Video & Photography: Suffoca
Words: Alex Synamatix
When we recently got offered the opportunity to take a stroll around the Dr. Martens factory in Wollaston, how could we refuse such an intriguing offer? We thought we’d take our video man Suffoca along with us and make this short “How It’s Made” style video for your viewing pleasure.
Situated in the heart of the Northamptonshire countryside, the Dr. Martens factory is the last remaining location in the UK that produces the iconic footwear, having always been the head office of the Dr. Martens. Although it has never been closed, the factory did have to dramatically reduce in size after the ’90s boom bubble popped (you may remember the classic Dr. Martens tin pencil case from that era, amongst other non-footwear products), putting 3,000 people out of jobs as they moved their manufacturing abroad to survive the late ’90s recession.
Thankfully the brand kept their main UK factory open with an attitude to keeping at least one thing of everything; one of each machine and one of each employee who knows how to work them. It’s an attitude that enabled the company to hold on to the knowledge and expertise of the original workforce and factory, something that has since been poured into their increasingly popular Made in England collection. A collection that has single handedly given this small factory a new lease of life and a bright future ahead, growing from 3,000 vintage Dr. Martens in their first collection in 2005 to now producing over 70,000 pairs a year all from this exact factory. Impressive for a workforce of 40 people, some of whom have been rehired after having not worked for Dr. Martens since the big workforce cull over 10 years ago. For example, the welt sewer (responsible for the famous yellow stitching) went off to drive a lorry for 10 years before being reunited with his welting machine at the Wollaston factory.
Strolling around the factory while the impassioned factory manager explained each and every process to us was a real insight, but it was meeting the people at each work station that was truly fascinating. Seeing each employee, each with a potently unique character working the machine that they specialise in (which each had almost as much character as those operating it) had a near romance to it. Some were talkative, such as Mike the clicker who was proud to show us around his station and explain the heritage of the name “clicker” (it relates to the clicking noise that the original knives used to cut the leather make when removed from the wooden chopping board) and others were more prone to ignore the gaggle of tourists peering into their work life, pointing cameras, iPhones and various recording devices at them while they worked.
Below is a selection of photographs by Suffoca from the tour, as well as a few portraits of some of the factory workers (including Mike the clicker). We hope you enjoy the video and find this peek into the life of Dr. Martens as intriguing as we found the factory visit itself.