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Monday, 5 August, 2002, 16:01 GMT 17:01 UK
Dr Marten brings trainers to heel
Dr Marten 20-hole boot
Dr Martens: Popular with punks and police

The maker of the iconic Dr Marten boot is to start talks with workers over plans to close another plant as it struggles to reverse a decline in sales.


I think the brand name is still strong, it's just out of favour at the moment

Drapers Record editor Eric Musgrave
R. Griggs, hit by changing consumer tastes and slowing economic growth, wants to close down its factory in Wellingborough, Northamptonshire.

The decision to suspend production at Wellingborough, which follows the closure of R. Griggs' Somerset plant late last year, would leave the company with just two factories.

Although Dr Martens remains one of the world's most high-profile footwear brands, the company is no longer the fashion powerhouse that it was during its 1970s heyday.

Badge of cool

Dr Marten boots were once considered an essential badge of allegiance for successive waves of youth cults.

Their popularity with skinheads, punks, and mods turned the boots, originally designed as orthopaedic footwear, into an icon of British street fashion.

At the same time, the hard-wearing, supremely practical Dr Martens, equipped with air-cushioned soles, became standard issue for several British police forces.

But their grip on the all-important youth market began to slip in the 1980s as the rise of hip-hop culture led more and more teenagers to don trainers instead of thick-soled boots.

Dr Marten boot
The Dr Marten boot: A British fashion icon

And they lost more ground during the dance music explosion of the 1990s, which confirmed a growing consumer preference for baggy cottons and comfortable running shoes.

Dr Martens enjoyed a brief resurgence during the rise of punk-influenced 'grunge' rock in the mid 1990s, but sales for 2002 are still expected to come in sharply below last year's 5 million pairs.

"In the past we thought we were a brand that transcended the normal rules of competition, but I don't think that is true any more - if it ever was," R. Griggs' company secretary William Johnson said last month.

Re-launch

More recently, the global economic downturn has put R. Griggs - which sells 80% of its output in the US - under added pressure.

In an attempt to stop the rot, the company is planning to launch a new range of styles aimed at revitalising the 42-year old Dr Marten brand.

The new Dr Marten products, due out next year, are designed to appeal to women as well as men put off by their traditional 'bovver boy' image.

They will include lighter shoes with thinner soles and more contemporary styling.

And the firm's choice of chief comeback strategist is a canny one: R Griggs has appointed Bobbie Parisi, formerly senior vice president at sports shoe giant Nike, as its new brand manager.

The firm's main shareholders - brothers Max and Stephen Griggs - will be hoping that an injection of trainer industry expertise will give the Dr Marten boot a 21st century facelift, and catapult it back to the top of the teenage fashionista's must-have list.

Classic appeal

But some experts believe that Dr Martens' status as a fashion icon is so firmly established that it is only a matter of time before the boots come back into favour.

"I think the brand name is still strong, it's just out of favour at the moment," Eric Musgrave, editor in chief of fashion industry bible Drapers Record told BBC News 24.

"They will be back. They've been back many times in the 42 years since they first appeared in the UK."

Purists will be relieved to hear that R. Griggs, well aware of its most famous product's traditional appeal, has no plans to phase out the distinctive yellow-stitched boots that made its fortune.

See also:

19 Jul 02 | England
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