A Vermont boot brand is coming back after several years off the market — a return that is a déjà vu experience for the boots' creator.
Scott Hardy started making footwear in the mid-1990s. At first he made overshoes, then several cold weather shoe styles followed.
One day one of Hardy’s sales reps had his sample bag stolen while he was out making calls. The one he borrowed in its place contained a prototype of a shearling boot Hardy was working on.
“He says, 'the buyers love this shearling boot,’” Hardy recalled recently as he sat in his Vergennes office. “ I said, ‘It’s not ready yet,’ and he said, ‘Make it ready.’ That basically precipitated hyper-growth for the company.”
That’s how Ulu was born in 2002. The name comes from a knife used by native peoples in the arctic region.
At the time, the company was based in Burlington.
After three years making the boots and attracting a loyal following of customers who purchased them from retailers like EMS and The Walking Company, Hardy sold the business to a company that itself was eventually bought out by the bootmaker Wolverine, which stopped making the Ulu brand.
For the past six years Ulu hasn’t been in stores, but Hardy says the loyal following remains.
“Customers have been going into these stores for the past six years, saying, 'Can I replace my Ulus?' and they’re saying, 'Sorry, it’s out of business,'” he says.
Since he sold Ulu, Hardy has been involved in a variety of projects as a consultant, entrepreneur and investor.
He says he kept waiting for someone else to fill what he perceived as a vacuum in the boot market for a product like Ulu — something rugged, long-lasting and engineered for comfort.
And he kept hearing from people who were doing everything they could to hang onto the boots he made by gluing them or duct taping them together.
“They couldn’t find an alternative to the product,” says Hardy.
This year, through his business Linckia, Hardy purchased his old company back from Wolverine. In November, the first new Ulu boots in years will be available in stores and online.
Hardy says he’s replicating the original boot, but he’s not trying to repeat the experience he had when he first introduced Ulu. He’s trying to have a better experience by applying the lessons he learned.
“It’s a bit like graduating from college and going back to sophomore year in high school. Can I have it be more of a fun time this time around?” he says.
Like many brands of footwear, the boots are made overseas — in Vietnam. The shearling liner comes from New Zealand.
Hardy is running the company from an office in downtown Vergennes and for now its more or less a one-man operation.
But he expects it will grow. Hardy says in its first incarnation Ulu had about 15 Vermont employees.