The Dr. Martens brand appeals to people who have their own unique and individual style but who also share a united spirit – authentic individuals who stand for something. In this interview, RLI spends some time with Kenny Wilson, CEO of Dr. Martens to learn more about the company, what has driven their international success over the decades and what the next steps are.

On a stylistic level, Dr Martens’ iconic, simple silhouettes allow their wearers to adopt the boots, shoes and sandals as part of their distinctive style; meanwhile on a practical level, the famous durability and comfort make them ideal for the world of gigs and street wear; finally on an emotional level, they are a badge of attitude and empowerment.

The iconic styles from the original era are still some of their most popular products, but they have not been standing still. Today they still continue to break the mould and promote ‘rebellious self-expression’ in everything they do.

When discussing the changing market conditions in the last couple of years, Wilson comments that every person that works at the company considers themselves a ‘brand custodian’ and that is their job to make sure the brand is here for generations to come. So while it did not radically alter their strategy, it did accelerate aspects of the existing strategy. They prioritised e-commerce and as a result of this they saw revenues increase from 20 per cent of group revenues to 30 per cent.

“We are an e-commerce-first business, but stores remain a pivotal cornerstone of the brand and our global presence. Dr. Martens is as much a community as a brand, and having the opportunity to experience the products in an authentic environment – to touch, feel and see them in real life – is important,” explains Dr. Martens CEO Kenny Wilson.
“We have 158 of our own stores and through these, along with our distributors and wholesale partners; we trade across 60 countries worldwide. We are firmly a global brand with stores from the UK to the US with sites that span Europe and Asia.

Focusing on stores in key cities in key growth markets, which for the brand are the US and Europe – their recent store openings in Texas have been good examples of this. Where they open stores, they see an ‘e-commerce halo’ which means that where they open a physical store, there is uplift in local e-commerce sales.

Carnaby Street
London, UK

Wilson feels that having a local brand presence that is authentic and that inspires customers through product discovery and strong storytelling, and allowing customers to touch and feel the product – is pivotal.

“We also have a ‘conversion market strategy’, where we review the distributor-controlled countries globally and, where beneficial, have been changing the operating model in some of those countries into a direct-to-consumer model as the distributor contracts have come to an end.”
Italy is a good example of this as Wilson points out that their old distributor contract ended in mid-2021, and by the end of the year they had opened stores in Verona and Milan. So far this year they have added stores in Turin, and Porta di Roma. “The impact has been huge with brand presence growing rapidly, and 122 per cent revenue growth in H2 of
FY22 alone.”

Carnaby Street
London, UK

From a store perspective, this focus on key cities and key growth markets will continue in the US and Europe, whilst in Japan they have agreed to transfer control of a number of Dr. Martens branded franchise stores in the country into their own retail estate, at the end of FY23 when the contract expires, enabling them to drive harder growth in the years ahead. Overall, they expect the store portfolio to double in the next four years.

With a fantastic creative team who travel and take broad inspiration from a huge range of people, places and cultures, Wilson explains that they are always collaborating with new and innovative brands like Lazy Oaf, A-COLD-WALL* and Futura Laboratories, along with more well-known names like the National Gallery.

“We are also busy collaborating with artists in our ‘Tough As You’ campaign where we work with up-and-coming artists, and fund and increase access to creative opportunities for under-represented talent – shaping the future of music culture together,” the CEO comments.

When it comes to social media, collaboration is the watchword for the business and an important example of this is their new social media push to support up-and-coming musicians called #TeamUpOnTheTrack. This is an Instagram Reels campaign inviting followers to use their skills to create music visuals for new artist Cariss Auburn Taylor, with a £5,000 prize for the winner.

Carnaby Street
London, UK

They have also seen resounding success with their TikTok account, where they reached a million likes within weeks. As of today, the Dr. Martens TikTok account has received over 26 million video views and recruited 370,000 followers to their community.

In a world where sustainability is essential, the company’s products of boots, shoes and sandals remain some of the most durable items of footwear you can buy. “We believe in the power of the circular economy and we are working towards being totally sustainable. We have pledged to have 100 per cent of footwear made from sustainable materials by 2040, 100 per cent of packaging from recycled or other sustainably sourced material by 2028, and 100 per cent of products sold to have a sustainable end of life option by 2040,” Wilson highlights.

Nancy, France

The strength of the brand, the consistency of its strategy and the passion and energy of its people is what sets this company apart from the crowd, and Wilson feels its ethos of ‘rebellious self-expression’ has kept the brand at the forefront of youth culture for over 60 years.

Looking forward, Kenny emphasises that prioritisation is the biggest challenge facing the business, and understanding where to focus Dr Martens’ attention and energy will be the key to unlocking the company’s growth potential.

“The external environment will continue to challenge us too – we have been through an unforeseen pandemic, an unforeseen supply chain challenge, and currently an unpredictable macro-economic outlook, but we have worked together to weather these storms and we are in very good shape to handle these challenges.”