The profound economic impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic has forever changed lives and livelihoods but for Gold Coast business UGG Since 1974, resilience and the desire for consumers to buy quality, local Australian made product has been their silver-lining to this crisis.
Hannah and Todd Watts are third-generation owners of the Miami-based business which has manufactured premium sheepskin boots and accessories from their bespoke workshop for over 45 years.
"When COVID-19 initially hit, it was a pretty tumultuous time because we're heavily reliant on international tourists physically visiting our bricks and mortar stores. Literally overnight, our manufacturing staff went from 15 down to 2," explains Hannah, co-owner and general manager. "Thankfully there has been a huge momentum shift in Australians really looking to where products are designed and manufactured."
The reinvigorated interest in finding, supporting, and buying local, quality Australian made products over cheaper imported versions from overseas has given UGG Since 1974 a lifeline.
"With Australians reassessing where their products are coming from and determined to support local industry or small business, within a few days of this momentum shift, we were able to put everyone back in work at the workshop," says Hannah. "That's 40-odd staff able to roll along thanks to Australians making the economy grow by choosing where to spend their money."
Buying Australian has a knock-on effect on other businesses too.
"We source all of our sheepskin from Australian farmers. So, the demand for our brand increasing has that knock-on effect back to the farmers breeding the sheep themselves, the wool classers, the thread suppliers, packaging suppliers, and courier drivers, and so on," says Hannah. "It's massive, in terms of importance, on what Australian business can do when they're supported."
The fact we're all bunkering down at home as temperatures drop, can't hurt sales of the humble sheepskin boot either. But, buyer beware, not all sheepskin boots are created equal and some products declaring they're 'Australian made' might only be somewhat true.
"There are hundreds of companies that have UGG or some derivative of UGG in their name. As a consumer, shopping online, it is very difficult. You cannot touch or feel the quality and whilst many claim 'Australian sheepskin' or 'Australian owned' the truth is the majority of UGG boots are not made in Australia," explains Hannah. "Companies can import fully constructed UGGs in flat packs from overseas, glue the soles on in Australia and put the green and gold, Australian Made tag on them."
Hannah estimates there are five UGG companies 'doing the right thing' from start to finish in Australia. Price is often a good indication. Quality Merino sheepskin and hand-crafted Australian UGGs will cost more than what you'll find at Target.
"I think people are also jumping on board with the 'buy less, buy better' philosophy. It's better for the environment too," says Hannah. "The only problem for us is, customers only need to buy a pair of our UGGS every ten years or so! They're handmade from A-grade Merino sheepskin, they last for years and years!"
* This feature has been produced in collaboration with City of Gold Coast
Australian Associated Press