09 Nov 2004, 04:38:22 PM

Reporter: Nicolas Boot

Although many won't openly admit it most Australians have owned a pair at one time or another but now the ubiquitous Ugg boot has become a must-have global fashion item. And now they've sparked a legal battle between Australia and America over the ownership of the name Ugg.

The giant American footwear manufacturer Deckers says it bought the rights to the name several years ago and with its own expensive brand now on sale here, is threatening legal action against Australian companies like Tony Mortel's who has been using the name on his boots for 40 years. Tony says the Decker's company is bullying Australian manufacturers.

So what's in the name? Well a lot of money. In fact the global market is now worth half a billion dollars and Deckers Australian boss Paul Karis says his company is only protecting what's legally theirs.

There are many companies in Australia making these sheepskin boots but they are now finding tough competition from China as well as the American juggernaut which is flexing its legal muscle. But how genuine are these products and how do they stack up for quality, durability and value.

We've tested 6 of the top selling brands in Australia.

The totally Australian owned and made Mortels sheepskin boots selling for $100 a pair. The Australian owned and made Skiniks brand retailing for slightly less. We've tested the middle of the range Emu Ridge product, solely Australian owned but it's made in China, retailing for $120 dollars. The Australian owned Aussie Sheep and Wool Products sells for $129.95 - but it's made in china. Two pairs each called Ugg Australia were tested, one is Australian owned and made locally, the other is more than $100 dearer but is owned by American footwear giant Deckers and manufactured in China.

§ Mortels (Made in Australia) Australian Cost $100

§ Skiniks (Made in Australia) Australian Cost $95

§ Emu Ridge (Australian) (Made in China) Cost $120

§ Aussie Sheep and Wool Products (Australian) Cost $129.95

§ Ugg Australia (Made in Australia) $155

§ Ugg Australia (Made in China) American $259.95

Shoe analyst Bob Vickery pulled all the pairs apart in his laboratory, from the soles, to the lining, the upper or surface of the boot, to the color-fastness, even the material its supposed to be made from.

He says the best way to tell if it's not an ugg boot is to pull the lining of the boot if it comes away it's not the genuine article.

Bob Vickery's comprehensive tests disputes that the Aussie-owned Ugg boots are the best, in fact, he found almost the opposite.

"In the footwear supplied two of them were not genuine ugg boots because they had a suede leather outer in both cases an imitation sheepskin lining."

Bob's referring to the Aussie Sheep and Wool products brand and the Emu Ridge which are both made in China.

And when it came to sole strength, the Aussies failed again. Bob easily demonstrated "as you can see that sole can just come off in wear."

But a big tick of approval for the expensive Deckers Ugg Australia brand also made in China.

Now to the results and there were some surprises. The Aussie Sheep and Wool Products brand that's totally synthetic and made in china came up best for quality;

1. Aussie Sheep and Wool Products (Australian) Cost $129.95

2. Ugg Australia (Made in China) American $259.95

3 Ugg Australia (Made in Australia) Australia $155

But the boots which didn't do so well were those owned by Australian companies. The Emu Ridge, made in China, The Aussie made Skiniks along with the Mortel's fared badly for quality.

4. Emu Ridge (Australian) (Made in China) $120

5. Skiniks (Made in Australia) Australian $95

6. Mortels (Made in Australia) Australian $100

"The big concern is that some of the ugg boots are actually falling apart because they haven't been glued together properly or the stitching is loose it's of real concern." Tony Woolgar heads the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union he admits being surprised at the results.

"Well I would have thought the Aussie product would have stood up to the test because I have always thought the product we produce in Australia is far superior to the imported products."

As for Tony Mortel he believes we should have tested more of his boots, because he claims the pair he sold us for a hundred dollars were seconds even though we were never told that.

In the meantime trademark expert and lawyer David Steward says Australian sheepskin boot manufacturers are fighting a losing battle over the Ugg name