Ugg Aims to Leave a Footprint

Times Staff Writer

Ugg is so 2003. Or not.

Despite fashion mavens’ insistence that the sheepskin boots are passe, some retailers are in a furry footwear frenzy.

When Deckers Outdoor Corp. of Goleta, Calif., which owns the company that produces the Ugg line, released third-quarter earnings last week, it bigfooted Wall Street’s expectations and hiked its profit and sales projections for the fourth quarter. In the third quarter, sales of Ugg items alone jumped to $39.2 million, compared with $14.1 million in the same period last year, and total sales more than doubled to $55.8 million. At $5.8 million, net income was twelvefold higher.

Though Ugg boots’ staying power may baffle fashionistas -- their heads having been turned this year by the clunky moon boot -- retailers have been scrambling to get more of them in their stores.


“They’ll cut each other’s throats to get some more of these,” said Bill Boettge, president of the National Shoe Retailers Assn.

In Hermosa Beach, Becker Surf & Sport had hoped to order 7,000 pairs but could wrangle only a promise of 2,000 from the company.

“I have July 1 orders that are just trickling into my warehouse today. They’re running 60 to 90 days late,” said Dave Hollander, who owns five Southland surf shops.

The Ugg allure has spilled over to other companies that make their own versions. At Aussie Dogs, a 15-year-old San Clemente business, owner Chris Watt said he simply couldn’t take any more orders for his sheepskin boots until January.

“We’re maxed out,” Watt said. “We’re turning more business away than we can handle.”

Deckers Outdoor’s Ugg Australia subsidiary has helped demand soar this year by tempting women with lilac and ruby-red boots, as well as handbags and other new items, and it has expanded its offerings for men and children.

But what might really be driving this year’s zeal is last year’s zeal. The boots were so hip that the manufacturer ran out, and stores across the country stacked customers on waiting lists.

“You literally could not purchase that boot from November to April, so there was more and more of a demand,” said Irene Fitzgerald, a consultant to the Fashion Footwear Assn. of New York and herself an Ugg boot owner.


“When you tell people you can’t have something, they have to have it.”

The boots, born in Australia, have been treading U.S. streets and beaches for longer than 25 years, when surfers from Southern California who had spotted Uggs on trips to Australia and New Zealand brought them home. But it wasn’t until celebrities like Pamela Anderson began stomping around in them a few years ago that they really took off and became, improbably enough, sexy.

Last year, the appeal increased when the boots were spotted on fashion-savvy actors such as Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Sarah Jessica Parker. Somewhere along the way, they became a must-have on the East Coast fashion scene. Then -- the coup de grace -- the boots, in pink and baby blue, were featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

The trend has gone global. A first shipment of the boots arrived at Harrod’s in London recently and sold out in a day or so. Paris department stores also are hawking them.


Here in California, where the boots first got a toehold, they are simply a staple to many young shoppers.

“Even before it became a huge trend, every single person in Malibu had at least a few pairs,” said Diana Murray, 17, a Malibu High School senior who is hoping to get a pair of black Ugg boots for her birthday next month. “Now they’re coming out with new colors, and everyone realizes how comfortable they are.”

“I wear mine with skirts and pants, basically with absolutely anything you want,” the Santa Monica resident added.

The Nordstrom at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa stocked up this year, not wanting to relive last year’s migraine, assistant manager Sharla Corliss said. “It was out of control. Three-fourths of our phone calls were for Uggs.”


At Ugg Australia, executives said the goal was to position Ugg as a luxury brand, so higher-end retailers, including Neiman Marcus and a variety of independent specialty stores, had been selected to stock products. Connie Rishwain, president of Ugg Australia, noted that the subsidiary had logged double-digit sales growth for the last seven years.

“I like to think we had an opportunity and we took advantage of it,” she said.

Will it last? Like any fad, the frenzy will fizzle, guessed Becker Surf & Sport’s Hollander. In fact, he has evidence: His stores are fielding about five or six calls for the boots every day.

“Last year,” he said, “I was getting 50.”