UGG SINCE 1974: NO 'SHEEPSKATE'
Written on the 5 March 2015 by Jenna Rathbone
MIAMI-based Ugg Since 1974 is one of few boot manufacturers in Australia that is sticking true to its roots.
But one of the company's biggest challenges is imported products being rebadged as 'Australian Made' which managing director Richard Friedrichs says not only ruins the global reputation of Australian businesses and products but saturates the market with low-grade products being sold at extremely low prices.
"The people doing this are riding on the fact that tourism numbers suggest the highest priority item for most international visitors coming here is to buy a pair of Australian made ugg boots," says Friedrichs.
He says it is not uncommon for some companies to tear off the 'Made in China' insert and sew a 'Made in Australia' label in its place.
Another misconception is in the actual brand name itself. UGG Australia, owned by Deckers Outdoor Corporation, is an American conglomerate selling an Australian sheepskin product manufactured in China, which has sparked ongoing international trademark disputes.
Ugg Since 1974 is set to make its mark on the world stage with retail stores planned for Tokyo, New York and Shanghai, however due to Deckers Outdoor trademarking ugg overseas, the company is in the process of redesigning its brand. Ugg is unable to be trademarked in Australia as it is a noun meaning sheepskin boot.
"For us to go overseas and to sell product overseas, we have to have another brand name that doesn't have ugg in it," says Friedrichs.
"It is frustrating and surprising to us that ugg is a noun in Australia and New Zealand, it is a noun in the Oxford dictionary ... you shouldn't be able to trademark nouns."
These issues have also led to more Australian companies closing their doors and has impacted not only ugg boot manufacturers but all companies involved in the process. Over 30 years ago there were around 70 tanneries in Australia supplying A-Grade sheepskin but now there is only a handful left, with the majority of companies going offshore.
To battle this trend and to remain relevant in a challenging industry, Ugg Since 1974 has turned toward custom ugg boots and is now one of few players in the world that is offering shoppers the ability to design their own accessory.
The process includes choosing raw materials and patterns, boot assembly, heel design, sewing and construction and quality control.
"We had to find a way to be able to manufacture a better quality boot at a higher price point so we could justify staying in Australia," says Friedrichs.
"We could have just shipped everything off to China because it is so much cheaper but because these boots are so different, we can stay where we are.
"Ultimately, we want to stay here, we want to be 100 per cent Australian and we want to be different."
The manufacturing plant based on Christine Avenue has the ability to turnaround custom ugg boots in 24 hours with some costing upwards of $1000.
The business also has a denim range which is made by sourcing vintage jeans commonly found in op shops, and then bonding these one-off pair of jeans to sheepskin.
Currently the manufacturer has five locations and receives 50 to 60 overseas orders per week for customised boots and produces close to 1000 sets a week.
This custom process has seen the business grow rapidly over the past four months with the company employing more than 60 staff.
Along with the international stores, Ugg Since 1974 is gearing up to open retail shops in Queenstown, Melbourne, Sydney, Cairns and another on the Gold Coast. The stores will include design areas where customers can work with staff to customise their own boot which will then be produced at the head office in Miami.
Author: Jenna Rathbone
About: Jenna Rathbone is a Queensland-based journalist who writes on a range of issues including business and property affairs and social issues.Connect via: Twitter