Fancy a trip to the Dr Martens factory, to see a pair being made ? Yes I know, this may sound like Chinese water torture to some people but believe you me, you’ll never take shoes for granted or look at them in the same cavalier manner ever again ! So as I was saying I was LUCKY enough to take a little jaunt upt North, to Wellingborough, Northamptonshire. Not only the home to British footwear but the home to Dr Marten – land otherwise known as the Cobbs Lane Factory. After a brief history of the iconic DM footwear and how the Made in England range and a couple of bespoke collaborations are still 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 close knit family of people steeped in traditional shoe-making methods.
In and amongst the noisy industrial backdrop of pristinely preserved machinery is the unmistakable smell of freshly cut leather, here the familiar form of a Dr. Martens shoe or boot begins to take shape. The process takes the boot through various highly skilled stages of the creation process until its final arrival – laced up and spotless – in a box … ready for a life which no two pairs will have the same life experience (See the images below to see the process in action).
A piece of leather goes through a number of stages in the process to the finished article, but its life starts as 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 thing a pair of Docs is probably most famous for is its air cushioned sole, this is produced 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 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 to ensure its all spick and span, before being boxed and readied for shipping to stores, literally around the world.