This October I travelled 7662 km to London, England from our quaint island city. I was given an opportunity to go to the only Dr. Martens factory remaining in the UK and outside of Asia so that I could see the process of making a Dr. Martens boot from start to finish. The cobbler shoemaking profession came to the village of Wollaston in the county of Northamptonshire, UK - just a few hours outside of London - in 1881. Following this, Dr. Martens and a few other brands built mini-empires in the area.
WHAT MAKES DR. MARTENS DIFFERENT?
You’d never know that this village was the home of the Dr. Martens factory until 2003 - and the home of the “Made in England” (MIE) line since then! We pulled into the parking lot and I thought “this isn’t an industrial area...” The Dr. Martens factory is actually built at the original home of the Griggs family. They were one of many cobblers in the area working with welt technology, but the product wasn't different from anything else available.
That was until Dr. Märtens and Dr. Funck changed the shoe scene forever. The Griggs bought the rights to the technology developed by the German doctors in 1952 and combined the "Airwair" sole with their leather upper soles. So, the first pair of this combination came to light on April 1st, 1960 or 1-4-60. This became the certainly now-iconic name of the first boot, and the most recognizable silhouette in their line, the 1460.
LET THE SHOW BEGIN!
I was greeted by Stephen Bent, the UK Factory Manager; he also manages four factories in Vietnam. He knows the processes and history of the brand unlike anyone else and would serve as our guide during our tour. Stephen begins by explaining some local history, that of cobblers in Wollaston as well as the Griggs family. We move from the lobby attached to the original home to a small adjoining room. It is filled with historical marketing materials surrounding a large green turbine. This machine, Stephen explains, is the original generator for the factory and one of the first in the area. We are told that it wouldn’t have been permitted due to its size, however, the Griggs decided to dig 10 feet down to ensure it was hidden and not visible above the buildings. From there, the Dr. Martens factory had expanded over the years to its current size.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF AN ICONIC BRAND...
We continue through the development room, where the team are working on the new upcoming designs for later in 2019 and early 2020. Immediately your senses are hit with the smell of fresh leather, rubber, machinery, and the sounds of sewing machines and other tools being used to create pairs of 1460s and other silhouettes.
ONLY ETHICALLY-SOURCED LEATHER ALLOWED!
Stephen pulls out a piece of raw leather, and we go through their process of determining if the leather is high enough quality. All the leather used in the Dr. Martens boots is a by-product of the meat industry; they don’t buy any leather that is sourced for fashion and instead uses that which would go to waste. The core part of the hide is used for the main aspect of the boot, the outside, the vamp (toe cap) section, and the softer leather from the underbelly is used for other elements including the tongue. They use as much of the leather as they can so there is minimal waste. Using metal jigs they cut out the various parts of the shoe.
HOW COULD WE FORGET THE YELLOW STITCHING?
The closing stage of the process requires taking the flat pieces of leather and giving them a basic 3D shape. This includes everything from sewing the pieces together, adding the toe cap, the liner and punching eyelets. Forms are used so that every boot takes the same shape and proper size. The toe is moulded around this form, while the heel follows, and thirdly the leather upper attached to the basic insole. The insole is secured with staples to ensure the two pieces stay together. Any excess leather is removed, and the shoe is now ready for the welt. A machine feeds the rubber along the seam of the insole and upper and simultaneously sews the iconic yellow stitch into the shoes. Here, they tack the main rubber sole to the welt. Everything up to this stage is relatively standard; any factory that creates welted shoes would be almost identical.
READY FOR THE FINAL TOUCH!
Finally, we arrive at the stage that makes a Dr. Martens boot special. A piece of machinery takes the Airwair sole and seals it to the welt. It’s patented and only used by Dr. Martens! The hot element runs along the inside of the two seams, which forms a watertight seal. This process looks like a small fire show and impresses that you’re witnessing the most awesome pair of shoes being created. It’s even more unbelievable when you learn that only two people in the factory are trained to do this; the person performing it, and his apprentice. The team add grooves to the rubber and remove the form. Staff add laces as well and attach any necessary marketing tags before being prepped for shipment!
BAGGINS x DR. MARTENS: TO BE CONTINUED...
We finish the tour of the Dr. Martens factory and exit back out the way we came. We stop in the lobby again to discuss Baggins and our relationship with Dr. Martens. It’s been one year since we took our first delivery from the brand and already it’s proving to be a phenomenal success. Dr. Martens USA has been a great partner thus far. We’ve had the opportunity to travel to Portland and New York for showings, had an amazing launch party, and we’re expanding our selection with every season. The tour really opened our eyes to how much work goes into a pair of Dr. Martens and how the process doesn’t change when you leave the UK; all the shoes made in Vietnam follow the exact same processes and Dr. Martens also hold them to the same high expectations for quality.
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