First things first. From the Ugglebo About page, I present question no. 1:
Q: How do you pronounce Ugglebo?
A: Ooo-glee-boo, not ugg-la-boo…more like eeewww---gla-boo.
Here on Every Clog Has Its Day, we frequently speak reverently of the brands that got most of us started on our lifelong addiction to wooden footwear: Båstad, Sanita, Eskil's, Olaf Daughters. But among that pantheon of legendary clog makers belongs a name that many of us have only just learned to pronounce: Ugglebo. ("Look for the uggla (Swedish for owl).")
I recently caught up with Dave Giese, the President and Owner of Ugglebo and quickly got myself up to speed with where his brand has been and where it is today. Dave is a young man who probably never dreamed that wooden shoes would become the focus of his life. But when you fall in love with the daughter of one of Sweden's leading clog makers, you never know what might happen. (You can read Dave's delightful story of how he and his wife met on the Ugglebo About the Owners page.) Mr. Giese has come on board and jumped into the business with both clog-shod feet. He's learned a lot in the short time he's been at the helm. And from I can tell, he's prepared to take this company to some exciting new places in the future. Check out the Ugglebo website now. That way when they launch their new website in the next month or so, you'll be able to notice the difference.
Vintage Ugglebo styles
ECHID: You've researched the history of clogs pretty thoroughly. Can you tell me when the clog style that we tend to think of when we think of clogs was first designed and manufactured? Is the round toe and stapled upper a style that's been around a long time? Or is it a more recent creation?
DAVE: I really think it depends on how far we are looking back. If we were looking back hundreds of years we would be talking about a complete wooden clog that brings back memories of "Dutch clogs." If we are talking more about the last hundred or so years, we are definitely talking about a wooden bottom with a leather upper that is stapled to the wood. It is also interesting to note that stapling leather to a wooden bottom is an old Swedish technique. Initially they used a hammer and nails to attach the leather, but as you can imagine as technology has increased, staple and nail guns have replaced the hammer.
When we are thinking of the classic Swedish style we definitely should be thinking of the Ugglebo Tokyo model. This classic of all classic styles was the foundation for the Swedish clog craze of the 1970's!
(photos courtesy of regular reader Matt)
ECHID: Ugglebo is one of those brands that we older clog fans remember fondly from our younger years. Båstad, Olaf Daughters, Eskil's, and Sanita come to mind as other clog makers from that period. Have I left anyone out? I believe Sandgren was around, but I don't recall ever hearing the name in the U. S. before. Where did Ugglebo fit in at the time? How did your brand distinguish itself from the others on the market?
DAVE: I think you hit most of the major brands. But keep in mind that there were over 200 clog makers in Sweden during the 1970's so I am guessing you might have missed a few of the smaller brands.
Believe it or not, over 1,000,000 pairs of Sandgrens were sold per year at the peak, and yes, our Sandgrens brand was definitely here in the United States! Actually, Ugglebo's founder worked for Sandgrens for 15 years before getting started on his own and founding Ugglebo.
Ugglebo started selling Ugglebo Clogs to Eskil Gidholm (founder of Eskil's Clog Shop) in the late 1960's. Eskil was a great salesman, and I am guessing his authentic Swedish accent helped as well. He started with his own retail shop and also imported Ugglebo Clogs for wholesaling. In the later part of the 1970’s Eskil founded Eskil’s Clog Shop.
Additionally, during the early-to-mid 1970’s, Ugglebo was selling to another distributor that sold all over America to retailers big and small, for example: JC Penney. By the mid 1970's Ugglebo had come to be known as a premium quality clog along with Båstad. We were not the cheapest out there, but customers were willing to pay our higher prices based on our quality. We simply set our brand apart with hard work and dedication to making quality clogs.
Keep in mind that America wasn't our only market. Ugglebo was also being sold in high volumes all over the world including Canada, the UK, Japan and all over greater Europe.
ECHID: I don't know if you saw the press I gave Epaulet back in January on Every Clog Has Its Day complete with a video that owner Adele Berne filmed of her visit to the Ugglebo factory. Do you supply clogs to a number of other retailers presently? I remember that Eskil's used to co-brand your shoes when they sold them here. Are you stepping up your visibility as a brand now?
DAVE: We definitely see the future of clogs as very bright. Recently clogs have come back into fashion in a big way, and we are making sure that we are a part of that popularity. Over the coming months you will see our new website coming out as well as our attendance at major footwear and fashion shows.
It has been great working on collaborations and in particular with Epaulet. They appreciate our quality, which shows by the amount of work and attention they have given the line (traveling to Sweden to make the video, among other things)!
ECHID: Are you still operating a factory in Sweden? What's located in Chisago City, Minnesota?
DAVE: We sure do! We are making our clogs in the same place that they have always been made since 1965! Our U. S. office and distribution center is in Chisago City, Minnesota, coincidentally home to many, many Swedish immigrants from years ago.
ECHID: Since you enjoy a unique position straddling two cultures, how would you describe the clog's role in a Swedish wardrobe compared to the way we wear them here in the U. S. for either casual fashion or as comfort work attire. Are clogs worn and viewed differently in Scandinavia?
DAVE: The short answer to this is that yes at different times in the fashion cycle they are viewed a bit differently. The classic wooden clog market is very stable in Scandinavia. People have made them a part of their everyday footwear needs as many have in America. With clogs in their current fashion state you can still see a very close parallel on both sides of the Atlantic.
ECHID: How do you explain the appeal of clogs? Most readers I hear from don't simply wear them for comfort the way you'd wear a pair of foam insoles. They seem to be emotionally attached to the style. There's something about the look of the shoe and feel of the wood that is very appealing. Do you have any insights to offer as someone married into the clog making business?
DAVE: All that I can say is that the first time I saw a tiny, little pair of kids' clogs, I fell in love! Writing in words the way that a person feels about just the right pair of clogs is almost impossible! What I can say for your readers is that they already know the feeling we all have for clogs in general and especially for just the right pair. Maybe it is the wood. Maybe it is the constant flow of new leathers and options. But no matter what, the simple word is "excitement!"
ECHID: What inspired you personally to make the leap from the stability of a career as an airline pilot to the more uncharted waters of wooden footwear?
DAVE: Wow, what a question! The best that I can say is: a true love for clogs, a true love for the absolutely amazing craftsmanship of my father-in-law and keeping the Ugglebo legacy alive! In all honesty, I saw an opportunity to give clog lovers what they want! Giving clog lovers what they want is our mission and it is yet to be complete, but we are working every day long and hard to do so! The next six months will really go to show what all of our hard work has done. Your readers and clog lovers out there are really going to love our Fall line as well as our upcoming Spring line.
Seeing the look on peoples face and receiving all of the positive comments from our customers really says it all. Lastly, seeing the look of pride that my father-in-law has when people tell him how good of a job he does makes it all worth it.
More recently what keeps me inspired is all of the hard work of our employees. In particular the workers at the factory have done an absolute amazing job! They truly take pride in their work and it sustains the UGGLEBO mission!
ECHID: What do your customers tell you about your shoes? What's the best compliment you've ever received?
DAVE: They tell us time and time again that the quality is amazing. On more than one occasion I have heard "This is the best clog I have ever seen." We do our best and take pride in it!
ECHID: Did your wife make a clog convert out of you? What's your favorite style?
DAVE: I think I love clogs more than my wife does so I would have to say no to that question. So far as my favorite style goes, I would have to say the women's BALI. It is a classic, but trendy sandal, and with the right combination of leather it just looks amazing! Give it a look in our spring line with our all NEW HIGH HEELS!
ECHID: How did you persuade her to go into the clog business when initially she wanted to "cut-the-clog-cord" (as you mention on the About Us page)?
DAVE: I guess you could say that I told her, "I love clogs,…but I love you sooooooooooooooooo much more, Elskling (which means "honey" in Swedish).” What could she say after that?
[On my feet as I blog: my fave funkis clog sandals. Beating the heat once again.]