Trademarking ‘Ugly’

Because snow season is practically upon us, I’ve been thinking about getting myself a new pair of boots. And though I used to make fun of them because I found them so sloppy-looking, I’ve been seriously considering getting UGG boots. They’re those boots from Australia made with sheepskin and lined with wool which are supposed to be extremely comfy. Apparently they also breathe really well so you can wear them to the beach and stay cool while they can also keep your bare feet warm even in -30ºC (-22ºF) weather. They’ve been around in Australia and New Zealand for a long time where they’re traditionally called Ugh or Ugg or Ug boots, all generic terms meaning “ugly” in reference to the same type of sheepskin boot. They became a huge fad these past years when A to Z-list Hollywood stars and fashion models started wearing them to do their groceries or pairing them with evening dresses or whatever. Whether you’re and Ugg lover or and Ugg hater, they seem to be here to stay since they’ve gained huge mass appeal and are still selling like hotcakes. So far, just another consumer product, right?

Where the story gets interesting is that in 1971 an enterprising Australian decided to trademark the terms “Ugh-boot” and various derivatives of the word, and then sold the trade-marks to an American company called Deckers Outdoor Corporation, who then went ahead and created a trademark called UGG Australia. Of course this caused all kinds of legal trouble, especially when Deckers announced to Ozzie and Kiwi manufacturers that they couldn’t sell their boots using the terms Ugh or Ug (etc) anymore in order to market and sell their boots. Then Decker turned around and started manufacturing UGG Australia boots… in China (where else?). Of course, I didn’t know about any of this until yesterday when I went on eBay looking for a pair of “genuine” UGG Australia boots, assuming like most consumers that getting that brand was a guarantee that they were actually made in Australia, right? Ha. One eBay vendor goes as far as showing close-up photos of all the tags and labels inside the boots to show off that they indeed say MADE IN CHINA, which in this case, is a mark of authenticity: “Beware of copies” some vendors say when presenting their product “If they say their boots are made in Australia or New Zealand, you know you’re not getting a GENUINE pair of UGG Australia boots.” Isn’t China the place where they’re always making knock-offs of popular brands? And then… If it says “UGG Australia” and it has a “Made in China” label on it, but it’s actually a knockoff, does it make the Uggs in question more genuine than the Ugh boots produced in Australia? Talk about a mind-fuck.

I know it’s just a pair of boots. I know that if I want a pair of genuinely sheepskin boots made in Australia (or New Zealand) then I can easily find that too. But it’s just the principle of the thing. Pisses. Me. Off. I can’t think too long about the hundreds of thousand of people eschewing sheepskin boots made in Australia even as they’re buying into the whole Ozzie and Kiwi vibe, because the clever marketing people have trained them to buy a supposedly Australian product while FLAUNTING the fact that it’s made in China. What other “local product” are they going to hijack next??? It’s probably too late already. There’s no end to how far this thing can go. Pretty soon, NONE of us will be considered “genuine” unless there’s a firmly attached label saying “Made in China” sticking out of our butts. I’d rather not still be around when that happens, thank you very much.

As to whether I’ll still get a pair of Ugh or Ugg UGG or Ug boots or not be they genuinely fake or real and counterfeited… I haven’t made up my mind. It’s all become so complicated! I just want a pair of good boots! So I think that until further notice, I’ll just keep wearing my Pajar boots from two years ago. They’re not made of sheepskin, but they keep my feet warm and dry in our crazy Canadian winters and as far as I know, those are still actually being made in Canada.

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