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Friday, February 26, 2010

Uggs!: What are they wearing in Vancouver?

If they are clever then they will have on their ugg boots or mukluks (indigenous North American fur boots) to keep their tootsies warm. The secret to ‘Uggs’ is the fleece which traps air that heats to body temperature. This gives an insulating layer around the extremities and keeps feet for over heating or over cooling in warm temperatures. The best ‘Uggs’ are those with Merino sheepskin because its finer grading of fleece fibres. In addition to insulation merino sheepskin can wick moisture and odour (no sweaty or stinky feet). Only quality ‘Uggs’ are made with Merino sheepskin and the vast majority of boots are made from inferior sheepskins or combination with synthetic mixtures. Cheaper boots wear more quickly and can harbour bacteria which may cause foul foot odour and/or fungal infections.

Are Uggs Australian?
Well not exactly but when made with Australian Marino wool then there is none finer. Traditionally people working with sheep used the discarded fleece in the form of felt as clothing. Felt is a fabric made from wool but the fibres are not woven or knitted. Instead they are matted caused when small scales on the outside surface of the fibre rub and inter-lock when wet. These then bind tightly together or matt when dried. Today this is a common problem when washing woollens ie the formation of felt balls – same process. No one can be quiet sure when felt was discovered but it is considered to be one of the oldest textiles and was used in the 4th century BC as felt caps and boots. These were worn by Northern and Central Eurasian peoples (the Turkics) providing them with ideal protection from the biting frost. In antiquity felting technology became highly developed and Roman soldiers wore felt breastplates (for protection from arrows), tunics, boots and even socks. Chinese Emperors sat on felt mats and invading armies slept in felt tents. By the Middle Ages a foot sored Pope used some animal wool to felt his shoes.

The origins of Ugg boots in Australia are rather clouded in mystery the term is thought to have been around since the early 50s but the embryo of the modern ‘Ugg’ come into existence a decade later when a bunch of surfing jackeroos working on a West Australian sheep ranch wrapped their legs in pure merino fleece after taking their daily dip in the chilly surf. Soon a rough type boot was forged with linoleum soles and these were referred to as “ugly boots " or "uggs.’ The fashion spread to other surfing communities on the East Coast where the crude linoleum was replaced with rubber soles. Brian Smith was an Aussie surfer who wore his ‘uggs’ in North America, US beach boys were keen to have their own and soon the entrepreneurial Australian was importing ‘uggs’ and distributing them through little surfing shops along the West Coast of the US. The name ‘ugg boot’ was registered as a trademark in the early 70s and by the mid eighties ‘uggs; were established as a West Coast surfie favourite. Smith eventually sold his interests to Deckers in 1995. ‘Ugg boots’ remained popular within the beach culture but when Pamela Anderson (Baywatch filmed in NZ) was photographed wearing her ‘uggs,’ the celebrity fraternity started to take an interest. Later when Oprah Winfrey featured her favourite Uggs on her TV show this caught the average North Americans’ attention. All at a time when there was an extended cold spell, and a shortage of the boots for sale in America. The artificial demand which followed meant ‘Uggs’ everywhere were snapped up including thousands of sales of Australian uggs over the internet. Desperate to safeguard exclusivity Deckers (US) took legal action to prevent other companies using the name ‘ugg’ including those in OZ.

After long court battles it was finally accepted 'ugg’ was a generic term in common Australian use and hence unfair to restrict it. Now fashion ‘uggs’ can be found from Dog Town to the slopes of Vancouver; from the streets of Essex to the Paris Catwalks.

Excerpt from the Afternoons with Jenny Seeton Cutin FM 101, Perth Western Australia, Friday 02/26/2010.

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