Dr Martens – A History of Self-Expression – Part 3

It was actually at Funck’s shed that the first air-cushioned sole in history was made. Maertens and Funck would eventually relocate to a rented workshop and then a barracks at Seeshaupt train station.

In the early days, Maertens and Funck were making shoes by hand at Seeshaupt simply to survive in the harsh, Allied-occupied post-war world. They had no grand design of expansion – it was simply day-to-day survival. However, as the 50s dawned, the German economy began to boom, fuelled in part by American funds via the Marshall Plan but also by the famous German work ethic and attention to detail. At this point, the two realised that they had an opportunity to expand their business operations. By 1952 the Dr Funck Company opened a factory in Munich to keep up with demand, while Maertens remained in Seeshaupt, where he also worked as a general practitioner. By 1959 the partners started to advertise their product in overseas trade magazines.

Here the story moves back to Britain. By this time, the concept of the “teenager” had been born. Before this time, the concept had not existed: children became adults and the idea of an intermediate stage of life - the teenager, simply did not exist. But in the relative prosperity of the 1950s the first teenage phenomenon, the “Teddy Boy” had come into being. Dressed in Edwardian clothes (hence the shortened “Teddy” form) and pointed boots, these individuals marked the beginning of modern youth subculture.

However, for the Griggs Company, this nascent youth culture did not generate additional sales, as might have been expected. This is because, by the 1950s, competition was growing, notably from the “Tuf boot”, which boasted a vulcanised rubber sole that was quick and easy to produce.

Dr Martens - a UK phenomenon!Although Griggs footwear sales were still strong, in particular to servicemen (including those fighting the Korean War), there was a feeling that the company needed to broaden its horizons in order to thrive. The company, now run by Bill Griggs, the third generation of the family since the company’s inception, formed a co-operative with other firms in theNorthamptonarea to create economies of scale against the competition. Bill did not rest on his laurels after forming this co-operative, however, and he remained keen to scout for new products and opportunities. Whilst scanning the trade magazine “Shoe & Leather News”, Bill spotted Maertens’s and Funck’s advert.

Bill swiftly contacted the two with a view to himself acquiring the licence to manufacture the shoes. They were initially less than impressed: Bill Griggs’s company itself was still a small-scale operation, but they were reassured by the presence of Grigg’s co-operative and the production potential it represented. Crucially, they also liked Bill himself (illustrating the importance of being personable in order to be successful in business – as true then as it is now). And so, they arranged to visit Wollaston.

When the three innovative men met up, an unlikely, yet long-lasting friendship was formed. Bill was a driven and formidable businessman, but a popular one due to a genuinely warm and humorous personality.

And so Griggs acquired the exclusive licence to manufacture the air-cushioned sole unit that Maertens, with the help of his friend Funck, had invented.

End of Part 3 – CLICK FOR PART 4