Benjamin Griggs and Septimus Jones set up boot making partnership in Wollaston, Northamptonshire, England. The early decades see their boot used by workmen and the military.
German-born Dr. Klaus Maertens invents the air-cushioned sole in Münich and begins production with his old friend, Dr. Herbert Funck, using discarded rubber from Luftwaffe airfields. Their first factory opens in 1952.
1st April, 1960
Bill Griggs (the then Chairman of R.Griggs and Co Ltd.) had previously contacted the German doctors and licenced their revolutionary new air-cushioned sole. The Griggs family design a striking new upper for the boot, complete with a distinctive yellow welt stitch, a two toned grooved sole edge and a black and yellow heel loop reading ‘AirWair with Bouncing Soles' – a script based on Bill Griggs' own handwriting. Anglicising the name, the first Dr. Martens 8-eye boot begins production in the UK on April 1st, 1960 in the Griggs's Wollaston factory. To mark its date of birth, the product becomes known as the 1460. The first few years of life sees the boot sold to mainly factory workers, the police force and postal service, complemented by the introduction of a 3-eye shoe, the 1461.
The boot is adopted by early multi-cultural, ska-loving skinheads as a badge of their working-class pride; towards the end of the decade, The Who's Pete Townshend wears the 8-eye boot on stage. These two crucial moments wrench the boot from the factory floor and into youth subculture.
The decade of glam, punk, Two Tone, Oi! and early goth sees youth subculture splinter into countless tribes; Dr. Martens are championed by large sections of the anti-establishment as a symbol of rebellion and self-expression. The boot establishes itself at the very heart of British youth culture.
Stephen Griggs, son of Max, joins the business at the start of a decade that sees Dr. Martens become synonymous with alternative culture and individuality as the DM's story starts to spread overseas. The 1970s tribes pass on the DM's baton to yet more youth cultures such as latterday scooter boys, psychobilly and grebo. Personal customisation becomes rife, such as painting florals, attaching beer bottle tops, using coloured laces, spray painting and distressing the leather. In 1984, the boots begin to be sold in the USA and so a new chapter in subcultural evolution begins, the fires burning initially with West coast hardcore.
The decade that opens with grunge turning the mainstream music world on its head becomes Dr. Martens strongest period to date. Grunge was the polar opposite of Britpop, yet both tribes adopted the boot with a passion. Dr. Martens clothing and McMartens tartan debut, as does a flagship store in Covent Garden, London. In 1993, Airwair International – the marketing arm of R Griggs and Co – is awarded the Queen's Award for Export, reflecting the commercial impact of this global cultural phenomenon.
The brand immerses in festival culture, football sponsorship and releases compilation CDs. In late 1999, the brand's upcoming fortieth anniversary is commemorated with a coffee table book which chronicles the boot's intrinsic link with music and culture. Global footwear sales hit a record £250 million.
The brand's fortieth birthday is a time of celebration, only to be followed shortly after by problems. New stores open overseas but sales begin declining in 2001, pre-empting a dark period for the brand. By 2002, Griggs and Co and Airwair International almost collapse as sales fall dramatically, so all but one of the UK factories are closed to stave off bankruptcy.
The revitalisation of the famous brand begins with designers from around the globe reinterpreting and customising the classic 1460 boot. Names of note include Jimmy Choo, Vivienne Westwood, Paul Smith, Japser Conran and Orla Kiely amongst a host of other well established designers. In 2005, R Griggs wins ‘Turnaround of the Year' Award.
The brand resurgence continues around the globe, with sales expanding and an ever-increasing and very diverse array of celebrities and music stars wearing the boot. A new London store opens on Neal Street, Covent Garden in April 2007. The original Cobbs Lane, Northampton factory begins to make the limited edition ‘Vintage' range which exactly replicates the very first pair of Dr. Martens.
April 1st, 2010
Dr. Martens celebrates its fiftieth anniversary, a life spanning five decades immersed in subculture that has witnessed the boot's adoption by a bewildering range of tribes, celebrities, musicians and free-thinkers. With sales surging again and the boot's cultural impact beyond doubt, Dr. Martens goes into its sixth decade as relevant and vibrant as ever.