Did Dr. Martens ever address their past?
September 14, 2022 4:46 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend just learned that her favorite boots were created by a Nazi. I knew this already, but I'm curious: did the company ever address this, post-WW2?

I'd known about Doc Marten's origins for decades; I'm Jewish and long ago decided that I'd shrug and join the masses in thinking they were cool shoes and am fine with people wearing them, and have long wanted some myself but I'm very cheap, lol.

But my gf bringing it up made me wonder if the company ever addressed the fact that they were founded by a Nazi. Did they ever apologize? Make any kind of reparations or something? I've been Googling and I can't seem to find an answer to this.
posted by pelvicsorcery to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Dr Märtens was a podiatrist/ doctor in the German Army which doesn’t mean that he was a Party member. He started making and selling the shoes in 1952, and then British company,R. Griggs Group Ltd., bought the patent rights to the sole and started making their own version of the boots.
Company’s website.
Reddit thread
1993 Spin story
posted by Ideefixe at 5:10 PM on September 14 [12 favorites]

1993 Spin advertisment, surely? Interesting links, though.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 4:55 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]

The inventor was a Wehrmach doctor, which is enough for me to call him a Nazi. I don't think we have any easily available information about his sentiments about the races, but given the time and place, we can venture a guess that he at least played along. It's a guarantee that the words "Heil Hitler" came out of his mouth more than a few times. I remember the Nazi origins being something important to the white supremacist types that wore Martens in my high school in the 90s. But they were also worn by antifascist punks!

In any case, the shoes are part of a British conglomerate now, all washed in the great money tumbler.
posted by dis_integration at 7:11 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]

Eh... there were plenty of people in the Wehrmach who weren't party members, especially in the later days of the war. Of course, it's possible his membership and/or sympathies were scrubbed particularly effectively, but its worth noting that Hugo Boss, Coco Chanel, Luis Vuitton, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, VolksWagen, etc. weren't able to do so .
posted by slkinsey at 9:03 AM on September 15 [2 favorites]

In Germany in WWII you either did what you were conscripted to do, or you were shot. Being in the German army is no evidence of political extremism, just evidence that he wasn't willing to die at the hands of a firing squad.

Now, if he'd been in the SS that might be different because they were the hardcore but if you were a healthy male between 18 and 50 during the war you were put in the Wehrmacht unless you were in a protected occupation. I don't view every German conscript as a Nazi any more than I view every Soviet conscript in the same conflict as a Communist (or every American soldier as a capitalist). When you do that you "other" an entire country or race, and that leads down a very dark path.

As a British Jew, for what it's worth, Dr Martens have never bothered me except when the "bovver boots" skinheads used them in the 80s, but really they're seen over here as utilitarian, hard-wearing, comfortable footwear, no more and no less. TBH I'm not sure why they should apologise for their "past", seeing as the company was started 7 years after WWII?
posted by underclocked at 9:46 AM on September 15 [4 favorites]

Yeah I'm not really sure what they were/are supposed to do; they were started after the war. I mean, of course the founder was in the Army, basically every man in Germany at the time was. And most of their popularity has been since they've been a British brand anyway.

(Buying from a company that was actually around during the war (Siemens, Krupp, VW, Bayer, SABA, AEG, Blaupunkt, Völkl, etc. etc.) seems more problematic, although there's still the question of active vs. coerced participation: it's not like anyone involved realistically had much of a choice in the matter—one of the hallmarks of the NSDAP was "Gleichschaltung" (roughly: "coordination"), which involved near-complete state control over any enterprise of significance.)

I'd bet that most people (in the US, anyway) today probably associate Doc Martens more with British punk culture than their titular German origins anyway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:44 PM on September 15

As other people have pointed out, it's not entirely clear that Dr. Maerten was a Nazi. I think people can also disagree about whether or not Griggs buying the rights to manufacture the boots is the same thing as "the boots were created by a Nazi", especially since the boots Griggs made were not the same design, Griggs trademarked "Airware" and the name of the boot was anglicised:

The design utilized Maerten’s original eight eyelet design, but added a few iconic key flourishes, including yellow stitching, the branded heel loop, and the two-tone grooved sole edge.

I don't believe that Griggs buying a patent from a former German soldier to manufacture a boot means that "the company was founded by a nazi". The boots we know and the company we buy them from are English*, and therefore don't need to address anything. People can disagree of course. I feel like we'd need to know more about Dr. Maerten's role in the Wehrmacht before demanding anything of Griggs. Again, just MO.

*obviously most are no longer made in England.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:29 PM on September 16

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