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Ugg boots (sometimes called uggs) are known in Australia and New Zealand as a unisex style of sheepskin boot. It is typically made of twin-faced sheepskin with fleece on the inside, a tanned outer surface and a synthetic sole. Ugg boots originated from Australia, initially as utilitarian footwear worn for warmth. They 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 by local surfers returning from surfing competitions in Australia. 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, yet in Australia they are worn predominantly as slippers and often associated with "daggy" fashion sense, and "bogan" culture.
There has been a 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 considered generic, more than 70 registered trade marks include the term UGG in various logos and designs. By contrast, outside Australia and New Zealand, UGG is a brand manufactured by the California-based Deckers Outdoor Corporation, with registered trademarks in over 130 countries worldwide including the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada, all European Union members, and China.
Noteworthy manufacturers in Australia and New Zealand include Luda Productions of Australia, which has roughly 75% of the market share in Australia; EMU Australia; Euram Ugg; Blue Mountains Ugg Boots; Mortels Sheepskin Factory; Bearpaw; Uggs-N-Rugs; Binder Corporation and Westhaven Industries. Deckers is a noteworthy manufacturer of the footwear style outside Australia, with the majority of its manufacturing occurring in China. By 2010, the production of Australian manufacturers combined equaled 5.9 percent of Deckers UGG boots sales, with UGG Australia dominating the market.
Uggs are a type of shoe and/or boot. The origins of the ugg boot style and the term "ugg" are disputed, with both Australia and New Zealand laying claim. Artisinal sheepskin boots were known in rural Australia during the 1920s, but when 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, and named his company's sheepskin boots "ugg boots" in 1958 after his wife commented that the first pair he made were "ugly."
Lifelong surfer Shane Stedman of Australia has stated in interviews that he invented the ugg boot in 1971. Stedman registered the trademark "UGH-BOOTS" in Australia in 1971, and in 1982 registered a logo containing a stylised Sun with the words "UGG AUSTRALIA". Perth sheepskin boot manufacturers Bruce and Bronwyn McDougall of Uggs-N-Rugs have manufactured the boots since the late 1970s.
The terms ugg boots, ugh boots and ug boots are believed to have been used to describe sheepskin boots in Australia and New Zealand since the late 1950s. Some accounts have suggested that the term grew out of earlier variations, such as the "fug boots" worn by pilots during World War I. The 1970s saw the emergence of advertising using the terms, and 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 1960s, 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% of footwear production in Australia.
Surfing helped popularise the boots outside Australia and New Zealand. Advertisements for Australian sheepskin boots, advertised as “ugg 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 ugg 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 ugg 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, and Doug Jensen applied to be their United States distributors. 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 US 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 a trademarked brand."
Shoe manufacturer "Hide & Feet" in Newquay, Cornwall began manufacturing ugg 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% on the previous season. Smith's Ugg boots later 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 when her endorsement was sought by Deckers; 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.'"
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 (or 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.
Being one of many clothing products made from animal skin, the production of ugg 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 ugg boots and their replacement with alternatives not made from animal skin.
In 2007, Pamela Anderson, realizing that ugg boots were made of skin, wrote on her website: "I thought they were shaved kindly? People like to tell me all the time that I started that trend – yikes! Well let's start a new one – do NOT buy Uggs! Buy Stella McCartney or juicy boots." In February 2008, the Princeton Animal Welfare Society staged a campus protest against the fur industry, particularly attacking the ugg 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?' " However, 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 boots has been the "driving force" in recent shortages, which have seen sheep-skin prices from 2010 to 2012 increase by up to 80%.
In 2009 an American podiatrist raised concern that the regular wearing of ugg boots could be deleterious to foot health due to the lack of arch support.
The trademarking of the Ugg name has been, and continues to be, 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 and the trademark for "Ugh-Boots" has also 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.
In 1999, Deckers registered the trademarks for "UGG" in the US. Deckers began asserting its new trademark and sent out cease and desist letters to Australian manufacturers. By the early 2000s, demand for ugg boots was soaring with Australian and US based manufacturers selling uggs over the Internet. 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 uggs on eBay or from using the word in their registered business names or domain names.
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 uggs 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. Deckers retained the rights to their UGG logo as trade mark protection only applies for the way the mark appears in its entirety and not for 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.
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