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Dr. Martens Seeks Chinese Cure

Dr. Martens

Dr. Martens

PARIS, Oct 29, 2002/ — They may have been worn by Pope John Paul II — in angelic white — but that hasn’t been enough exposure to stop Dr. Martens and its iconic ‘bovver’ boots from facing losses of around $31 million a year.

In response to these lagging numbers, British-based R. Griggs Group Ltd. – Dr. Martens’ parent company, which manufactures and distributes the brand’s footwear worldwide — has proposed to contract out its footwear manufacturing and cease all production in the United Kingdom. Management will soon begin a 90-day consultation period with staff and unions at its various UK manufacturing locations. In July, Dr. Martens closed its second factory in less than a year.

Speculation points to operations transferring to Asia, specifically China, where production costs would be much lower. A spokesperson for the company told FWD, “Economically speaking, it makes sense to move. Our competitors are having their products manufactured in Asia, leaving them with a lot more money to invest in other ventures and to expand their product lines. At the end of the day we are competing with that.”

According to the spokesperson, no decision has yet been made on where to base new operations. “Yes, we are very definitely looking at China. But we are also looking seriously at sites in Vietnam,” says the spokesperson.

Not a publicly listed company, R. Griggs Group does not issue financial details, though it does put its yearly turnover at five million pairs of boots/shoes. About 65 percent of its business is believed to come from the North American market, but product sales were already in decline before September 11, experiencing a serious downturn since the grunge era in the mid-’90s.

1,068 employees at Dr. Martens manufacturing locations in England, as well as 129 office staff, will be affected. In the retail division, 60 employees are likely to be affected by the closure of some of the brand’s stores in Britain. All design operations are to stay in Britain though, where, according to a statement from the company, “the brand’s heritage lies.”

Last summer Dr. Martens introduced a new brand direction, called “Original Since,” in an effort to turn its numbers around. While Dr. Martens has trended toward lighter-weight, sleeker styles over the last couple of years, the new campaign represents a more concerted push in that direction. Dr. Martens’ original air-cushioned boots were conceived by German doctor Klaus Maertens in 1945 as his foot healed after a skiing accident. Bill Griggs launched the shoes in the UK in 1960.