Love them or loathe them, Uggs have been a fashion staple for years. However, wearers may not be happy to hear of suspected ugly truth about how their woolly foot warmers are manufactured. According to a new online petition, Ugg boot makers are animal rights abusers. These rumors have been circulating for a few years now, but the issue has come to the forefront again.
Uggs were the most searched for fashion item in 2013’s Black Friday searches online. According to a poll by Besco.com, more than a quarter of American women own at least one pair. Anytime they look like they are taking a dip in popularity, they surge back. The most recent addition to the stable is the One Direction ugg boot, available in pastel shades with a 1D logo on the side; this probably means a whole new generation of teens will take to them.
The petition claims that the merino sheep, bred for the abundance and thickness of their fleece, are treated abominably. Their skins become so dense and heavy that they are very prone to infestations of flies, commonly known as “flystrike.” These flies lay their eggs in the trapped folds of moist skin which then hatch into maggots. Rather than sacrifice the precious wool, farmers will not shear; instead they allow the maggots to infest and eat away at the sheep. These farmers will sometimes use gardening shears to hack out lumps of infected flesh, and they do so without the use of any pain relief.
After the huge coats of wool have been removed, the sheep farmers no longer have any use for the animals. They are packed onto ships to the Middle East, where they are slaughtered. The journey takes weeks and the conditions are hot and cramped, causing panic and often death. The petition suggests that tens of thousands die en route from inability to reach the food source, injury or illness.
The Petition Site claims that they are sent to the Middle East or Asia because of lenient, or non-existent, animal slaughter regulations there. The sheep are not stunned prior to execution, and apparently remain conscious as they have their limbs hacked off and are dismembered. The video on the site is extremely disturbing.
The video was made 2 years ago and is presented by the singer Pink on behalf of PETA. She does not specifically name Ugg, but calls for a boycott on all wool products. She points out that Merino sheep are uniquely unsuited to Australia’s hot climate, but that other wool producing countries have similarly appalling standards.
The UGG Australia company reputedly make over $1 billion in profit every year. It takes two sheep to make one pair of Ugg boots. UGG Australia have responded to the resurgent controversy largely directed at them. They state on their Facebook page that they do not, in fact, raise their own sheep and that “the factories that manufacture our products are fair and safe places to work.” They say they have a “comprehensive Ethical Supply Chain” and point to a link to Deckers, the Californian company which owns the actual brand name. Deckers is said to have 95% of the market share and they manufacture in China.
The Deckers link explain that they do not support the practice of “mulesing,” which is the technique referred to in the petition and video. The video shows the removing strips of skin from around the rear to try to prevent the parasitic fly larvae infestation.
“Uggs” or “ugg boots” have become generic terms, and they are by no means all manufactured by UGG. This often creates difficulties in the discussion. In Australia alone, more than 70 trademarks use some form of the name. They began in Australia as cosy footwear for surfers and were not at all fashionable for many decades. Wearers were usually derided and given the slang names “Westies,” “Bogans” or “Dags.” They were even banned from being worn in public places. As surfing culture spread around the world, so did the ugg boot, but it was only in the late 1990s they took off as a must-have fashion item and were worn outside the home and in the street.
Product placement in shows like Sex and the City saw Uggs rocket in popularity and sales. Oprah Winfrey bought 350 pairs for her entire staff in 2000.
Pamela Anderson, who is often credited with popularizing the Ugg boot among Hollywood celebrities when she wore them in her Baywatch days, has since angrily denounced the brand. She had not realized they were made from skins.
UGG Australia insists it only uses sheepskin that is a by-product of the meat industry.
If the petitioners claims have any validity, then the truth about ugg boots could be very ugly indeed.
By Kate Henderson