Doc Martens: A Pillock Boot

Why you should not buy Doc Martens anymore

doc+martens+with+one+empty+pair+and+one+with+feet+in+them

ANDREW DRESSNER

Docs have transformed from a utilitarian boot to a mainstream accessory worn by celebrities and Fordham students alike.

By TREVOR WOITSKY

Doc Martens: an iconic British boot worn by humble postmen to rock superstars like Pete Townshend. Like many other British brands, Docs have transformed from a utilitarian boot to a mainstream accessory worn by celebrities and Fordham students alike. Its popularity is not just based on its iconic style but also a reputation built by decades of quality, durable construction and longevity. Yet for the past 20 years, Dr. Martens has wasted away a storied reputation. To understand its decline, you must first understand its origins.

A German or British Boot?

Doc Martens’ origins lay not in Britain, but in Germany. The company was founded by Klaus Märtens in 1947 after he partnered with a friend from his university to produce a boot design he created himself. He came up with the design that utilized air-cushioned soles after injuring his ankle while serving in the German army. 

At first, the two sold the majority of their boots to housewives, but by 1952, their sales had increased to the point that they attracted the attention of British shoe manufacturer the R. Griggs Group. In 1952, the R. Griggs Group bought the patent rights to manufacture the boot in Britain and changed the name from Märtens to “Dr. Martens.” 

During the 1960s, “Docs” became popular first with blue-collar workers then with scooter riders, punks and other youth subcultures. It was during the late 1960s and 1970s when the shoes’ popularity was cemented in youth culture. 

In 2003, declining revenues forced Doc Martens close to bankruptcy, leading the company to shut down U.K. production and outsource their production to cheaper East Asian manufacturers. This, along with a relaunch of its product line, brought the company back from solvency and led to it being acquired by the private equity firm Permira in 2013. 

Since its acquisition by Permira, Doc Martens experienced record revenue growth. In 2019 alone, its revenue was £454 million, a six-fold increase since 2013. But what was the cost? Before the 2000s, Doc Martens manufactured nearly all its boots in Britain at its original Cobbs Lane factory in Wollaston, Northamptonshire. Yet after its near bankruptcy and acquisition, Doc Martens now only produces 1% of its boots in the U.K as of 2018. 

The question is: Are Doc Martens still worth it?

A Rip-Off

The question is: Are Doc Martens still worth it? Well, it is complicated. To the average Fordham student who wears boots solely for their looks, yes, Doc Martens are a decent pair of (overpriced) boots. To those who care about the quality of their footwear and where their money goes, Docs are not worth it. 

In 2019, The Guardian published an article detailing dozens of customer complaints about the boot’s decline in quality after its acquisition. One longtime owner detailed sentiments shared by many other customers: “I have two otherwise identical pairs of Dr. Martens boots — one U.K. made, one Chinese-made — and while the U.K.-made ones are among the most comfortable footwear I own, the Chinese-made ones (are) made of nasty, rigid, thinner leather.” 

Another passionate owner from London wrote, “The replacement pair has a glued-in flat-foam insole which leaves a gap between it and the inside of the boot. Not only that but the leather that comprises the tongue is 0.2mm thinner — 1.4 mm compared to 1.6 mm of the previous pair.” 

It is consumers’ continued purchase of overpriced, lower-quality products that enables a company to shift to offshore production.

The perceived decline of Doc Martens is not just an isolated case but rather emblematic of an industry trend whereby companies by their own accord — or after being bought out — shift production from their home countries to cheaper regions such as Southeast Asia and South America. Storied brands like Barbour, Allen Edmonds and Schotts have all shifted production overseas to reduce costs and quality while raising prices. 

If you would like an in-depth breakdown of the shortcomings of Doc Martens, I’d recommend this article comparing foreign-made Doc Martens to an American-made competitor: The Iron Ranger. 

Spineless Consumers 

At this point, some readers might be wondering, “So what?” “So what if I buy a foreign-made boot if it is comfortable and decent quality in my mind?” Such an attitude toward specific products is what caused their quality decline in the first place. It is consumers’ continued purchase of overpriced, lower-quality products that enables a company to shift to offshore production, reduce quality and jack up prices to exorbitant amounts while raking in record profits. 

Voting with your wallet can be a powerful sign to companies to change their practices — just look at the video game industry and microtransactions.

Personally, knowing where my clothes and footwear come from is a matter of principle and pride. Before many brands offshored their manufacturing, their local factories in America or Europe supported hundreds, if not thousands, of skilled workers and supported many towns and cities. Corporate greed has been the death knell not just for the American and British clothing and footwear workers but also automobile and factory workers. 

What sets the situation with Doc Martens apart from others is you can still choose to support the right company. Solovair is a British-made boot brand manufactured by NPS Shoes in Northamptonshire, U.K. They have made hand-made British shoes in the Northamptonshire factory since 1881 and during the 1960s, they were contracted by the R. Griggs Group to manufacture the iconic Doc Martens boot with a Solovair sole and Griggs upper. This partnership continued until the mid-1990s until Doc Martens began shifting production offshore. 

The only way to put an end to this practice of corporate greed is to begin genuinely caring about the manufacturing source and ethics of the companies.

In 1995, however, Solovair trademarked its name, enabling it to make its air-cushioned boots that once created British-made Doc Martens during the 1960s. Nowadays, Solovair continues to make boots of their design and similar designs to original Doc Martens in the Northamptonshire factory. 

When comparing Solovair’s Black Greasy 8 Eye Derby boots to Doc Martens’ 1460 Vintage Made in England boots, it is evident that their appearance and price are almost identical, coming in at $225 and $230, respectively, and adorned with white stitching and yellow stitching, respectively. The main difference is Solovair’s quality and the fact that it did not employ dubious business practices that cost hundreds of British workers their jobs and slashed its quality in pursuit of profit. 

The only way to put an end to this practice of corporate greed is to begin genuinely caring about the manufacturing source and ethics of the companies by not turning a blind eye for the sake of cheapness and looks.