A Truely British Icon – Dr Martens

Britain, has primarily protestant beliefs certainly up until the 1900’s this was a prominent part of British culture, going to work, going to church and visiting the pub in-between. A lot of work, in fact was expected of people during that period in particular so good sensible long lasting shoes were a real essential part of British life, whether you spent your long days in the mines or in the factories you were spending it somewhere and these places were not friends to the likes of stilettos or Nikes.

In the 1900’s, the go to place for work boots was Griggs’. They were a well-established reliable family run shoemakers in the village of Wollaston, Northampshire. The British company however would go on to produce one of the most iconic pieces of footwear ever to arrive in the world of fashion, but it’s trip wasn’t straight forward.

Back in Munich, in 1945 Dr Klaus Maertens, a twenty five year old German soldier had found himself with a broken foot and his issued army boots really weren’t helping the situation. He needed to find a shoe that would allow him to get from A to B without causing further injury. He found some leather at a deserted cobbler’s, and made some changes to the otherwise standard design, the change came in the soles. Rather than the hard leather sole he created an air cushioned sole. The shoe was suddenly much more comfortable and therefore easier to work in for longer lengths of time.

He took the first prototype to a friend from university Dr Herbert Funk who was also a mechanical engineer to pitch his new design. The twosome partnered up and manufacturing with disused military supplies they had a product and a business. By 1947 they had formal production and by 1957 a fathomable business. However the customer then was certainly not what it is today, the customer then was generally housewives who spent the day on their feet, the shoe was even marketed to gardeners at point in its timeline.

In 1959, the two men decided they wanted more and managed to get the design into a shoe traders magazine which was seen by Britain’s very own Griggs brothers. They bought the patent for the air cushioned soles in the UK and started work on a shoe that would go on to take the world by storm.

They altered the heel, added a bulbous upper, the brand specific yellow welt stitch and a two tone grooved sole and sole pattern.

They were christened “Airwair” accompanied by catchphrase “With Bouncing Soles”. On April the 1st 1960 the first 1460 Dr Martens boot reached the market. The market of the British working class, Dr Martens were a typical £2 working boot what really changed its branding to cultural and fashionable was music and specifically Ska and Punk.

The skin head movement began, and as skin heads were working class they wanted to sport working class fashion bringing Dr Martens from the factory to the dance floor of various dingy night clubs across the country. A big mover for Dr Martens was Pete Townsend from the Who whom was the first icon to sport the shoe as a fashion statement, Dr Martens and music had officially bonded.

The boot became popular with various sub cultures from Goth, Glam, Two Tone, Punk… It had gone from being a practical piece of footwear to a political statement on British counter cultures, Dr Martens were the face of anarchy (in terms of what you put on your feet).

Sales soared in small men’s sizes which showed a demand for a female market which was added to production, they could be customised with floral patterns or skulls whatever you fancied Dr Martens were the shoe of self-expression from the 70’s to the 90’s. It wasn’t just Brits either; American bands touring the UK often ended up bring a few pairs back giving the Dr Martens an American market.

2000 however, brought a sudden decrease in sales, a decrease so strong that all but one of the factories had to close to avoid bankruptcy. It seemed the end beckoned but in 2003, high end fashion reclaimed the classic boot on the catwalk and suddenly they were back in business.

In 2007 the original Northampshire factory on Cobbs Lane started manufacturing the boots again and here we stand in 2016 and see people are still wearing them today.

They’re the face of music.

The Face of the 70’s.

The Face of Revolution.

And if Britain had feet, I can assure you, they’d be sitting on air cushioned Dr Martens soles

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