On her blog, Cathy Horyn recently expressed a distaste for 'turning craft into some fetishistic pile of stuff' and also referenced to a round table discussion that I took part in for the latest issue of Bon Magazine along with editor-in-chief of Bon, Madelaine Levy, Tim Blanks, Jo-Ann Furniss, Imran Amed of Business of Fashion and Valentine Fillol Cordier.  I'll be republishing some choice bits from the LOOOOOOONG discussion but for now, I wanted to pick up on something that Levy said…

'All the talk about the "petits mains," the seamstresses.  I can't really decide whether I think that's great or even more fluff.  Just another way of adding a few more hundred dollars to the price by saying "Oh look, there's amazing craft behind all this."'

We were on the topic of discussing whether the exposure of 'craft' behind a garment or product was PR fluff or genuinely interesting and we were somewhat divided.  Levy also said that she felt she knew too much about what is out there in terms of product, and I suppose it is there that I disagree.  Knowing too much is far better than knowing too little, especially in fashion, when we so often tow the line and get fed information that doesn't really investigate or probe.  Yes, showcasing the making of something and delving into craftsmanship or even inventing 'craft' where there is none, is an exploitative tool for the PR machine, but at the same time, don't we feel fortunate to be privy to this mountain of information, through the internet, where before these doors often felt closed?  I, as a consumer certainly feel like being informed about the 'process' of things isn't a bad thing and what if promoting craftsmanship will also ultimately impact on people's livelihoods?


I said there'd be a second part to my Dr. Martens Bespoke shoe experience where I had my gnarly feet measured for all to see in the basement of Dover Street Market and last week, I went up to Northampton to Dr. Marten's Wollaston Cobb Lane factory to see my shoe finished up.  This one factory is the sole survivor after a dramatic cull back in 2002, with over 1,000 jobs lost, when Dr. Martens were making huge profit losses and were forced to source production to China where a majority of their boots are made today.  Therefore, the significance of Dr. Martens making some of their shoes (their 'Made in England' collection and now, their bespoke and premium line products) in England again, cannot be OVER emphasised.  It's the difference between fifty or so people having something to do and not.  Now the future is looking even brighter with the factory about to expand and take on new members of staff.  They're looking to train a new generation of shoe makers to revive what is an ebbing industry in Northampton, an area that was once rife with shoe manufacture.


Of course, if the product wasn't a great one, no amount of economic do-gooding would convince me to buy into it.  Fortunately, at the end of this factory tour, a pair of shiny shiny gold shoes would be glinting into my eyes and I was lucky enough to not just see the workings of the factory, guided by factory manager Brian Clayton but to also see my own pair of shoes being finished offβ€šΓ„ΒΆ

If this is the fetishisation of craft that Horyn speaks of, then I'm sorry to say that I must be a hardcore factory/craft fetishist because it seems every time I am exposed to any process of making, my eyes bulge and I start to fire off a million questions a minute.  I think I slowed the tour down with my incessant photographing and probing of both workers and Brian.

We start with the leather which as I said before, for the bespoke shoes, will be vastly superior to the leathers used on the normal DMs… 


I never knew that hides of leather actually come in vaguely recognisable cow-shape… this is from ONE side of a cow…


Then comes the cutting of the pieces which make up the shoe on a machine called the clicker, ensuring that the right part of the leather corresponds with the more prominent pieces in the shoe such as the 'vamp', which is the part which goes over your toes at the front…


What I would call sewing, in the shoe biz, they call 'closing'…



…which is incidentally mostly done by women…


I had no idea that the three row of stitches that you see here are what distinguishes a real Dr. Martens boot/shoe from the fakes.  Apparently the 'Puritan' machine (there are quite a few odd machine names at the factory… one of them is called 'Skiving'… and it has nothing to do with skiving off…) has three needles which is rare thing and so the fakes normally have just two rows of stitching or three unevenly spaced rows of stitching. 




The toe of the shoe/boot is formed here…


Then came my 1461 shoes, which had been sitting in their lasts to take shape for a few days, ready to be finished.  I actually had forgotten what it was that I had chosen but was pleasantly surprised to see this gleaming leather shining back at me along with the cream eyelets…


Staples, locks the upper to the insole and the err…. 'prime rib'… there are a lot of opportunities for double entendres in the factory…



Then the signature Dr. Martens 'Goodyear Welt' is stitched on to the shoe.  I did ask why the signature colour of the stitching was that recognisable shae of yellow but nobody seemed to know…


The rubber sole is ironed on…


The grooved rubber soles are another distinctive Dr. Martens feature… here they come out of head moulds and are inspected over light to check for air pockets and disfigurations…


This is the bit where i got particularly excited as the sole and upper are welded together around a 700-degree hot blade.  That's a temperature that I can't really get my head around…



Once the edges are trimmed and the sole is given its DM groove, it's ready to be polished, checked, laced-up and boxed.  I love that there was one person there to do the lacing, one person there to do the polishing and another to wrap them up in tissue paper.  It was a little bit Elf-ish.  All the better to feed my romantic ideals of a small factory where it's the man that controls the machinery and that ultimately it is man that ensures the product is a good one…  




As I said before, the shoe comes kitted in a lovely burgandy box (also made in England…) and all the accessories to ensure they'll be lovely and shiny for a long time…

IMG_3624 IMG_4789

Each process on my shoe was signed off on this work ticket…


Here are the remnants from the finishing proces…


My first pair of GOOOOOOLD shoes will take a while for me to find some outfit homes for them but the thing I love is that they fit on my feet with pure ease as they are true to my feet size.  All that gross feet exposure back at Dover Street Market was not a wasted effort.  No shoe-horning or yanking required.  They literally ooze onto my feet and it'll prove quite difficult to pry them away when harsh winters come and all I crave are properly cushioned tootsies. 

Worn with Fancy Shit paisley blazer (yes that is indeed the name of the label… ), Roland Mouret dress


Plus, how could I not want to wear shoes that have been name-stamped? 


66 Replies to “Craftwerk”

  1. I simply love them! The gold is fabulous and thanks for showing us the process. I think there is a revival of demand for good craftsmanship, sure it can be PR fluff, but when it’s genuine like this, it’s worth promoting!

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this process; I’ll be heading home to inspect the different elements of my own DM’s now! And I agree that one should not write off this kind of behind-the-scenes exposure as some sort of PR stunt; no offense to some of your roundtable participants, but I feel it’s a jaded view on fashion that thinks the market is oversaturated with this kind of access. Outside of editor’s circles, even outside of major cities, especially here in the states, people take for granted that there was a creative process involved in the construction of their clothing at all. This spotlight on the process and its benefits (i.e. local job creation) is SO important, now more than ever! Thanks again for doing your part πŸ™‚

  3. It makes me so upset when people especially in the fashion industry call craftsmanship fluff. The craftsmanship is what distinguishes the products – the very fine detail is what makes the product unique. The people with these extrodarniary skills are disappearing in the fashion market because of people who can’t appreciate the true value of artistry. Thank you Susie for showing the people behind the products!

  4. Wow, those shoes really look great, and the fact that they are made just for you makes them almost like a dream! I can’t even imagine what having such a customized piece must feel like πŸ˜‰
    I found your post very interesting. I don’t understand how can some people dislike the idea of seeing the crafting process of products like these. I always enjoy having this kind of information, and I would have surely had a great deal of fun visiting the factory myself πŸ™‚
    The only thing that turns me off a bit is being reminded where does leather actually come from. I know we all know that, but seeing that whole “cow piece” like this just makes me feel a little bit guilty :/
    Anyway, you did a great job, as usual πŸ™‚
    Love! xx

  5. SICK! How cool is it that you have your own shout out your Docs! I love Dr. Marten’s. Sadly, with my penchant for thrift store shopping this particular luxury is out of my price range :(. I love them from afar.

  6. These Docs are so cool and beautiful and I fell in love with them. And I’m so sad I don’t live anywhere near London.
    The golden shoe looks great on you and I love it with the tartan.

  7. Docs with no socks?! How are you doing that??! I have a pair of Doc cherry boots (made in England, of course!) and I have to wear two pairs of socks to protect my feet. I still love them though πŸ™‚

  8. The lining to these bespoke docs are slightly different from the normal ones which are rougher and more likely to chaff your feet!! It’s a bit softer and smoother inside….

  9. It could well be a slightly jaded view but I do think it’s important to say that at the time we were also talking about pret-a-couture – as in ready to wear designers who assume the language of haute couture to add a few hundred dollars to say a vinyl jacket…. I think Givenchy was the specific example…
    It is of course a completely different thing to this Dr. Martens shoe but generally, I still think it’s better to have that information and to know more than not….

  10. Thank you for the look behind the scenes! I’ve been considering buying a pair of DMs, and seeing the work that goes into each pair has convinced me to go for it. I think Journey are another footwear company who still manufacture in England… or at least some of the manufacturing.

  11. great work once again susie. thanks for sharing. I work with a similar small factory (in Italy) and am always astounded at the natural eye for detail these ‘shoe craftsmen/women’ have. There’s just way too much knowledge there to pass it off as ‘fluff’! I’m so glad to hear that the DM’s UK factory is expanding – comforting to know that I’m not hanging out by myself in the ‘hand crafted appreciation society’!

  12. This is such an amazing post and provides a great insight into a brand that is so iconically British. It is such a shame that most of the shoes are made outside of England but it is great to see the focus shifting back to Britain. My favourite thing is to see your name being printed into the tongue of the shoe. That is amazing and really makes you take pride in what you wear. Craftsmanship and bespoke clothing is definitely the future of fashion.

  13. Dr. Martens will be offering a Bespoke service through their website next year and I’m not sure what the adjusted pricing is but at Dover Street Market where I got my Bespoke shoes done, the pricing is upwards of £225…. that’s for a made-to-measure fitting… for a custom shoe last style, it would be more expensive obviously.

  14. do you know, off the top of your head (and if you’re feeling indulgent), of any standardized ways to verify that a company uses leather that’s a bi-product of the meat industry? That’d be SO helpful, even a hint in the right direction would be brilliant. Thanks!~

  15. Always love to see what’s going on behind an amazing piece!
    Too bad I dont live in London or else I will definitely make that pair of custom Martens, since I can never really fits one.
    My feets are too friggin’ small!! =(

  16. Brilliant write-up! Thank you so much. Always wanted to see the process that went on behind making a DM after I owned one. The name-stamp is making me want to get another one. πŸ˜€

  17. Susie, thanks for a great post! I love your golden DM:s.
    Real craftsmanship is of course, as is said above, an amazing thing.
    But as consumers we do need to be aware that more and more fashion companies are showing off goods as “crafted”, when the behind-the-scenes reality is very far from what the marketing and pr makes it look like.
    Unless we’re careful and weary of the gap that’s unfortunately what genuine consumer interest in heritage, origin and production can lead to.
    See, for example the watered down “Made in Italy” label, which can just as well mean “Made in Italy in sweatshops by uninsured underpaid illegal Chinese immigrants.”
    For a more in-depth text on both the merits and possible pit-falls of craft, heritage and selvage fashion, see my editor’s letter in the current issue of Bon and of course the roundtable that Susie talks about here:

  18. Another fan of factory p*rn here – must have been from all those early years watching Play School and the factory scenes through the ’round window’. And I do a love a gold shoe – metallics are like neutrals, they go with everything!

  19. i’ve heard this before too, same goes for the car industry too. they only use bi-products for their interiors. they talked about it on a series in the UK, on bbc3. Might have been called kill it, cook it, eat it or there-abouts.

  20. wicked posts susie, as per the factory shots hit the spot. seeing your creation come to lift by not only designing but seeing the process must have been very satisfying

  21. Wonderful post Susie, and totally agree β€šΓ„Γ¬ it’s better to know too much than to know too little or nothing at all. Our grandmas used to understand the real price of a garment because they made their own clothing, so they knew all the hard work behind it (or the little, for that matter!) I feel that people now know less and less about clothing making so it’s difficult to “price” the garments. Labels either take advantage of our ignorance overpricing the product or they reduce the quality in order to keep up with the market. So, the more we know, the better. πŸ™‚

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