Dr. Martens appeal to people who have their own individual style but share a united spirit – authentic characters who stand for something. People who possess a proud sense of self- expression. People who are different.
On a stylistic level, Dr. Martens’ simple silhouettes allows 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 then finally on an emotional level, they are a badge of attitude and empowerment.
However, it wasn’t always this way: Dr. Martens were originally a modest work-wear boot that was even sold as a gardening shoe at one stage. So, how did this utilitarian boot transform into one of the most culturally relevant brands of the modern era? It is an interesting and unique story...
Starting in 1901, the Griggs family were 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 for six decades Griggs’ footwear earned a solid reputation as sturdy, durable work boots.
The story then switched to post-war Munich, 1945 and Dr. Klaus Maertens, a 25-year-old soldier. While convalescing from a broken foot he created a unique air-cushioned sole (rather than the traditional hard leather sole) to aid his recovery. 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 Funk.
The two went into partnership by using disused military supplies to begin producing their unique shoes. By 1947 they began formal production and within a decade had a booming business, mostly selling to older women. In 1959, they decided it was time to advertise their revolutionary footwear invention 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, Colin and son Max. Whilst scanning the pages of a shoe trade magazine, Bill’s eye was caught by the German’s advert for their innovative air- cushioned sole.
An exclusive license was acquired and a few key changes made, including an altered heel, a bulbous but simple upper, a distinctive yellow welt stitch, a two tone grooved sole edge and a unique sole pattern. The boots were branded as ‘Airwair’ and came complete with a black and yellow heel loop featuring the brand name and the slogan “With Bouncing Soles” (based on Bill Grigg’s own handwriting). Taking its name from date of its inception, April 1st, 1960, the eight-holed 1460 Dr. Martens boot had arrived.
The 1960s – the decade in which the Dr. Martens boot was born – saw an unprecedented wave of change, new ideas, cultural upheaval and eventually social revolution. This radical atmosphere also witnessed extravagant and often exotic fashion, an odd backdrop for the birth of such a functional work-boot...but then Dr. Martens has always kicked against the norm.
Fast-forward to today, and Dr. Martens is a symbol of British counterculture. The footwear of choice for myriad youth cultures, from skinheads to scooter boys (and. due to the smaller sizes on offer, just as popular with girls), the brand will never go out of fashion.
Then pop started to eat itself.
The internet spread like an epidemic, reaching fifty million users in eighteen months - a feat that took radio forty years. The first mobile phone text was sent in 1992; within three years, email was like oxygen. Everything had changed.
There were no tribes anymore. At least, "not like they used to make 'em."
You don’t see one tribe fighting another anymore, a haircut does not define a person to four albums by three bands.
The tribe is down to one person.
A one-man army.
The personal revolution manifests itself in a million ways. So-called ‘indie’ and ‘punk’ record labels of the 1970s and 1980s were created to cut out the suits. They were called ‘labels’ because of the round adhesive label smack bang in the middle of the vinyl.
Now, you don’t even need a label.
Record, mix, master and post on the web from your own empire.
Hit the charts from downloads alone.
There is no one left to cut out. It’s all down to you.
Of course, just because we can all now ‘create’, doesn’t mean we are all actually any good. But the cream floats to the top, whatever the mode of transport.
Same with Dr. Martens.
Decades have come and gone, brands have exploded and then imploded, but the 1460 is still there, unique, individual, original. Anti-fashion defined in eight holes.
What’s seen as information overload to the older generation is just everyday surfing to the new generation. In one weekend edition of The New York Times, there is more information than a seventeenth century man was exposed to in his entire life. Dr. Martens haven’t been around since the 1600s, but in terms of ‚’brands’ that mean something, that last, that reinvent and evolve, they pre-date pretty much everything.
By the mid-1990s, Dr. Martens had festered in the minds of youth without a single penny of ‘marketing spend’, longer than the majority of global brands had even existed. There is no comparison. This is not a brand, it is a way of thinking, a mode of expression.
The problem with ‘brands’ is that they dictate. They might offer the must-have item of the
season, but they design it, shape it, form it and sell it. You have no say, other than handing over your money. Look at the word: ‘brand’. That’s what they do to cattle.
Create your own brand.
Dr. Martens have always been different. No other brand has been mutated, customised, fucked up and freaked out like DM’s. Without asking or being able to stop it. It happened to them. They were just fascinated bystanders on a journey that has raced through every crevice of subculture, every twist and turn of youthful creativity and now, here, with a generation who have always had email, mp3s and downloads, it is as relevant and vibrant as ever.
Because although the tribes no longer stride through London or New York, although individuality is the music for the masses, although fashion is just another way of defining yourself, the Dr. Martens ‘brand’ has come full circle, it is a blank canvas on which a generation can paint their personality. You can wear your grunge shorts, your emo hair, your punk tatts, your metal piercings and your pride on your sleeve, all at the same time, there are no limits, no boundaries, no pigeon-holes to fit into.
To be creative sometimes you have to rebel.
To rebel you have to have something to rebel against.
Driving fast, drinking cheap beer and smashing windows isn’t rebellion. The best form of rebellion is individualism. Thinking for yourself.
Information overload is the most fantastic element of modern life. You can have it all. You don’t need to align yourself with one band, one tribe, one venue, one gig; you can share your console with a complete stranger twenty thousand miles away; you can post your demo on a site that has a greater population than most countries.
But you need anchors in this sea of creativity.
You need things you can rely on.
Things you can recruit to your army.
Friends, whether they add you or not.
Tunes loaded, down.
Ideas loaded, up.
Fashions that express.
Possessions that matter.
Things that inspire self-expression, not commodities that spoon-feed an identity.
Dr. Martens anchor you, liberate your creativity, inspire and fuel your identity. Our heritage fits your future; your future is our future.