They may have been around since Noah herded his flock into the Arc and they may have been the only item to appear on Miley Cyrus’ body in the clip for her track “Wrecking Ball” but Doc Martens have a curious place in the history of iconic objects.
Whilst I have enduring affection for Doc Martens, I have, in fact, only ever had one pair. They were a simple black low classic shoe design that lasted me years and were amazingly comfortable. They were a present from the company (R. Griggs Company Ltd the owner of the Doc Marens name) following their opening of a flagship store in Covent Garden – I had helped them with some clearance of music rights – now occupied by the Oakley.
There are several distinctive elements to a pair of Dr. Martens, in addition to the yellow sole stitching, including a primary asset, enjoyed by the wearer, the air-cushioned “AirWair” soles.
Perhaps ironically given the status his boots and shoes have achieved in being seen as as an iconic British made product, Dr Klaus Märtens was a doctor in the German army in the Second World War. In 1945, following sustaining an ankle injury he found the regular army boots too uncomfortable so he designed various improvements including the addition of softer leather and an air-cushioned sole. He incorporated his designs into a version of his famous shoes post war.
In 1947, together with an old college friend, Dr. Herbert Funck, a Luxembourger, the pair set up business in Germany to manufacture the shoes, finding a successful market with a middle-aged female market. With an increase in sales and the establishment of a factory in Munich in 1952 the pair looked for export markets.
In 1959, UK footwear manufacturer, R. Griggs Group Ltd., licensed production rights, made slight variations including the yellow sole stitching and trademarked the name “AirWair”. 1st April 1960 Griggs launch the first Dr. Martens boots to be made in the United Kingdom, known as style 1460, produced at their Wollaston, (Northants UK) factory that initially saw success with postal workers and the police forces.
We’ll all be familiar with the affection held for”DMs” amongst various music based sub-cultures including Mods, Skinheads, Punks and latterly in the mid-1990’s, Grunge. However, as with all such youth trend linked products fortunes have varied; turnover for the group was $412m In 1999 falling to $127m in 2006. Narrowly avoiding bankruptcy in 2003, the company ceased UK production and moved all production to The Far East. However, in 2004, Dr. Martens started manufacturing a “Vintage” range based on original procution specification in small numbers from the Wollaston factory.
Worldwide sales revived and the Company was hailed for its turnaround achievement. In October 2013, R Griggs Group Ltd, was acquired by Permira, a private equity group, for £300m a deal that included all rights to the Dr Martens brand. Griggs continues to be based at Wollaston (Northamptonshire, UK).
A statistic worth noting is that over 100 million pairs of Dr. Martens shoes were sold between 1960 to 2010!
Image by Griggs/Doc Martens