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How Ugg is making a major comeback 20 years after its heyday

The footwear brand dominated the early 2000s and is back in a big way.
The "it" shoe of the early aughts is back in style.
The "it" shoe of the early aughts is back in style.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

In the early 2000s, Ugg boots were the style status symbol du jour that celebrities and teenage girls alike proudly sported with jeans, "yoga pants" and Juicy Couture velour sweatsuits. It seemed like everyone had the furry, sheepskin-lined boots on their Christmas list, and they were pretty ubiquitous for years.

But like most brands, Ugg had its initial heyday then fell out of the public conversation as consumers' interests shifted. Soon, the furry boots that dominated sales in the early aughts seemed a tad passe, and shoppers moved on to the next footwear trend.

Of course, Ugg never fully disappeared, and the brand has been slowly gaining momentum again. Now the company has made a major comeback, as the New York Times recently professed, and has successfully created a new aesthetic while staying true to its roots. TMRW consulted several fashion industry experts to break down Ugg's influence on consumers and why the brand has major staying power.

Ugg boots were the look du jour in the early 2000s. Franziska Krug / Getty Images

The Ugg brand has been making a comeback the past few years

Ugg has come a long way since its initial debut in 1978. After making a huge splash in the early 2000s, the brand seemed to lay low for several years when shoppers and influencers began to embrace new footwear trends.

Behind the scenes, the company actually used this downtime to focus on expanding its product roster and to include more fashion-forward styles. Ugg also partnered with designers like Jeremy Scott, Phillip Lim and Molly Goddard for new collections that would draw in a new crop of followers.

"Ugg does a great job of introducing timely collaborations and reinventing their silhouettes, as a way to excite consumers. Their collaborations with tastemakers are always fresh and present an unexpected twist. Furthermore, they know how to balance staying true to their comfortable aesthetic while presenting new takes on their classic shapes, such as platform and slingback styles," Marissa Galante Frank, Bloomingdale’s fashion director for accessories and beauty, told TMRW.

Jasmine Tookes walks in Brentwood in October 2020 while wearing Ugg boots.John Sciulli / WireImage

Ugg's rebrand brought the company back into the forefront in a powerful way, but the market had already been favoring comfier styles for a while and seemed to be ready for the resurgence of those cozy shoes that had once dominated sales in the early aughts.

"Desire for the brand has been building for a number of years now, in part driven by the appeal of the more innovative, fashion-oriented product that Ugg has put out in the market during the past few years that has helped to make comfort cool again," the NPD Group's fashion footwear analyst Beth Goldstein said, adding that Ugg sales have been steadily growing for the past couple of years. Ugg's recent quarterly earnings call also revealed that the brand had seen a 2.5% increase in net sales in its second quarter compared to sales for last year.

Nostalgia certainly played a part too, as many trends from the '90s and early 2000s — like fanny packs, wide belts and mom jeans — had already began to recirculate in recent years.

Ugg now has a sister brand named Koolaburra and competitors like Emu and Bearpaw.Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images

The role the pandemic has played in Ugg's resurgence

We've all spent a lot more time indoors over the past nine months, and shoppers have been embracing comfortable clothing like sweatpants, soft sweaters and fuzzy slippers.

"The pandemic has caused a shift in the way we look at clothing from ‘How does this look?’ to ‘How does this make me feel?’ So it’s understandable why people have turned to comfortable shoes like Uggs to help them navigate the difficulties of the current climate," said Shakaila Forbes-Bell, a fashion psychologist for financial service Afterpay.

With many of us working remotely during the pandemic, our daily attire has become much more casual. Many office workers are now wearing business attire on the top for video calls and loungewear on the bottom.

"This translates to footwear that gives us the ease we’re all looking for and Ugg is a great shoe that’s in line with how we’re currently living," Galante Frank said.

Irina Shayk is seen walking in Ugg boots in New York City in October 2020.Jared Siskin / GC Images

According to the NPD Group, Ugg has held the No. 2 spot for non-active/sneaker-focused brands in terms of dollar volume growth during the pandemic (March-October 2020). And it seems like many of us have craved a bit of familiarity to get us through the pandemic.

"Times of uncertainty often drive us toward products that provide comfort and even nostalgia. Although the Ugg brand has worked hard to extend its product lines and refresh its brand, ultimately, the brand is associated with warmth, comfort and durability," said Kelly Haws, a professor of marketing at Vanderbilt University. "Add to the turbulence, uncertainty, casualwear of the home office of 2020 and the changing seasons, and you have a recipe custom made for increased demand for Uggs."

Does the Ugg brand have staying power?

Ugg has already reinvented itself a few times, so the question remains: Does the brand have staying power? According to Stitch Fix fashion and trend manager Jenny Herr, it just might.

"The need for comfy wintertime classics year after year is very real. The Ugg brand has gained trust in their promise of quality comfort that lasts. We are seeing increased appetite for quality and longevity as the fast-fashion heyday comes to an end. Customers are willing to pay a premium price for a product that lasts from a company they feel good supporting," she said.

Does the Ugg brand have staying power or are they a passing fad for nostalgia of the early aughts?Jared Siskin / WireImage

Since the brand's products are built to last, they are often popular with thrift stores, according to thredUP spokesperson Natalie Tomlin, who said Ugg ranked No. 5 on the website's 2019 list of brands with the best resale value.

"On thredUP, we’re seeing thrifters seek out a variety of Ugg styles, including the classic boot and slippers and even their flip-flops and winter accessories. Ugg’s durability makes it extremely popular in the resale market and allows Uggs to have a second, third or fourth life," she said.

Perhaps the most important factor pointing to Ugg's staying power is the strong nostalgia effect the brand has on consumers.

"The 'good old days' and the associated fashion trends bring a sense of comfort due to their predictability and the positive emotional response that occurs every time we engage in nostalgic thinking," Forbes-Bell said. "So when old trends are repackaged as something new (such as new colorways and variations), consumers are essentially getting a psychological rush on two fronts."

Shop the look

Ugg Seyline Hidden-Wedge Booties

Waterproof suede, a warm plush insole and a sturdy 2-inch hidden wedge heel make this bootie stand out from the crowd. The fashion-forward design is just one example of Ugg's changing aesthetic.

Emu Australia Amity Slipper

Looking for a solid pair of warm slippers that will keep your feet comfy while working from home? Emu Australia's moccasin slipper has a sheepskin lining and footbed that wicks away moisture and prevents odors, making it ideal for warm and cool weather alike.

Ugg Emmeth Waterproof Chelsea Boot

Over the years, Ugg has expanded its line to include waterproof footwear options, and we're currently crushing on this sleek boot with memory foam cushioning. The protective boot has a solid 1 and 1/4-inch heel and will keep your feet dry as you fend off rain, puddles and slush.

Bearpaw Women's Kimbertree Slipper

The sheepskin footbed and faux fur collar on these cozy Bearpaw slippers keep tootsies nice and toasty when the weather gets frightful. The slip-on style also features a suede upper and a supportive closed back.

Classic II Genuine Shearling Lined Short Boot

The classic Ugg boot will never truly go out of style, and the brand keeps offering an array of neutral and bright colors of the shearling-lined style.

Still looking for the perfect gift? Be sure to check out Shop TODAY’s 2020 Gift Guide to shop for everyone on your list, including:

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