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Dr Martens

How ethical and sustainable is Dr Martens? 

Dr Martens may have an edgy and progressive marketing exterior, but is this famous brand, selling boots, shoes and sandals, really sustainable and ethical? See through the greenwash in this article on the Dr Martens brand, where we explain our Ethical Ratings and research of this brand.

See how Dr Martens compares to other shoe and boots brands in our Ethical Shoes and Trainers Ratings Table. Find out more about the ethical issues faced by the shoes and trainers sector in The Good Shopping Guide to Ethical Shoes and Trainers.

The history of Dr Martens

Dr. Martens, usually known as Doc Martens, Docs, or DMs, is a British footwear and apparel company with German roots. Its headquarters are in Wollaston, a town in Northamptonshire, England’s Wellingborough region.

During World War II, Klaus Märtens served as a doctor in the German Army. He discovered that his ordinary army boots were too uncomfortable on his damaged foot after suffering an ankle injury in 1945. He improved the boots by adding soft leather and air-cushioned soles made of tyre rubber while he was recovering. Märtens stole leather from a cobbler’s business after the war, when some Germans were able to recover items from their own towns. He built himself a pair of air-cushioned boots out of that leather.

The business had expanded to the point where Märtens considered distributing the footwear abroad in 1959. The patent rights to produce the shoes in the UK were quickly purchased by British shoe manufacturer R. Griggs Group. The name was anglicised to “Dr. Martens” by Griggs, who also improved the fit by slightly reshaping the heel, added the signature yellow stitching, and registered the AirWair trademark for the soles.

In October 2013, R. Griggs Group Limited, the proprietor of the Dr. Martens label, was purchased by the private equity firm Permira for £300 million.

Dr. Martens have developed a sizable fan base and ownership across numerous subcultures, particularly in the LGBT and punk scenes.

Does Dr Martens’ run a shoe repair scheme?

For a brief period, Dr Martens shoes were marketed with a “for life” guarantee, under which the company would fix or replace damaged DM footwear indefinitely for a fee that was about double the pair price. This offer was available in 2016, but as of May 2018, it was no longer valid for new purchases.

Are Dr Martens shoes environmentally-friendly?

The sustainability report for Dr Martens includes a Net Zero target in addition to goals for its packaging and renewable energy. Read the Dr Martens Environmental Report here.

The vast majority of Dr Martens shoes are made from leather which is very unsustainable, as rearing animals – cows, sheep or other livestock- uses up a lot of agricultural lands. Its vegan range is not particularly sustainable either, as these products are made with synthetic materials that do not decompose, and are not made with recycled materials.

Is Dr Martens Cruelty-Free?

Dr Martens has a robust Animal Welfare Policy, stating that it uses byproduct leather and rules out mulesing. Mulesing is a cruel practice of breeding sheep whose thick folds of skin can get infected and eaten by fly larvae (fly strike). The sheep’s skin must be cut and stretched out whilst it is a young lamb to prevent this from occurring, which can cause discomfort. We encourage Dr Martens to continue using alternative methods of acquiring wool for its products.

Dr Martens also has a wide range of Vegan shoes, boots and sandals, which shows commitment to animal welfare.

How can Dr Martens raise its Ethical Rating and rise up our Ethical Shoes and Trainers Ratings Table?

Dr Martens should focus on improving its sustainable materials, and consider the entire lifecycle of its shoes, boots and sandals; what will happen to these materials when the wearer is finished with the shoes? Can the materials be recycled, repaired or decompose? When Dr Martens meets our Ethical Benchmark, it would stand a good chance of achieving our Ethical Accreditation, were it to apply for this prestigious sustainability certification.

If your fashion brand values ethics and sustainability, why not check out The Good Shopping Guide‘s Ethical Accreditation? Increase customer and investor confidence and stand out from the greenwash.

Ethical performance in category


GSG score


GSG category benchmark


Ethical Rating


  • Environmental Report


  • Nuclear Power


  • Sustainable Materials


  • Fossil Fuels



  • Animal Welfare


  • Vegan Options



  • Armaments


  • Code of Conduct


  • Political Donations


  • Ethical Trading Schemes


  • Human Rights



  • Ethical Accreditation


  • Other Criticisms


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