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Not Just A Label – Doc Martens

Not Just A Label – Doc Martens

At the heart of every subculture there is a drive to be different, this drive starts with youth revolutions. Doc Marten’s were adopted by generation after generation and have become synonymous with skinheads, grunge, punk and rebellion. The company had a humble beginning in the heart of English Midlands, in Northampton. The Griggs family had been making boots since 1901, they were established and respected. It was a turn of fate, which would prove to transform the family business, when, one day in Cobb’s Lane Office, Bill Griggs happened to see an advertisement. Whilst flicking through the Shoe and Leather News Magazine he found an ad from a German duo seeking overseas partners for their revolutionary air cushioned sole.

Dr Martens had been a doctor in the German Army during WWII; he had suffered a skiing injury whilst on leave and upon returning to the army, found the standard issue army boots were too uncomfortable for his injured foot. He was a born innovator and began immediately designing improvements to the boot, with soft leather and air padded soles made from discarded tyres. During lootings at the end of the war, Dr Martens took leather from a cobbler’s shop and hand made himself a pair of boots with an air cushion sole. His old friend, Dr Herbert Funck was intrigued by the new boot design, the two quickly became partners. Originally they made the soles using discarded rubber from Luftwaffe airfields. The comfortable design was most popular with housewives, 80% of sales in the first decade going to women over 40. By 1952 the pair were enjoying relatively good success and had opened a factory in Munich and 7 years later the ambitious pair decided to seek international partners, to expand the business. Bill Griggs contacted the German duo, buying the patent rights to manufacture the shoes in the UK. The Griggs reshaped the heel for a better fit, trademarked the sole ‘AirWair’ and added trademark yellow stitching. The family anglicised the Doctor’s name, conceiving the brand Doc Martens. The legend was born on the 1st of April 1960; eight-eyelet Oxblood Smooth leather boots began production in the Cobbs Lane factory. The quality guarantee and reliability of the shoe attracted the working class in their droves; soon every postman, police officer and factory worker was wearing them.

By the early 1970s, skinheads were emerging from the working class and assumed the Doc Marten as their uniform. The boot became the symbol of rebellion against the hippie wave that was rising from the middle classes. Soon other subcultures were adopting the Doc Marten to symbolize their own rebellion and revolution. By the late 80s the shoes had become the signature style for bikers, New Wave musicians and punk, one of the most important youth tribes of the past century. Music legends paraded their DM’s on stages; making a clear statement against conventional society, government and everything that had gone before, this was their time, their revolution, and the Doc Marten boot embodied that.

In the 1990s, as grunge fashion emerged, the Doc Marten flew and wearing the shoe was firmly part of the overground. A six-storey Doc Martens department store was opened in Covent Garden, selling food, belts, watches and, of course, shoes. The company was making 10 million pairs of shoes a year and the Griggs family was enjoying revenues of £170 million. At this point Docs were still made exclusively in England. But then something happened, perhaps they became too fashionable, perhaps they lost their rebellious appeal? Perhaps there were reasons within the company, but whatever happened, unfortunately, a drop in sales right at the end of the 90s/early 2000’s meant that the company began having them made abroad where they were considerably cheaper to make.

In 2003 the Dr. Martens company came close to bankruptcy. On 1 April that year, under pressure from declining sales, the company ceased making shoes in the United Kingdom and moved all production to China and Thailand. Five factories and two shops were closed in the UK as a result of this decision, and more than 1000 of the firm’s employees lost their jobs. Following the closures, the R. Griggs company employed only 20 people in the UK, all of whom were located in the firm’s head office. In 2004, Dr. Martens began producing footwear again at the Cobbs Lane Factory in Wollaston, England. These products are part of the “Vintage” line, which the company advertises as being made to the original specifications. Sales of these shoes are low in comparison to those made in Asia, however; in 2010, the factory was producing about 50 pairs per day. In 2005, the R. Griggs company was given an award by the “Institute for Turnaround” for implementing a successful restructure.

The 21st century came with promises of innovation and technology, youth culture changed entirely, ‘tribes’ have fallen out of the limelight, replaced with fluid, intermingled complex virtual youth trends. However the Doc Marten lives firmly on, now a classic and a legend, representing the passions and movements of generations, with a rich and personal history. One of the most notable features of the shoe is the loyalty and admiration of their wearers. Whether rigidly laced, purposefully unpolished and scuffed, or unlaced and open at the top, each pair is a personal expression of its wearer. Following the first few weeks of wearing them in, the boot moulds to your foot, and an everlasting bond is made.

Shop Doc Martens in our collection: 1990’s Made In England Doc Ankle Boots