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Dr. Martens

Dr. Martens is an English footwear and clothing brand, headquartered in Wollaston in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. The company also produces a range of accessories – shoe care products, clothing, bags, etc. Other common names for Dr. Martens are Doc Martens or Docs. The distinguishing features of the footwear are the air-cushioned sole (dubbed Bouncing Soles), upper shape, welted construction and yellow stitching. The boots have been the footwear of choice of various British subcultures: skinheads started to wear them as “Docs” in the 1960s. By the late 1980s, they were popular among scooter riders, punks, goths, some new wave musicians, and members of other youth subcultures, most notably the grunge fashion scene in the early nineties.

In 2006, Griggs’ 1460 Dr. Martens AirWair boot appeared on the list of British design icons which included Concorde, Mini, Jaguar E-Type, Aston Martin DB5, Supermarine Spitfire, Tube map, World Wide Web and the AEC Routemaster bus.

History

Foundation

Klaus Märtens was a doctor in the German army during World War II. While on leave in 1945, he injured his ankle while skiing in the Bavarian Alps. He found that his standard-issue army boots were too uncomfortable for his injured foot. While recovering, he redesigned the boots with improvements like soft leather and air-padded soles made of tires. When the war ended and some Germans recovered valuables from their own cities, Märtens used leather from a cobbler's shop to make a pair of boots with air-cushioned soles.

Märtens did not have much success selling his shoes until he met up with an old university friend, the Luxembourger Herbert Funck, in Munich in 1947. Funck was intrigued by the new shoe design, and the two went into business that year in Seeshaupt, Germany, using discarded rubber from Luftwaffe airfields. The comfortable soles were a big hit with housewives – 80% of the products were sold to women over 40 during the first decade.

United Kingdom

Sales had grown so much by 1952 that they opened a factory in Munich. In 1959, the company had expanded enough that Märtens and Funck decided to advertise the footwear internationally. Almost immediately, British shoe manufacturer R. Griggs Group Ltd. bought patent rights to manufacture the shoes in the United Kingdom. Griggs anglicised the name to “Dr. Martens”, slightly re-shaped the heel to improve the fit, introduced the now-trademark yellow stitching, and re-branded the soles as AirWair.

The first Dr. Martens boots in the United Kingdom were released on April 1, 1960 (known as style 1460 and still in production today), designed with eight eyelets and cherry red smooth leather. The three-eyelet shoe arrived exactly one year later with the style number 1461 (1/4/61). Dr. Martens boots were made in the Cobbs Lane factory in Wollaston, Northamptonshire (which is still operating today). In addition, a number of shoe manufacturers in the Northamptonshire area and further afield were authorized to produce the boots, as long as they fulfilled the required quality standards. The boots were popular among workers such as postmen, police officers and factory workers. By the late 1960s, skinheads started to wear them calling them “DMs” and by the late 1970s, they were popular among scooter riders, punks, some new wave musicians, and members of other youth subcultures. The shoes’ popularity among right-wing skinheads increasingly led to association of the brand with violence. Alexei Sayle sang the song “Dr. Martens' Boots” in a 1982 episode of the British TV comedy The Young Ones.

The boots and shoes became popular in the 1990s as grunge fashion emerged. In late November 1994, a six-storey Dr. Martens department store was opened in Covent Garden in London selling food, belts, and watches as well as shoes. Back then, 2,700 people were employed at the R. Griggs company, which expected an annual revenue of £170 million with a production capacity of up to 10 million pairs of shoes per year. Dr. Martens sponsored Rushden & Diamonds F.C. from 1998 to 2005. Diamonds asked company owner and local businessman Max Griggs for sponsorship. A new main stand was introduced at Nene Park in 2001, named the Airwair Stand. Dr. Martens was also the principal sponsor of the Premier League club West Ham United F.C., changing the name of the upgraded west stand to “The Dr Martens Stand” until 2009.

In the 2000s, Dr. Martens were sold exclusively under the AirWair name, and came in dozens of different styles, including conventional black shoes, sandals and steel-toed boots. AirWair International's revenue decreased from US $412 million in 1999 to $127 million in 2006. In 2003, the Dr. Martens company came close to bankruptcy. Put under pressure by declining sales, the company stopped shoe production in the United Kingdom on April 1 that year, moving all production activities to China and Thailand. This decision resulted in the closure of five factories and two shops in the UK, and more than 1,000 of the company's employees lost their jobs. With the factories and shops closed, the R. Griggs company employed only 20 people throughout UK, all working in the company's head office. 5 million pairs of Dr. Martens were sold during 2003, which was half the amount of annual sales during the 1990s.

In 2004, a new range of Dr. Martens was launched in an attempt to appeal to a wider market, and especially young people. The shoes and boots were intended to be more comfortable and softer for a better fit, and included some new design elements. Dr. Martens also resumed the production of footwear at the Cobbs Lane Factory in Wollaston, England, in 2004. The resulting products are part of the “Vintage” line, which the company advertises as being compliant with the original specifications. Sales of these shoes are low in comparison to those made in Asia. However, the factory was producing about 50 pairs per day in 2010. In 2005, the R. Griggs company received an award for the successful restructuring by the “Institute for Turnaround”.

Worldwide sales of Dr. Martens shoes grew strongly in the early 2010s. In 2012, it was assessed as the eighth fastest-growing British company. Over 100 million pairs of Dr. Martens shoes have been sold from 1960 to 2010. In 2010, the company offered 250 different models of footwear. The R. Griggs company opened 14 new Dr. Martens retail stores in the United Kingdom, United States and Hong Kong between 2009 and 2011, and also launched a line of clothing during 2011. In 2016, the Dr. Martens brand filed a number of lawsuits, primarily based on trademark law.

In 2018, Business Insider reported an annual production of 10 million pairs of Dr. Martens shoes. Out of these, only 1 percent is made in the UK. In 2019, Dr. Martens announced plans to double the production of shoes and boots in the UK to 165,000 pairs annually starting from the year 2020.

Acquisition

In October 2013, the private equity company Permira acquired R. Griggs Group Limited (the owner of the Dr. Martens brand) for £300 million.

Dr. Martens’ appeal to people who have their own individual style but share the same spirit – authentic characters who represent something. People possessing a proud sense of self-expression. People who are different.

On a stylistic level, Dr. Martens’ simple silhouettes allow their wearers to adopt the boots and shoes as part of their own individual and very distinctive style; on a practical level, their famous durability and comfort make them ideal for the unforgiving world of gigs and street fashion, and last but not least: on an emotional level, they represent a badge of attitude and empowerment.

However, it wasn’t always like this: originally, Dr. Martens were modest work-wear boots that were even sold as a gardening shoes at one point. So, how did this utilitarian boot become one of the most culturally relevant brand products of the modern era? The story is interesting and unique...

Starting in 1901, the Griggs family was known for making boots in the small town of Wollaston, Northamptonshire, in the English Midlands. They were at the very heart of the English shoe industry and within six decades Griggs’ footwear earned a solid reputation as sturdy, durable work boots.

The setting now changes to post-war Munich in 1945, where Dr. Klaus Maertens, a 25-year-old soldier created a unique air-cushioned sole (instead of the traditional hard leather sole) to aid the recovery of his broken foot. Using a salvaged cobbler’s last and a needle, Maertens made a prototype shoe and showed it to an old university friend and mechanical engineer, Dr. Herbert Funck.

Maertens partnered with Funck and they began to produce their unique shoes using disused military supplies. By 1947, they started formal production and within a decade the business was booming, mostly selling to older women. In 1959, they decided it was time to advertise their revolutionary footwear in overseas magazines.

Back in England, the Griggs company was now being run by the third generation of the family, Bill, along with brothers Ray and Colin and son Max. Whilst scanning the pages of a shoe trade magazine, the German’s advert for their innovative air- cushioned sole caught Bill’s eye.

An exclusive license was acquired and a few key changes made, including the alteration of the heel, the design of a bulbous but simple upper, the introduction of a distinctive yellow welt stitch, the addition of a two tone grooved sole edge and a unique sole pattern. The boots were branded as ‘Airwair’ and finalized with a black and yellow heel loop featuring the brand name and the slogan “With Bouncing Soles” (based on Bill Grigg’s own handwriting). Being named after the date of inception, April 1, 1960, the eight-holed 1460 Dr. Martens boot had arrived.

In the era of the global village and social media, every aspect of youth culture and subcultural style has changed. Yet, diverse individuals, fans and subcultures still champion Dr. Martens, attracted by its unique alternative appeal and authenticity in a world of homogeneity.

In 2010, a revitalised Dr. Martens celebrated its fiftieth anniversary: five decades that have witnessed the brand’s adoption by a diverse range of social groups, celebrities, musicians and freethinkers – each adapting and twisting the boots and shoes to their own personal needs, attitudes and identity.

Without music, Dr. Martens would have remained a workwear boot.

The music of social groups who wear Dr. Martens has become inseparable from the brand itself.


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