visit to the Dr. Martens factory

Ever since I won the Dr. Martens design competition in 2009, I’ve been so pleased to stay in touch with the fine folks I met who work for my favourite brand of boots. Stephen Griggs, one of the owners, is a twitter friend and noticed I was moving to London. He invited me to come visit the factory, and of course I jumped in my bouncing soles at the chance.

Wellingborough is a factory town north of London, known for being a boot-making district. Stephen’s family has been in the boot making business for generations, buying the Dr. Martens brand and bringing the boot to Britain in 1960. Since then Dr. Martens has gradually developed from being a manufacturer of serviceable work boots to becoming a major player in the business of culture – producing a rare, iconic item that connects the dots between youth, music, politics, and fashion.

Something tangential and interesting I learned on this trip: Dr. Martens’ fortunes tend to rise in hard times. The business peaked in the 1990s and is now experiencing something of a renaissance. Makes sense – they do offer the ultimate recession-proof footwear.

It was amazing to see my favourite boot get born – but don’t take my word for it, here’s some pictures.

A lot of machining is involved in making a boot – the moulds for the soles are made on a CNC machine – separate moulds have to be made for every size and every style.

The soles are made from rubber pellets like this, fed into the top of a machine that melts them…

and pours them into the moulds. Very hot!

Afterwards the soles are checked on a light table to make sure there’s no stray bubbles. The cavities inside the soles are what gives Dr. Martens their bounce.

The pattern pieces for the shoes are also metal. A skilled technician punches out each pattern piece one at a time, placing them on the hide according to the qualities required for the different parts of the boot, while at the same time trying to keep waste to a minimum. I didn’t get a good picture of how he does this, but its a remarkable skill to see in action – both very careful and very quick. (Update: Neil took a little video of this process).

The sewing line comes next – here stitching on the heel tab.

The triple needle machine connects the toe to the rest of the boot.

Eyelets are fed into the top of a machine that punches the hole and sets the eyelet all at the same time.

This type of boot is called the “Capper”, a reissue of a popular 1980s style with a distinctive white band around the top, leather heel tab, and chunky details… like oversized eyelets.

All of the Dr. Martens that are made in England have gold foil stamps inside the soles. The made in China ones are stamped in black.

The tops of the boots are heated to make the leather supple and then the toe cap is moulded on this machine. I should have taken a video of this – it looks very neat, suddenly a flat piece of leather takes the shape of a foot. (Update: Neil took a video of this).

Here are a bunch of Cappers in various states of completion.

The signature gold stitching connects the insole to the upper.

This machine heat seals the sole to the boot, you can see the flame.

And here they are, the finished Cappers all ready for lacing and packing. It is really incredible to see each step performed all under one roof, and just how much attention and care goes into each and every boot. Now every time I lace up my beloved Made In England Cherry Reds, I’ll be remembering all the skilled hands that put them together.

I brought along company for the trip, Neil, a blog buddy who runs a neat, newish site called Good Clobber that focuses on menswear. Check out his take on the day trip here.

Thanks so much to Stephen and Daniel and everyone at Dr. Martens for making another wish come true. It was a wonderful visit!

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16 thoughts on “visit to the Dr. Martens factory”

  1. Thank you for sharing! It was really neat to see how they are put together. I love the grandmotherly woman at the sewing machine. Nice to see who puts the love into making them.

  2. Always great to see how amazing products are made. Love to see them locally produced albeit in the UK. Makes me want to goto Queen St and buy a new pair of cherries myself.

    I noticed you’re missing a picture. The last one should be both of you walking out with a newly purchased pair 😛

  3. Awesome Post Danielle !! I have to throw on some sex pistols now. >_< And great observation on the anti-recession boot idea. Makes perfect sense. Ohh im inspired now. 😀

  4. I envy you, very nice trip and post, by the way your Dr. Martens design wow! It´s awesome, It´s brilliant, I think It maintains the spirit of a work boot with a very imaginative approach. I want to tour this factory some day!

  5. Hello,

    May I quote your article? I like your writing and pieces so much. I am a footwear designer used to study in Britain, and now I am based in Taiwan. I am looking for inspiration to launch in my personal blog written in Mandarin. I’d like to mention your name and your blog.

    As I am a footwear designer, I suppose this article is very useful to me and my readers. Please let me know, if I may quote it. Thank you!

  6. Hello,
    My husband was born with flat feet and any boot with arches tortures him. He can walk all over san francisco in his flat bottomed sandals and never have any problem. But he needs a flat bottom wide work boot that he can put a flat pad in for work. Any chance you could custom make him a flat soled boot with no arch support? Please reply at the above e-mail.

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