On Dec. 3, the Dr. Martens 1460 boot will be honored as the Shoe of the Year at the FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Dec. 2 print issue about why today’s youth have fallen in love with the boot, like so many generations before them.
It’s been almost six decades since Dr. Martens introduced its first footwear style on April 1, 1960 — a sturdy laced work boot with distinctive yellow stitching that retailed for roughly 2 pounds ($3) at the time.
Though adopted early on by British workers, over the years, it has been co-opted by the counterculture movements of every generation, from punk-rock and goth to grunge and Harajuku. Once again, it has found a rapt audience in the world’s youth, who are drawn not only to its style but to its long-standing message of rebellion and acceptance.
For its 2018 fiscal year ended in March, Dr. Martens, based in Northamptonshire, England, reported that sales for its Originals collection rose 28%, with the 1460 leading the way as its top seller. And CEO Kenny Wilson predicted bigger gains for 2019. “We see no sign of slowdown. In fact, we see acceleration,” he said.
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Retail partners echoed a similar sentiment: “We have seen a significant increase in the performance of the 1460,” said Yvonne Yip, GM of footwear, handbags and accessories for Walmart.com and Shoes.com. “The sales growth year-over-year proves this style is iconic.”
In the U.S., the boot has recently become a wardrobe staple among young people, popping up at music festivals like Coachella and finding its way onto the feet of Instagram megastars like Kendall Jenner, Gigi and Bella Hadid, and Kaia Gerber.
Celebrity stylist Wilford Lenov, who has worked with Bebe Rexha, Ashanti and Gus Kenworthy, pointed to the brand’s heritage as a selling point. “In the midst of fashion trends always changing, Dr. Martens has been the one shoe brand that has been true to its style since the beginning,” he said, adding that the 1460 is his go-to for a chic-casual look. “Style is a form of expression, and because the boot is so versatile, it can go with any look. The most common and classic way to style it is with a rolled-up jean, a T-shirt and a leather jacket. It’s a great way to keep it clean and chic.”
And stylist Mikiel Benyamin, whose client Saweetie has worn Dr. Martens for performances and onstage dance breakdowns, told FN, “I think no one out there has made or will ever make a style so timeless and so chic like the 1460 boot. It’s been used for years by music icons and will continue to be used by this decade’s icons and the next.”
While Wilson acknowledged that celebrity sightings help build buzz around Dr. Martens, he was quick to note that the brand does not seek out those moments. “One of our values is integrity, so we don’t place product on celebrities; we don’t pay celebrities to wear them,” he said.
For his part, Wilson points to several global cultural factors that are helping to fuel the company’s success, including the changing role of women, which has empowered female consumers to choose more-comfortable, less-traditional footwear, plus the rise of gender-fluid dressing, which calls for unisex shoes like the 1460.
“And around the world, you’re seeing disruption and intolerance, whether that be the politics of Brexit or what’s happening in Hong Kong and similar factors in the U.S.,” said Wilson. “We know from consumers that our brand is seen as tolerant and diverse. We’re a picture of tolerance in a world of intolerance.”
Darren Campbell, chief product and marketing officer at the company, also said the brand’s somewhat unintended sustainability is part of its new appeal. “Our boots are going to last you five to 10 years, so that’s a good investment versus buying vulcanized sneakers that you’ll have to throw away after a season,” he explained. “Consumers are looking for the opposite of fast fashion.”
Behind the scenes, the Dr. Martens team continues to modernize its operation to stay in step with consumers.
“The 1460 boot hasn’t changed in 60 years,” said Campbell. “What I think is different now is that we have a broader access point for consumers. So the awareness is growing, and that’s down to some strategic objectives that the business is having around controlling our destiny.”
In fiscal 2018, the company expanded its direct-sales channels. It opened 20 brick-and-mortar stores globally, bringing its total to 109 doors, and has been staffing up its e-commerce division to support new e-tail platforms.
“We’ve worked hard on our direct-to-consumer channels to make sure we’re focusing on digital first, retail second,” said Wilson. “We firmly believe that if we keep
our eyes on the consumer and on creating great product, then everything else is easier
And while other fashion brands have driven excitement through collaborations, Campbell said Dr. Martens has been careful to protect its 1460 franchise and rarely opens it up to outside interpretations. However, that will change next year.
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the company — and its iconic boot — Dr. Martens invited 12 partners to express what the 1460 means to them and will launch a new style from the series each month. “All the partners are from the world of fashion, street and culture,” said Campbell. “Ten of the 12 we have worked with before, but a couple are new, and those will cause quite a stir.”
The 33rd annual FNAA ceremony will be held at the IAC Building in New York. Sponsors for the event include Klarna, Geox, The Style Room Powered by Zappos, FDRA, Micam Milano and Buchanan’s Scotch Whisky.