Marketing 50

Ugg Australia

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Although 2003 marked the entrance of Ugg Australia into the mainstream vernacular, the brand began to germinate in 1996. It was then that VP-Merchandising Connie Rishwain first started to help Decker's Outdoor Corp. reposition its newly acquired sheepskin boot brand, sold largely to California surfers, into a luxury fashion item. Now in her second year as president of the Ugg brand and the Simple Shoes division, Ms. Rishwain recalls early efforts for the brand she calls "my baby."

Ms. Rishwain placed ads in Vogue, overhauled distribution to make high-end Nordstrom its flagship retailer and retained two public relations agencies (Bromley Group in New York to hit magazines and Los Angeles-based UPP to hit celebrities).

The efforts were fruitful and the brand in 1997 began to experience a double-digit growth that would continue for six years. But late last year, Ugg took the country by storm largely as a result of the fuzzy footwear making it onto the feet of fashionistas such as Cameron Diaz and Kate Hudson in the off-season.

The boots sold out (only fueling the fervor of many fashion followers), and the once West Coast-only footwear became Manhattan's must-have. The holiday Ugg-mania continued into 2004 with usually slow second-quarter sales for the boots growing from $250,000 in 2003 to $11.75 million this year.

Ms. Rishwain nurtured that growth. As a result, she says, the brand is now national and year-round, moving beyond its classic-style boot and slippers into more than 70 shoe styles for men, women and children, including clogs, as well as into handbags and outerwear. Sales projections for this year are set at $75 million, more than double 2003's $35 million.

Ms. Rishwain's near-parental pride in the brand was in evidence during a recent doctor visit when her physician easily identified Ugg as the brand of shoes she was wearing. And, Ms. Rishwain says, it wasn't even the classic style.

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