In the increasingly fast-paced global fashion industry where seasons and trends are spinning at breakneck speed, Ugg has held steady on their signature Classic boot for over 45 years. When the Classic Mini Regenerate Boot was released this past October, the boot was lauded as a big step toward bringing the regenerative movement to the mainstream fashion consumer, which it has.
The strategic Savory Institute and Land to Market project initially involved 23 ranches in the pilot phase and has grown to include over 80 ranches from across the Atkins Ranch network to measure and quantify ecological outcomes of utilizing Holistic Management practices on their ranches.
Not only does the Ugg-Atkins partnership foster ecosystem regeneration, but it brings up an indirect byproduct of regenerative agriculture: longevity. From the beginning of the Ugg story, the cult favorite Classic has had staying power not only because of how the boot performs, both as a surf culture staple as well as fashion boot, but also because sheepskin is special and should be treated with respect. “We've always had this strong tie to natural materials, to sheep skin, to leather,” says Nicks Ericsson, Senior Director of Brand Purpose, Sustainability and DEI of Ugg/Deckers Brand. “It's always been about craftsmanship and quality and the versatility and the longevity of our product. We know that consumers wear our products for many years. I think the average consumer replaces their boots every three to five years, but many consumers keep them even longer.”
In addition to delivering ecological benefits through a product, Ugg’s sourcing partner, Atkins Ranch, is also bringing long-lasting economic benefits to their rancher group. Pat Maher, CEO of Atkins Ranch, says that the partnership with Ugg has impacted the way he thinks about the future of the regenerative movement. “Our relationship with Ugg has provided a strong incentive for our ranchers to start thinking about their land in a different way. The aim for most, if not all, of our ranchers is to leave their land in a better state for future generations.” A long term mindset in agriculture is challenging in the global economy that often puts ranchers in a position to keep pace with the commodification of materials. But as Maher goes on to say, “Atkins' main focus is to secure the premiums to reward the ranchers for the good work they are doing. The regenerative movement in my mind will benefit the farmers financially and look after the planet at the same time. It’s a win-win for all. Plus it breaks down the often negative views of many people who think all farms are high intensity factory farms – there are many ranchers throughout the world who care about the environment and their biggest asset – their land.”
Regeneration is built on collaboration because supply chains depend on one another. While larger projects have a more robust ecological impact, trust, timing, and focused energy becomes critical when disrupting large, complex systems. This is where a common mission to see the project succeed is critical, and often the reason that sustainability initiatives are so challenging to get off the ground. For Ericsson, seeing material sourcing as an imperative to Ugg’s ecological responsibility is part of their legacy and story, “The way we look at regenerative fitting into that story is finding a way we can actually have a positive impact on the planet through materials. Materials are where we have our biggest environmental impact. We know that's where we have the biggest opportunity for positive impact, but also to reduce our negative impacts.” With sheepskin at the core of the Ugg brand, finding a sourcing solution that could make their flagship product part of ecological regeneration has become a powerful part of the Ugg journey, along with longevity. Ericsson goes on to say, “We see regenerative as a way for us to have a positive impact on the planet and also tying into this idea of longevity. We want our consumers and our products to live for a long time. Now we have a way of making sure that there's longevity of land, the planet, and our legacy for the future through regenerative. So I think that's how it ties into this idea of making products that are crafted to last and now it's hopefully making our resources and our world last even longer for us.”
The Ugg-Atkins Ranch partnership signals to other brands that operate on a global scale, that building supply chains of raw materials sourced from verified regenerating farms is challenging, but it is also possible, and it is happening now. Taking the regenerative sourcing concept from idea to implementation takes a dedicated effort to move away from a race to the bottom of ecological extraction and a deliberate step through the door of regenerative. Ericsson sees regenerative agriculture as a vehicle to have a more holistic, dynamic conversation about what it will take to pull humanity back from the edge of the proverbial ecological cliff, “Consumers are so focused on the carbon problem alone. So my work is to figure out how to reframe the problem to be more about all the amazing benefits that regenerative agriculture brings to the overall issue we have in the context of the environmental and social problems in the world right now. This is going to require a bigger effort than just one brand. Aligning on the problem we're trying to solve and then aligning on how regenerative agriculture can be the solution.”
Farmers and ranchers receiving positive market reinforcement will continue to manage their land through Holistic Management, Maher points out. “The feedback has been good – the key point to me is that it has opened the ranchers’' eyes to alternative ways of farming, and has gotten them to consider other factors when making management decisions. Our ranchers are now considering factors like biodiversity, how to maintain cover and how to protect their land. Many have let less economic parts of their ranches regenerate back into native forests that has increased birdlife which has had a huge effect on overall biodiversity, not to mention the fact that it's breathtakingly beautiful.”