UGG Boot Founder Took Australian Trends to California

The founder of boot seller UGG, Brian Smith, started with a small loan and a dream — and ended with a billion-dollar company.

Australian-born Smith studied at the University of California, Los Angeles' Graduate School of Management to become an accountant. Though he fell in love with the surf culture of California, he put his passion on the back burner to make a living. But he couldn't deny his entrepreneurial urges for long, and soon, he wanted to create a product that, in his words, would be "the next big thing."

After going back to Australia to ponder his options, he saw an ad for sheepskin boots in a surfer magazine and realized exactly what he had to bring back to the states.

Initially, Smith was unsuccessful in his attempt to market sheepskin boots in California. While Australians knew that sheepskin was durable and warm, Americans had the idea that the material wasn't sturdy. But when Smith hired professional surfers to model UGG boots, their sales leaped up to $400,000 over just two months.

After becoming popular with the surfing community, Smith wanted to branch out to other markets, such as snowboarding and skiing. After just a five-minute phone call with a public relations firm in which Smith stressed the need for a “national casual comfort” campaign, UGG boots were on the front page of the Lifestyle section of USA Today the very next day, and retailers from around the country were calling about stocking the boots. And when the United States Olympic Team wore their UGG boots during the 1994 Winter Olympics, the footwear brand was introduced to the global market.

In 2006, Smith knew it was the right time to sell. Deckers Outdoor Corporation bought the boot company for $14.6 million and promptly opened the brand's first storefront in Manhattan. In 2008, the company's sales were up to $689 million, and for fiscal year 2022, UGG sales were just shy of $2 billion.