Dr. Martens Made in England range is created at the unique Cobb’s Lane factory, which has been producing footwear for the Griggs family since 1901. It is the home of the original Dr. Martens boot. Within these modest factory walls work a closeknit family of people steeped in traditional shoe-making methods.
Here, in among the smell of freshly cut leather and the noisy backdrop of pristinely preserved machinery, the unmistakable shape of a Dr. Martens boot begins to form: travelling the short length of the factory floor beginning with a small pile of tanned leather hides, the process takes the boot through various highly skilled stages of evolution until its final arrival – laced up and spotless – in a box … ready for a life of being cherished.
The carefully selected hides are stored in a small pile of just one week’s supply. They are then lifted – one at a time – on to the desk of the Clicker. This has long been one of the most prestigious jobs in a footwear factory. It is the Clicker’s task to cut the single hide into various component parts of the boot’s upper pattern; using just the right strip knife, the expertise lies in creating the minimum amount of waste while ensuring the finest sections of the hide are utilised. His knife also pricks marks in the leather to show where eyelets and seams will later be placed. To succeed to the standard required for a Made in England product, the Clicker needs experience, a steady hand and, above all, an eye for detail.
The cut components are then handed to the Skiver. Despite the Dr. Martens boot having a global reputation for its durability, certain elements of its production life are subject to incredible finesse. The Skiver will split key parts of the leather within an accuracy of 0.1mm – for example, the tongue will be reduced in weight, the toe is left at full weight and the hide needed for overlapping seams will be given a deftly bevelled edge.
At this point, a stamping machine uses a hot foil to mark the inside of the tongue with the size, style number and the prestigious legend, ‘Made in England’. Now the flat hide is ready for assembly. The so-called vamp – the toe of the boot – is lined, ahead of the intricate skill of ‘Closing’. Here, the two quarters – the sections of leather that wrap around the heel – are joined together by hand using a zig-zag stitch. Then the backstrap, the famous “AirWair with Bouncing Soles” heel loop and a stiffener for the heel are also stitched together.
Meanwhile, the front section of the boot is stitched together, consisting of the stamped tongue and the vamp (or toe). We now have the two main sections of the boot: the heel and toe. These are then stitched together using a so-called ‘Puritan’ machine, which puts a crucial line of three stitches over the quarter and into the side of the vamp, using very heavy 8-cord thread.
Next, the eyelets are punched into the boot using the pre-pricked markers, which were added by the Clicker. Finally, the stitching and cutting part of the process is completed by a ‘toe puff’, which is laminated into the vamp to give the toe a resilience and strength so that it does not collapse. Now the boot’s upper is ready to head over to the ‘lasting’ line, which is where it will be attached to the famous Dr. Martens Air Cushion Sole.
A ‘last’ is a plastic foot-shaped form that is used to complete the boot’s manufacture. First, the boot’s insole is attached to the last with tape along with a pre-coated piece of canvas – known as a ‘rib’ – which is used to help marry the uppers and sole together.
Next, the uppers we have just completed are moulded to the heel shape using a back-part moulding machine, which also makes sure the height of the leather up the ankle is exactly the same on each foot.
Now it’s time to mould the toe. The upper is heated to make it supple and avoid splitting the premium leather. Then the toe is tensioned over the plastic last and hot melt adhesive is injected onto the insole, cementing the leather to the insole rib. To make certain the durability is supreme, the sides of the boot are then stapled to the rib, after which any excess leather is trimmed away.
At present, the boot has none of its famous yellow welt stitching. Although most people are familiar with the external yellow stitch – known as Z-welt in the shoe trade – Dr. Martens also have an internal stitch, or plain welt. This reinforces the strength of the shoe yet again. The yellow stitch is housed in a vat of warm wax which makes it supple but also ensures that any holes made by the needle as it makes its way around the edge of the boot will not allow water into the shoe. The PVC Goodyear Welt – the strip of PVC that carries the distinctive yellow thread – is skillfully stitched by a machinist on to the upper, using the yellow thread and a welt sewing machine.
The boot is now ready for the famous sole to be added.
The Dr. Martens air cushion sole itself is produced in the factory, using a granular compound that is melted and then injected into a mould which carries the distinctive “DMS” sole pattern and the Resistance Rectangle indicating that the compound is resistant to Oil, Fat, Acid Petrol and Alkali. When the soles have cooled, a felt strip is inserted into the cavity of the insole, followed by a comfort pad, both of which are placed by hand. The sole is then placed against the upper, temporarily joined at the toe and heel by “spotting” a hot blade between the welt and the sole ready for the real moment of inspired creation.
A highly skilled machinist places the upper and sole – which are now loosely sandwiched together – against a heated blade which is kept at 700 degrees centigrade. This blade goes in between the sole and the welted upper, melts the PVC of the sole and – if the machinist’s hands have done their job – seamlessly fuses the two parts of the boot together.
All that is left is to finish the side wall of the sole with the distinctive Dr. Martens grooving, again done with great hand skill as the boot is pushed against a razor sharp spinning blade cut in the form of the instantly recognisable groove, and creating the two toned grooved sole edge..
With the plastic last finally removed, the finished boot gets a hand-polish and lace-up, before being boxed and readied for shipping to stores.
Dr. Martens worldwide quality and production
There is actually no difference between the boots and shoes that we still make in the UK and those we make in Asia. The components and materials are the same and each welted product is made with the same unique manufacturing technology that we have used for 52 years.
Moreover, all of the production from Asia is strictly controlled and monitored by our own staff.
Nonetheless, if a quality problem occurs and escapes our attention, we will always replace a defective boot or shoe with a new pair. We only ask that defective product is returned to use so we can analyse what went wrong.
Our original UK factory makes smaller runs, one-off designs and product that is more elaborate than the product made in Asia. Some 'Original' boots and shoes are also still made in the UK for those who want the 'cachet' of a shoe with the 'Made In England' label.