports to bring the boots into his adopted town of Santa Barbara.

The boots were a hit with the good vibrations crowd and by the mid eighties "Original Ugg Boot UGG Australia" was selling the boots from the ski slopes of Aspen to the night clubs of Manhattan.

They were photographed on famous feet and the celebrity magazines went mad. Popular with actors, actresses and famous-for-being-famous celebrities like Paris Hilton, Kate Moss, Jennifer Aniston, Leonardo DiCaprio and the Hollywood crowd. Then Oprah Winfrey told the world how she could not survive winter without them and sales boomed.

In 1995 Deckers Outdoor Corporation bought the company and has the name registered in 130 nations around the world.

The name UGG has been a lawyers' picnic for years. Deckers has fought a string of companies in America and Europe to keep it trademarked. In most places they have succeeded - except Australia. Here ugg is legally accepted as a generic name, it's the Australian word for a sheepskin boot. And attempts to rule otherwise have failed in the courts.

This is why every market stall and souvenir shop in the country is stuffed with sheepskin boots labelled "UGG Australia", usually followed by a brand name or manufacturer. However if you try to sell those boots overseas, by internet or mail order, you have to make it clear that this is not the "real" Deckers brand.

The problem for Australian consumers is identifying the quality shoe. There are Deckers Uggs, Aussie uggs, Chinese uggs and placky uggs. And on the web page they all look much the same. So if you are buying, make sure you have a trustworthy supplier.

With winter ending here, we prepare to store ours in moth-proof boxes for the summer, but the chilly winds are moving to the northern hemisphere. There the trendy young are hunting out the new season's range and colours to protect their toes from the coming cold.

Did I mention that they're a big business now? Last year their sales were over $1 billion. So as you'd expect, this is the time for a new big advertising campaign for the season.

Like the Nikes and Adidas and other sporty footwear they feature a handsome, famous footballer. But you won't find him at the MCG, this is Tom Brady, quarter back for the New England Patriots and a hero-worshipped three-time winner at the Super Bowl.

He is spearheading big-money moves to push UGG higher into the fashion sphere, last year opening the new Madison Avenue Ugg For Men store. His fashion credentials are well supported by his wife - supermodel Gisele Bundchen. Yes she wears Uggs too.

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