30 March 2010

Making Dr. Martens

This Thursday, the 1st April 2010, sees the 50th Anniversary for the iconic Dr. Martens 1460 boot. Dr. Martens have been worn by the likes of factory workers, postmen, policemen, skins, punks, rockers, bloggers and even yours truly. It is a history so diverse and remarkable that the 1460 is a design which really does deserve the oft thrown around label of 'iconic'. The boots are important not only in the discourse of British (and indeed worldwide) fashion history, but also deserve a chapter in their own right within any number of social history studies.

Dr. Martens were kind enough to invite a number of bloggers (including Steve of Style Salvage, Disneyrollergirl, The Clothes Whisperer, Butters the super cute fashion dog, Mademoiselle Robot and Tor of Fabfrocks) up to their original British headquarters and factory in Wollaston. We had the opportunity to look at their upcoming anniversary campaign, Fall 2010 collection and even take a tour around their original factory.

Rather than simply launching into details of the upcoming releases and the models I found interesting, a little context is always ideal. We were lucky to be able to have a guided tour around the factory led by the wonderful Brian, who has worked at Dr. Martens for an impressive 37 years. For someone who can literally spend hours watching back-to-back episodes of How It's Made, the experience was quite frankly amazing.

At their peak, the Dr. Martens factories in Northamptonshire were producing over 12 million pairs of boots a year. With production now based mainly in China, only select pairs are still made within Britain. It was remarkable to see the number of skilled hands required in the production process and indeed how much is still done by hand.

Mmm juicy colours.

Aluminium blocks are first cut to create the mold for the soles. The soles are produced by injection molding using thermosetting plastic pellets at 173ºC. They are then left to cool for 24 hours during which time they shrink 2% to their final size.

'Clicking' is where the leather hides are cut into the constituent pieces required for each boot. The process is so called due to the sound made when cutting. The hides for the Wollaston factory are sourced from Amsterdam due to lack of tanneries within the British Isles.

Whereas your average leather shoe uses leather with a thickness of 1.6mm, Dr. Martens tend to be made using thicker leather around 2-2.2mm. This is however too thick for the tongue piece, which then has to be cut slimmer. Cotton is also cut to match the leather pieces in order to be used as lining.

Silver pen is used to mark stitching lines on the leather. The main body of the boot is stitched together along the back, which is then covered with a heel strip and the labeled pull. Carol was stunningly fast on the machines, zipping the pieces together with ease.

Triple stitching is used for structural integrity on the vamp. It was the first time I have actually ever seen a three needle machine...and it looked terrifying.

Holes for eyelets are punched and the eyelets secured in one swift motion, after which the boot looks more like a finished boot yet still not quite right. The last comes into play in order to shape the boot into its recognizable profile.

The boots are steamed to make the leather more supple when forming. A rack housing a heating element and water bath provides steam, most importantly for the toe of the boot. The leather is pulled and pinched to shape around the last.

Dr. Martens would obviously not be Dr. Martens without their iconic welted Air Wair soles. The process was magical to watch. The innersole is glued and stapled into place, with the welt then stitched on. Every pair of Dr. Martens has exactly 49 stitches around the sole, regardless of shoe size (the width of the stitches is adjusted accordingly). A sliver of springy wood is also placed within the welt gap to provide flexibility.

Whereas soles are usually glued onto the welt, with Dr. Martens the soles are quite literally melted onto the welt. A flash of flame starts the process!

The excess of the sole has to be trimmed down by the lathe. The rotary blade on the lathe also provides the finish to the profile of the sole, whether it be ribbed or smooth. A machine is then used to help remove the last from within the boot.

The boot takes 15 minutes to craft from start to finish.

Now all they need are a pair of laces and a pair of feet to wear them.

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  1. What an incredible experience! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  2. Kick-ass opportunity! I can't believe it takes just 15 minutes for them to create those essentially by hand!

  3. Thanks for showing us these pictures! It's really awesome to see how shoes like mine are made! Love your blog! --Marina

  4. excellent, great to see how the factory is run. mine ate two years in and im sure they have year left in them! youre a lucky lad for getting this chance

  5. Great to see images of the process.

    I still have my first pair.. Green suede <3

  6. 15 minutes? That's crazy! I sort of feel bad that I don't have a pair now :/

  7. Wow, it's amazing to se all of the process that is done to create them.

  8. That was interesting. My grandfather actually wears them.

    I haven't thought about them for quite a while. I do like my toms though..and for a good cause,too.

    Its so hard making that transition to warmer weather shoes too..the snow has finally gone.

    Great post!

  9. wow, how cool! i've always wanted a pair...

  10. Wow, this is like when Nylon goes in 'Factory Girl' style. Great post, I can't believe I still don't have a pair! I've wanted them since the 90s.

  11. This is amazing!! What an awesome thing to see and experience! The iconic boot made in front of you.
    Such a great opportunity for blogging to open up. Can you tell I'm a wee bit jealous? :)

  12. That's cool that you got to go! I'm surprised how quick the process is, but I suppose it also makes sense too.

  13. wow that is awesome you got to see that process. I didn't realize it only took 15 minutes..

    I also hope you are feeling better, have a great rest of the week dear!

  14. um JEALOUS...seriously. Love me some Docs. I remember having brown ones, black mary-jane ones, and black w/yellow paint specks all over them. Ahhh those were the good days. I'm actually saving for a new pair right now. Glad you got the chance to experience this!

  15. Docs are so great!! I can't believe they're turning 50. I still want a pair of allover blue ones. xx

  16. Glad you're back my dear! This is a fascinating post - I still have mine which are burgundy (deeper and rarer than the cherry red) and will always adore them. They even have gold acrylic paint on them from when I did my Art A-level in them...

  17. its mind blowing that a boot can make only in 15 minutes.And nice explanation of whole process.

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