Dr. Martens is a British footwear and clothing brand, which also makes a range of accessories – shoe care products, clothing, luggage, etc. In addition to Dr. Martens, they are also commonly known as Doctor Martens, Doc Martens, Docs or DMs. The footwear is distinguished by its air-cushioned sole (dubbed Bouncing Soles), upper shape, welted construction and yellow stitching.
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 on his injured foot. While recuperating, he designed improvements to the boots, with soft leather and air-padded soles made of tires. When the war ended and some Germans recovered valuables from their own cities, Märtens took leather from a cobbler's shop. With that leather he made himself 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, Dr. Herbert Funck, a Luxembourger, 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, with 80% of sales in the first decade going to women over the age of 40.
Sales had grown so much by 1952 that they opened a factory in Munich. In 1959, the company had grown large enough that Märtens and Funck looked at marketing 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, slightly re-shaped the heel to make them fit better, added the trademark yellow stitching, and trademarked the soles as AirWair.
The first Dr. Martens boots in the United Kingdom came out on 1 April 1960 (known as style 1460 and still in production today), with an eight-eyelet oxblood coloured smooth leather design. Dr. Martens boots were made in their Cobbs Lane factory in Wollaston, Northamptonshire (which is still operating today). In addition, a number of shoe manufacturers in the Northamptonshire area produced DMs under license, as long as they passed quality standards. The boots were popular among workers such as postmen, police officers and factory workers. By the later 1960s, skinheads started to wear them, "dms" being the usual naming, and by the late 1980s, they were popular among scooter riders, punks, some new wave musicians, and members of other youth subcultures. The shoes' popularity among skinheads led to the brand gaining an association 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 arose. In late November 1994, a six-storey Dr. Martens department store was opened in Covent Garden in London which sold food, belts, and watches, as well as shoes. At this time the R. Griggs company employed 2,700 people, expected to earn annual revenue of £170 million, and could produce up to 10 million pairs of shoes per year. Dr. Martens sponsored Rushden & Diamonds F.C. from 1998 to 2005. Diamonds approached owner and local businessman, Max Griggs to request sponsorship from his company. A new main stand was built at Nene Park in 2001, named the Airwair Stand. Dr. Martens were also the principal sponsors of Premier League club, West Ham United F.C., renaming the upgraded west stand '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 fell from US $412 million in 1999 to $127 million in 2006. 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 1,000 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. 5 million pairs of Dr. Martens were sold during 2003, which was half the level 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 easier to break in, and included some new design elements. Dr. Martens also began producing footwear again at the Cobbs Lane Factory in Wollaston, England in 2004. 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.
Worldwide sales of Dr. Martens shoes grew strongly in the early 2010s, and in 2012 it was assessed as being the eighth fastest-growing British company. Over 100 million pairs of Dr. Martens shoes have been sold from 1960 to 2010, and 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.
Inside of pre-2003 Dr. Martens made in England.
Inside of post-2003 Dr. Martens made in Thailand.
Sole of pre-2003 Dr. Martens made in England
Sole of post-2003 Dr. Martens made in Thailand.
- Martin Roach: Dr. Martens The Story of an icon, 2003
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