Monday, 29 March 2010

Dr Martens: The craft of an iconic shoe

On April 1, 1960 the first pair of Dr. Martens was produced by the Griggs factory in the village of Wollaston in central England. Eight eyelets, ox blood red with distinctive yellow stitching, the design was dubbed "1460" after the date of its creation. More than one hundred million pairs of Dr. Martens have been sold since that first pair was unveiled 50 years ago, although there are now some two hundred and fifty different models, from golden to fuscia, floral to custom patterned. To help celebrate reaching landmark Dr. Martens invited a few of us bloggers (including the lovely Disney Roller Girl, Dapper Kid, The Clothes Whisperer) up to their Wollaston factory to help cover the event. Over the next few days I will look at the brand's anniversary campaign and share my favourite models for AW10 but for the benefit of brightening up your Monday evening, I want to offer you a little shoe and factory porn...

Happy Birthday to you... Dr. Martens is fifty on 1st April.

In a sign of the times, the majority of Dr. Martens models have been made in Asia since 2002. However, around fifty pairs leave the factory in Wollaston every day, including the vintage 1460 model, made by ten or so workers on old machines. The Vintage collection is handcrafted in the by cobblers using the original construction techniques that were developed in the 1960's. Today, I was fortunate enough to watch the craftsmen at the Wollaston factory work, following each well honed and practiced process from start to finish. Brian, a lovely and knowledgeable chap who has been working at the factory for thirty seven years talked us through each stage. He professed that his favourite Dr. Martens model is the classic oxblood 1460 and confessed that he used to use black polish to stain the leather. I just wish that I had recorded everything he said so that I could create an awesome mix for you but I'm afraid that I'm not that organised or skilled...you will just have to make do with my factory shots...

The first stage, moulding. The injection moulding of the sole sees the rubber pellets heated up to 170 degrees celsius as they fill the two part cavity. They are left for twenty four hours cool.

Then on to clicking...I took a peculiar amount of delight in marveling at this table of components.

Brian talked us through the different aspects of the hide and the fact that the skill of the craftsmen ensures that the best of the leather is used for the uppers (as a rule, the further back you go on the animal, the better the quality of skin) and that there is minimal wastage. I was surprised at how much of this was done by hand.

We were then introduced to Carol who helped transform the hide in to a more recognisable show form...

It was great to watch the craftsmen at work, most of which have been working at the factory for many years. I just had to take a sneaky shot of Carol's copy of Good Housekeeping.

Carol made it look all too easy as she stitched the front, back and tongue in a matter of seconds.

Three row stitching. This machine was pretty frightening and worked shockingly fast. They then moved on to the eyelet punching machine.

A more recognisable form. The basic upper form was created in approximately four minutes.

Now on to the lasts...

Throughout the show making process the leather loses moisture so here the uppers are placed in a steam machine to soften the leather.

The uppers are pressed and pinched on to the last...

The shoe is readied for the welted sole...Every single pair of Dr. Martens has exactly 49 stitches around the sole, regardless of shoe size

The soles are placed in position before the money shot of a machine took over...

This piece of kit took my breath away as the sole was fixed to the shoe. The iconic Air Soles are literally melted on to the welt.

The finished shoe. A recognisable icon, the vintage Cappers.

I was amazed at how quickly the hide was transformed in to the iconic model we see above. The product, made on the original '59' last, features narrower horizontal tread bars, criss-crossed coring bars, a darker sole, a storm welt bound together on the lateral side, small indentations left on the welt by the original stitching machine, no top collar binding and runs into the eye stay above the top eyelet. This is where it all began and it is great to be reminded of that.

20 comments:

Nendie said...

Wow what a brilliant description of the whole process. Your pictures are top. I am such a fan of Brian- I thought the people working in the factory were really kind and impressive.

Great to meet you and super enjoyed reading your blog when I got home (before collapsing!)...

Nendie (fan of Butters). Perhaps you can get a blog animal too. A Basil Brush fox to accompany you on visits? One that wore a cravat?

elizar33 said...

nice post!

wish it was colder here in Manila so I can buy and wear DMs...

Make Do Style said...

OMG that is total factory porn. Absolutely amazing!!
Love sneaky pic of Carol's Good Housekeeping mag. Had weird incongruous Clockwork Orange meets Good Housekeeping visual moment.

Style Salvage Steve said...

Nendie: Lovely to meet you too! Butters and Brian were the stars of the day. I would love to have a blogging animal sidekick and if I did it would be a corduroy suit wearing fox.
Elizar33: Don't say that, I wish it were much warmer here.
Make Do Style: Ha, pleased you enjoyed my factory porn. I just love wandering around these places and learning about the machinery and people behind the brand.

Clare said...

Love seeing the story behind the shoes, lovely to see how these beauties are made.

tweet tweet tweet

x

Mat said...

it's great to see how these iconic boots are put together, and in 4 minutes! can you believe that. i love dr martens and always have done, i have had the black boots for about 2 years now(and to be honest i never really think they suit me) and im sure they will last for many more years which will be a testament to the craftsmanship. and this is why i applaud them.

id love to have gone to this one.

Style Salvage Steve said...

Clare: I wish I could spend all day, every day blogging about things just like this. Such an amazing experience and I'm pleased that you enjoyed my tales.
Mat: Oh I'm sure they suit you. Surely the balck boots suit everyone?
From start to finish they were made before our eyes in around fifteen minutes. It took Carol four minutes to transformed the clicked pieces in to a more recognisable shoe form..she sewed so fast!

In New York Paris Tomorrow said...

Love Doc Martens and your post/photos are wonderful. Incredible story/success.

Stagger Lee said...

Awesome to see. I have about a dozen pair but the tops have to be the Vintage edition 1460 8i riot reds - and it's neat to see how they were born :)

Chris Hanson said...

When were these photos taken? As far as I can tell all the Doc Martens I've seen for sale lately in the US are now made in China and the quality shows it.

Matt. said...

I love my Vintage 1461s. (made in England)They cost a little more than the Chinese-made 1461s but are totally worth it. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get another set of English 1461s when my current pair wears out. I bought 2 pairs. I want to be buried wearing docs. :P

Jeremy said...

When I wore my last real pair of docs out, I ran and bought another pair. They lasted a week before the pull tab came off. Sent them back for replacement. The next pair went three months. Turns out I couldn't get a non-Chinese boot anymore here in the states. I went out and bought a pair of Danner boots, and have never looked back. If I could by a good made in england boot, I'd buy them again in a heartbeat.

Style Salvage Steve said...

In New York Paris Tomorrow and Stagger Lee: Thanks, it was a lot of fun. I wish I could o more posts like this.
Chris Hanson: These photos were taken just a day before the post went up. As mentioned in the post itself, the Wollaston factory makes around fifty pairs a day. I'll look in to their availability outside of Britain for you.
Matt: Ha, great to hear!
Jeremy: Oh no, sorry to hear that! I have heard that DM's initially experienced a few quality issues when they shifted the bulk of production overseas but these issues have been resolved. I'll look in to the availability of English made 1460s in the US though. Here's hoping someone at DM's is reading this post who has the power to grant your wish. I'd love to see the Wallaston factory producing much more!

Nick said...

So called "Vintage" DMs are available in the U.S.; these are made in England, and carry a significant price premium over the Asian-produced shoes.

Check Zappos, for example. 1460 boots are $115, Vintage 1460 are $180.

evinka said...

Hey, I love your post!!! I've posted your photos into our gallery here: http://www.facebook.com/abtulip

I hope you don't mind! Thanks a lot, eva

Rollergirl said...

Great post Steve, you put my photos to shame. If any UK fans of Dr Martens are interested, the factory is hosting weekly visits for members of the public. So if your China-made boots are falling apart, this could be a good opportunity to find out about getting a UK-made pair. Bu apart from that, it is just the best experience watching these people work. They make it look so easy!

Anonymous said...

The most interesting article I've read on-line - bar none.
Photos are fabulous - the DM makers are amazing.

I especially loved the two bits of DM trivia: 1460 is from the date of first shoe's production (1 April 1960), and that each pair of DMs has exactly 49 yellow stitches.

I've been wearing mostly DMs for 18 years, and 2 years ago I had to finally say goodbye to that first pair I bought in Ashton-under-Lyne. Since 2000 I've been living in Ottawa, so no chance of a re-sole here. Now I kind of collect limited edition DMs - just the ones I really covet, and unfortunately my kids are eyeing up my collection. It's cool - I can share.

I came across your article as I was searching for something on a DM visual archive of designs. If anyone has any pointers to something like this I'd be very grateful.

Thanks for what you're doing - it's a great read.

Ginny Steele, (Canada)

m e l i g r o s a said...

this is awesome!! thanks for sharing with us all, doc martens formed an awesome part of my younger youth- cuz im still young at heart :D

Becky said...

I bought a pair of Docs three years ago, and mine are still goign strong, showing little signs of weart despite having been worn very regularly. A friend of mine loved mine so much she went out and bought herself a pair - from the same shop - which were a sligtly different shape to mine and are now looking pretty close to falling apart. Sadly I think I must of got one of the last pairs of the english boots left in stock.

Nick said...

This is amazing! Dr. Martens are my favorite shoes in the world. Thank you so much for sharing!

LinkWithin

Related Posts with Thumbnails