Out of Ugg’s Shadow, Bearpaw Comes Into Its Own

It’s the question boot-lovers want to know: Bearpaw or Ugg?

Seriously. Type Bearpaw into Google and “Bearpaw vs. Ugg” is one of the top suggestions, leading the inquiring into a world of Diffen.com pages, discussion boards, and YouTube videos pitting the two boot brands against each other.

The question is so popular Google’s “People also ask” algorithm even provides quick answers in its search results.

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Of course, brand rivalries between similar products are as old as Coke vs. Pepsi, but in 2010, Deckers, which owns the Ugg brand, felt the difference was slight enough that they ended up taking Bearpaw’s parent company to court.

But it wasn’t the first time Deckers sued over what it claimed were copies using “inferior materials, constructions and craftsmanship.”

While “Ugg” is a registered trademark owned by Deckers in more than 130 countries worldwide (including the US), in Australia and New Zealand, where the sheepskin boot style originated, Deckers does not have the exclusive right to use the term there, where it appears in more than 70 registered trademarks in Australia alone.

While sheepskin boots have been worn in Australia for roughly a century, most consumers outside of Australia and New Zealand associate the sheepskin style with Deckers’ Ugg brand name.

Deckers has successfully argued this point in court, including a 2004 lawsuit with Australian boot brand Koolaburra, which Deckers eventually purchased. Deckers also went after Emu Australia for the same reasons in 2010, although the two companies later settled.

“Sometimes, when a brand has momentum and starts to gain market-share, others tend to get a little rattled and feel the need to attack them or disparage their quality or creativity,” said Tom Romeo, Bearpaw owner and founder at the time.

Having settled the matter out of court in 2012, Bearpaw is looking to put the comparisons behind it and focus on what it does best—comfortable footwear with a fashionable edge.

The company’s Spring ’16 collection marks a turning point for the brand, the first full season under the creative helm of Denise LeMons, a footwear industry veteran whose previous work includes stints at Chinese Laundry and Skechers.

Strappy sandals and cork wedge looks typical of spring make appearances, but more surprising is a new collection called Bearly There, a lightweight range of athleisure-inspired footwear which takes Bearpaw in a new direction.

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“We’re not an athletic company by any means, but we understand that Athleisure is such an important space to be in,” said Edna De Pamphilis, Bearpaw marketing director. “Women want shoes that are versatile. They want to be able to put on a pair of boots and go to work and then go meet their friends for a night out.”

Meanwhile the “Emma”—the best-selling boot that’s driven all those Ugg comparisons—and the rest of the similarly-themed “Classic” collection will slowly be phased out as Bearpaw looks to diversify its offerings.

“The classics might currently be the bulk of the business but we really want to segway into more offerings especially outside of that category,” said De Pamphilis.

Diversifying its offerings will help reduce Bearpaw’s exposure to unpredictable winter weather, which last year sent sales of seasonal boots adrift.

Deckers is also re-introducing the Koolaburra brand to the market (now known as Koolaburra by Ugg), which will serve as an entry into the mid-price market for the premium priced Ugg, directly competing with Bearpaw.

Starting this fall, the company is focusing on its Savvy collection, which features slimmer silhouettes, and details like side zippers, angled top lines and buckle closures. De Pamphilis describes Bearpaw’s DNA as inherently outdoorsy and earthy, while still fashionable.

“It’s no longer about that big, bulky looking boot which is what the classic is. It’s about going a bit slimmer and adding more feminine attributes to the shoe,” said De Pamphilis.

Part of that versatility includes new tech features, present in the brand’s Tahoe and Savvy collections. Boots treated with the company’s NeverWet technology, part of a two-year exclusive deal with tire manufacturer Rust-Oleum, repel not only water, but other fluids like wine and coffee.

“We’ve had waterproof boots, but what we wanted to do is add an extra element,” said De Pamphilis. “So for the person who wants to wear the fashionable boots, they don’t have to worry about water going through the suede.”

As Bearpaw settles into a new groove, De Pamphilis remarks that the comparison between brands ultimately comes down to preference, and that Bearpaw isn’t trying to be anything other than itself.

“It’s just your cup of tea. There are people who are about the prestige and about the labels and who would rather pay over $200 for a boot that could actually be probably half of that price,” said De Pamphilis. “We’re not trying to be that [high-end] brand because that’s not who we are, we’re about being able to provide comfortable lifestyle products without breaking the bank.”

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