The relationship that Deckers has fostered within the footwear industry has been a distinctive one, encouraging a curious and independent spirit within brands that gives people the freedom to pursue lifelong passions.
Over its 50 years, Deckers has made it its mission to positively impact the world by uniting purposeful brands and diverse people who are driven to succeed and create change. Today, Deckers’ portfolio of like-minded brands includes UGG, HOKA, Teva, Sanuk, and Koolaburra with approximately 4,000 employees.
Although, today’s Deckers didn’t just happen, according to Deckers’ founder Doug Otto and the company’s long-tenured employees.
“It was the people that always made it work,” said Otto. “Karl Lopker and I were buddies in college at UCSB before we founded the company together. I was a surfer and wanted to pursue that at the time when Karl was making a leather flip-flop.”
The flip flop was a very durable sandal called the Latigo Thong which Otto took a sample of on a surfing trip to Hawaii in hopes of selling them.
“I drove up and down the coast with printouts of the ad,” said Otto. “I’d tack these up on all of the telephone poles near the surf breaks and people could pay for them by mail order.”
Influenced by the way people in Hawaii began calling the sandals “deckas,” which referenced the multiple decks of colors on the shoe’s platform, in early 1975, the company officially changed its name from Driftwood Dan to Deckers. “Then all the surf shops wanted to carry them,” said Otto, “and it took off from garage operation to getting a little industrial.”
“He actually just started the company with no idea that it could turn into what it has,” said Dave Powers, President and CEO of Deckers Brands, of Otto’s beginnings, “But he stuck with it every day, he was passionate about it, he put his heart and soul into it and he made the right decisions along the way.”
Growing down the coast from Santa Barbara
Deckers Brands first came to life in a tiny warehouse in Carpinteria, CA. At the time she started Leticia Baines, Purchasing Lead, remembers “it was so small [that when she started] there was a sewing department and assembly department. It was just like a family thing.”
“In 1993, when I went to my first all-hands meeting it was held in that little warehouse which was small, maybe 4,000 square feet at the most,” said Adam Druckman, Corporate Events Manager at Deckers, who has been with the company since 1993.
In 1996, Deckers Brands moved from that small warehouse to an office in Goleta, CA. It was a new era for the company. Shaina Groves, Director, Sales Operation and Strategy, FLG, remembers an ongoing revolution of the building, tearing down walls to put up new ones that would be painted in vibrant colors. “It was the best,” she said. “It felt fun
and creative. You could really feel the family vibe every time you walked through the door.”
Continuing to grow, Deckers Brands outgrew its office again in 2014. This time, the company built its own campus.
“Moving into our own campus was pretty wild,” said Powers. “I think that was the first time everyone felt like our offices were representing the true scale of the business. We started
looking like a more mature global company that was able to put amazing products in people’s hands all around the world.”
It wasn’t until Teva was created in 1984 that Otto says the company truly began developing how to make Deckers a brand of longevity.
“I don’t think it was until we got to Teva that we really learned that,” said Otto. Teva’s founder was a Colorado river guide who put a back strap on a Deckers flip flop. “All the guides needed them because tennis shoes would get soggy or have pebbles in them but flip flops would fly off in the white water. He developed the first sports sandal.”
The innovation came along with the idea that a flip flop could be made to stay on with a strapping system, similar to a leash for a surfboard. Importantly, the innovation also began fueling the idea of taking niche products and making them into global brands.
Teva wasn’t the only brand to come onto the scene. In 1995, Deckers was introduced to a small brand named UGG.
Otto became fast friends with Brian Smith, Founder of UGG, often seeing each other in surfing shops. The two swapped stories and helped each other on the road, aware that their products held the key to two distinctive seasons. While Deckers thrived in the summer months, UGG reigned supreme in the winter.
It soon became an ongoing joke that one should buy the other out – although
what started out as a joke soon became reality when Otto ultimately decided to take the leap.
Admittingly, acquiring UGG was a big risk. “It would be a success if we could get it to $50 million and honestly we weren’t sure we could do that,” said Otto.
“Everyone thought it was just a fad that was going to happen but we weren’t going to make any money,” said Baines.
According to Powers, Otto, Thatcher and Smith are all problem solvers in their own way and that way of thinking has become an important detail of how Deckers Brands succeeds.
Gerard Marceda, Senior Director, Retail NA, who has been with Deckers Brands since 2006, said it has been amazing to watch the UGG brand evolve within Deckers “to the brand it is today and become a global powerhouse and an international iconic brand.”
That evolution was no small accomplishment for the team, said Powers. “They took a functional brand that was used by surfers and transformed it into a fashion leader, and nobody does that. I think that decision and how they’ve pivoted the brand was absolutely critical.”
“To acquire Teva and to acquire UGG, Otto set a foundation for how this company thinks, how it behaves and how it allows that entrepreneurial spirit that we still have after 50 years,” said Powers. “He planted the seeds for the kind of company that this has turned into.”
In 2011, lightning struck again when Deckers acquired Sanuk, followed quickly by the acquisition of HOKA in 2012. One of the original HOKA founders, Jean-Luc Diard, is still with Deckers today.
“You stick at it, you stay true to your convictions, you stay true to your beliefs and you just work at it and it’s amazing what can happen,” said Powers. “I care about our employees as I care about my family and I think that happens a lot in our company, we really care about each other. To me, that’s the enduring side of Deckers that is most special.”