Today if you say “Docs” to anyone they know instinctively what you mean, but it wasn’t always this way. In this blog we’re going to look at the ups and downs of the boot, charting its invention through to the fashion icon it is today.
The Dr Marten’s story starts off in 1901, when in Wollaston, Northampton in the East Midlands, England, the Griggs family started making boots. Over time they built a solid reputation for making boots that were sturdy and great for working in. The company kept producing boots through WWI and WW2.
It’s on the other side of WW2 that the pick up our story…
A German Army doctor, Klaus Märtens was on leave in the Bavarian Alps in 1945 when he injured his ankle. While recuperating he found that his standard-issue boots were too uncomfortable to wear on his injured foot. He tried to make a pair of boots that were more comfortable, so created a boot made with soft leather uppers and soles made of tyres that had air cushioning in them. When the war ended Märtens scavenged as much leather as he could from cobblers’ shops and made a prototype his boot but found very little success selling them. He then met an old university friend and mechanical engineer, Dr Herbert Funk, a Luxembourger. They started producing their boot in 1947 using rubber from former Luftwaffe airfields at a factory in Seeshaupt, Germany. The shoes started selling and found a niche with older German women, particularly those with foot problems, with over 80% being sold to women over the age of 40.
Over the next five years, sales grew so much that by 1952 they had opened another factory in Munich and the continued to grow. By 1959 Märtens and Funk were looking to expand into new markets. Märtens and Funk approached Griggs about distributing the shoe in the UK. Griggs bought the patent rights to make the shoes in the UK. Griggs anglicised the name removing the umlaut, reshaped the heel of the boot to make it more comfortable, patented the sole as “Air Wair” and added yellow stitching. The “With Bouncing Soles” tab was added and featured text based on Grigg’s own handwriting. On 1st April the first Dr Martens boot was launched – style 1460 – an oxblood coloured eight eyelet boot, which is still available today.
The 60s was a decade known for revolutionary social and cultural changes, including the massive expansion of youth fashion, so against this backdrop, you’d probably not expect a work boot aimed at the working class to become a fashion icon, but then again, the 1960s were a weird time. Initially a favourite of policemen and postmen, the boot started to be worn by the new ska loving skinheads and by members of pop groups- Who can forget the iconic image of Pete Townshend wearing a white boiler suit and his oxblood Docs?
The boot for old ladies’ sore feet had now made its way into the new subcultures and could be found on the feet of punks, goths and skinheads throughout the 1970s and 1980s and by the 1990s they would be found on the feet of the leading lights of the Seattle scene.
In the early 2000s sale had declined and the company was in danger of going bankrupt due to a massive reduction in sales. By 2003 they company were only selling 5 million pairs per year, which was less than half of their 1990s peak. The company was sold and production moved to Thailand and China, apart from the Made in England range, which is made in the same factory as the shoes always have been. With a host of new designs and new colourways the boots are as popular as they ever have been and sold over 10 million pairs in 2017. Not bad for a boot designed for injured feet!