On a typically busy London morning, we leave the hustle and bustle of the city and make our way to Northamptonshire for a very special peek into the Dr.Marten’s Factory. A shoe brand that is anything but ordinary; and an icon that has been a witness to decades of changing subcultures, music legends, societal upheavals, and social revolutions. Amidst the idyllic landscapes and vistas of the English country side, we discover the Dr.Martens Factory on Cobbs Lane, the heart and soul of the British shoe-making industry, where we learn to walk, talk and think like a Cobbler.
Dr.Martens came onto the scene back in 1960, when the modest work wear boot had started becoming a symbol of the British working class. The factory on Cobbs Lane, deriving its name from the word “Cobblers” actually preceded the brand. The factory was originally founded in 1901 by the Griggs family, who have been known for making boots in the small town of Wollaston. By the time the family had reached its third generation of shoe-makers, Dr. Klaus Martens - who created the revolutionary air-cushioned sole became the family’s business partner. By the 1st of April 1960, the first pair of Air Ware 1460s were made in the Cobbs Lane factory ( April 1, 1960, = 1/4/60 — get it?) Strangely enough, the next pair was the 1490, as the shoe was about a third bigger than the 1460. What followed was the 1914, which referenced a WWI army boot in both style and construction. In terms of learning how to think like a cobbler, the factory manager jokingly remarks “Lesson 1: Us cobblers, we’re not that great with counting”
We make our way through the archive room, where we see some of Dr.Martens most iconic campaigns, protesters donning neon pink mohawks whilst wearing the classic 8-eyelet 1460s grace one wall, another features posters of Rihanna and Jessie J donning their own pairs of Dr.Martens in their own respective concerts. Underneath it all, is the factory’s original generator — a marvel of the industrial revolution, and a piece of machinery that has kept the factory alive even through the leanest of times. Walking through the factory floor, we start by learning about the kind of leather that goes into making any Dr.Martens shoe. We learn that not only do they exclusively take meat industry leather byproducts, they also make sure that these cows have lived a good life. A piece of leather can tell you many things; how a cow lived, where it came from, and what it ate. The people at this factory take pride in knowing that no substandard leathers make it past this point.
This factory is only responsible for producing 1% of their stock worldwide, and you can see why — every step of the process is meticulous, traditions that have been passed down from the industrial revolution and lovingly kept to this day. There are four different work areas in the factory, from the initial clicking and cutting room, which was named after the clicking sound that the old Cobbler’s knives used to make, to the closing and stitching area, where this is the only factory in the world to still have puritan stitching machines. Moving on to the last-moulding, where we discover that the term Knock on Wood is a term originally coined by cobblers as well. Knocking on the wood of the last, and hearing this reassuring solidity to it — means that we have a good last.
By the time we reach the finishing area — we had already met a fluster of different personalities, each one with their own tasks, each one with years worth of stories and experiences. There is a strong sense of pride in what they do, and their confidence with handling the industrial machinery is poetic in a pared back kind of way. For Dr.Martens it becomes clear that aside from the countless iconic moments, their legendary patrons, and their unique place in the heart of British youth culture; it is these people, the cobblers of Cobbs Lane, that have been the true backbone for Dr.Martens throughout the brand’s fantastic 57 year history.
Photography by Hannah Tan
Words by Hannah Tan