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.
A CULTURAL ICON
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.
The decade of glam, punk, Two Tone and early goth saw British youth culture mushroom into countless distinct tribes. Each successive new tribe who adopted the boot subverted the style of the previous wearers – yet large sections of the anti-establishment underground continually championed Dr. Martens. By the end of the decade the boot had become a fierce symbol of self-expression at the very heart of British youth culture.