With an average of 500 pairs of shoes produced a day, Dr. Martens UK factory only makes 1% of the brand's overall stock. Drenched in history and created with enthusiasm, The Idle Man had a tour around the very first and only UK Dr. Martens factory to discover how the classic 1460 boot is made.
The 1460 boot was created on the 1st April 1960, hence the name 1460. Since its creation, it has thrown the Dr. Martens brand into immediate success. Becoming more than just a boot, it fuelled a whole sub-culture, being worn by those to show their self-expression and live life a little more rebelliously.
Amongst new ideas, cultural changes and social revolution during the 1960's, Dr. Martens fitted the exotic, out of the norm fashion breakthrough. Worn proudly by the working class, Pete Townsend of The Who was the first high profile musician who was spotted rocking the boot as a symbol of his own working-class background and rebellious attitude. It was from this public appearance that Dr. Martens started to gain the reputation as a symbol of youth culture. The music industry was a huge factor which propelled the brand into the spotlight, the 1460 boot was worn by the likes of Joe Strummer from The Clash and JJ Brunel from The Stranglers. The relationship between Dr. Martens and music was born and has never died.
Stephen Bent, International Sourcing and Production Manager from Dr. Martens, who directed our tour around the Cobbs Lanes factory discussed the brands appeals to so many diverse people. "Our appeal has always evolved with every new development. We started off being for Postal Workers and Factory Workers. Then the music world came looking for a gig ready hard wearing boot". Bent continued, "Pete from The Who and The Skinheads got in early in the '60s. In the '70s the Punks, Mods, and Goths set new benchmarks for fashion while wearing our gear".
Interestingly, throughout all the sub-cultures which identified as individuals such as, Skinheads, Punks and Goths being just a few, they all had one thing in common, they all wore Dr. Martens.
It wasn't long before Dr. Martens was loved by the masses. Worn by men, women, and children, Dr. Martens have become the height of cool. Showing no signs of lacking in creativity, the popular brand owns the streets as well as seamlessly fading into our smarter wardrobe. The brilliant minds behind the brand are always designing and collaborating to produce shoes that continue to amaze their consumers.
The first ever Dr. Martens boot, the 1460, is still the face of the of Dr. Martens - it is the shoe that almost everyone thinks of when they think of Dr. Martens. Upon our visit to the factory in Wellingborough, we found out about how this iconic boot is made and even met those working behind the scenes.
Check out our Dr. Martens collection.
Creating a pair of Dr. Martens 1460 boots takes around 55 minutes. The highly creative process is engulfed in handmade workmanship. It's a team effort behind every boot, with each player having superb expertise in their own field before passing them onto the next modern day cobbler. From cutting the leather to creating the heel of the shoe (as seen below) is all done in a detailed process to ensure Dr. Martens reputation shines through in every pair. By stitching the heel together diagonally it creates more leverage in the leather making it easier to mold. Interestingly, once this is done, they place a leather strip on the outside of the boot which holds the signature loop at the top.
The factory floor remains in its traditional place - the same place in which the first ever boot was created - the factory built in the garden of the Griggs family who founded the brand. With each station purposely placed in a chain to follow the process to build the boot, there's a rhythm and it's all embedded in the beating heart of the factory. The shoe begins with pieces of leather stitched together building into something that resembles what we are used to seeing. Whilst the majority of the earlier process is done by hand, the all-important processes involving the stitching is where the hardwearing reputation comes from, using one of the strongest sewing machines they place the leather together and pierce them with three strands of thick string at the same time around the boot going down right to the bottom of the leather. The stitching is so strong it is pretty much impossible to pull apart by hand.
With the top of the boot almost finished it's time to work at the bottom, in particular, the sole. Preparing the shoe for the sole is just as complex and it's created using some of the toughest machines. The first step is to mold the front of the shoe around the 'last' - this is the name of the blue plastic mold inside. This is how the boot will eventually take its shape and size.
With the boot taking shape you can start to appreciate the skillful work put in when creating these boots. Everyone knows what Dr. Martens signature design is, their yellow stitching around the sole. Not only there to stand out in bright yellow, but there's also a reason behind the stitch, that reason being, it holds the boot to what is known as the rib. Known as the rib because it holds the whole boot together. Connecting to the sole and the leather it's the most important aspect to the whole boot and means there are no loose threads - every piece is solid.
One of the final parts to the process of creating the 1460 boot, is unlike any other shoe factory, most would separate the stage of attaching the leather and the PVC by stitching them together separately. However, keeping to their traditions of steering away from the norm, Dr. Martens do things slightly differently. They actually melt the two together giving them strength in the shoe and even makes them water resistant. Using a roller and extremely hot blades they melt them together creating one whole block of PVC. After melting, they remove excess leather built up by using a roller with groves, this, in turn, gives the edge of the PVC its ribbed and two-tone texture.
Walking around the factory you can gather the sense of nostalgia, Bent explains, "there's a sense of pride in creating the original boot on the original site. Some of the factory staff are second or third generation Airwair staff and were trained by their parents or grandparents when they first joined".
With the growing demand for their Made In England (MIE) range, Dr. Martens, produce two new designs each season to add to the MIE collection. With the use of the finest leather sourced from the UK, the brand remains to be a popular choice within the generation of the youth, whilst also still being in-tack on the feet of those who bought their first pair many years ago.
With no sign of stopping, Bent told The Idle Man, "the post-millennium 'no holds barred' approach to style is like the Wild West for fashion. Now the brand is adopted by people of all creeds and colours and used as a symbol of individuality by most who wear it. We hold our own in a rowdy crowd. Always have, always will".
Following sub-cultures, music and evolving to create styles for all, Dr. Martens can be worn by anyone. Collaborating with icons they are still representing all things rebellious and underground, and we hope they never stop.