Why Are Uggs So Expensive?

Uggs may have made a fashion splash in the 2000s but they've been around for much longer than that, particularly if you consider that the boot may have been invented by shepherds who kept themselves warm by tying sheepskin around their feet (via New Idea). By the 1900s, the makeshift sheepskin foot covers had been turned into proper boots and were being worn by sheep shearers and fighter pilots. In the early 1970s, Australian surfers realized they could go from cold to comfy by pulling the boots on after they came off the water.

The sheepskin boots made the journey to the United States in 1978, when two Aussies took the boots and marketed them to their California counterparts, selling them under the "Ugg" trademark. The sheepskin boots might have made their international debut during the 1994 Olympics when Team USA wore Ugg boots, but they became really big in 2000, when Oprah called the U.S.-marketed Ugg boot one of her "Favorite Things" and bought 350 pairs for her studio audience, which pretty much sealed Ugg's future as a must-have (via Footwear News).

Where do Ugg boots get their name?

Because of the way they look, some people assume that "ugg" is short for ugh (as in yuck), or ugly. Brian Smith, the Australian surfer who brought the iconic Australian sheepskin boot to the U.S., isn't sure of where the name came from himself.

"No one knows where the Ugg name came from!" Smith tells Footwear News. "I have heard there are a few old guys in Australia who claim to have invented the name, but nobody can prove it. My best understanding is that the first uses of Ugg (spelled in many ways — Ug, Ugg, Ugh) happened as far back as 1950, with the term eventually becoming descriptive of any sheepskin footwear in both Australia and New Zealand." 

In any case, Smith trademarked the "ugg" name when he started his company, and which he eventually sold to Deckers in the 1980s (via ABC).

Real Uggs are expensive because they use double-faced sheepskin

Whether they are marketed in Australia by various homegrown uggmakers or in the U.S. and internationally by Ugg (who holds the international copyright to the name), a standard pair of ugg boots should be made with sheepskin leather on the outside, and a layer of fleece on the inside, which is meant to keep the boot comfy in both hot and cold weather. Aussie ugg boot manufacturer Stockmans Sheepskin Factory says on Facebook that their products are expensive because their double-faced (fleece and hide attached) leathers go through a human-labor intensive tanning process before the hides are ready to be cut into panels. These are then hand-stitched, and a sole is attached to the bottom, to make the boot.

American Ugg boot manufacturers use only the treated skins or hides of sheep which have been raised for food to make its shoes (via Ugg). Even though the shoes are made in China and Southeast Asia (via Your Next Shoes), the U.S. company says it works with suppliers that meet their standards of ethical sourcing; it also requires them to treat all animals humanely so that instances of animal abuse can be avoided. Ugg also says it only sources sheepskin domestically in the U.S., as well as from Australia, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Spain, all of which have rules that govern the treatment of animals.

Uggs are in the middle of a copyright controversy

What's in a name? Plenty, says California-based footwear company Deckers, who now makes Uggs, and different Australian bootmakers who make the sheepskin boots agree (via BBC). 

"Ugg is just the name for the boots, and we've [Australian bootmakers] sold them for nearly a century. Now a U.S. giant has trademarked the name and wants to stop us," says Eddie Oygur, an Australian bootmaker. But Deckers, which makes American Uggs, registered the name as a trademark in 1999, and will fight any firm that sells Australian-made uggs in markets outside Australia. 

U.S. courts have so far stood on Decker's side, but Australian courts have gone the opposite way. They have ruled that "ugg" is a generic name for sheepskin boots with fleece linings, and the name cannot be used by just one company in Australia.

Uggs were in the crosshairs of animal rights activists

Because Uggs were so popular, it was perhaps inevitable that they attracted the attention of animal rights groups like PETA, who accused manufacturers of torturing sheep to make the boots. The accusations drew responses and blog posts from sheep farmers who said that their animals could not be sold as food if they are sick or injured, and that wool could not be sold if it was bloody or damaged. 

Iowa-based Ag Daily blogger Michelle "Farm Babe" Miller says, "It just so happens that when the lamb is sacrificed, it gives us numerous products that we can use every day. We need to treat animals like kings and queens for all they can do for us. Farmers understand this and their care is always a top priority on any farm."