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Dr Martens benefits from ‘very smart’ decision to keep UK factory going

  • New qualification standards will lock in world beating skill sets

  • Shoe manufacturers come together to agree training framework

  • Business booming at Northants’ ‘Made In England’ factory

The UK production manager for Dr Martens says shoemaking is part of the DNA of Northamptonshire and should remain so for a long time to come.

Steve Bent was talking to NQ at the launch of a new set of training standards in shoe manufacture at Northampton College.

Representatives of the industry from across the UK were at the event and Steve said it is an area where we are world beaters.

“I think the UK already does lead the world in quality shoemaking. Obviously there are different parts of the world that are famous for different types of product but when it comes to gentlemen’s shoes, when it comes to Dr Martens, when it comes to durability, quality, value for money – the phrase Made In England will sell a product abroad. It does. Look at what I make in my factory in the UK: over a third of what I make goes abroad to other continents because it has got the words Made In England written on it,” said Steve.

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There are 50 people working at the Cobbs Lane shoe factory for Dr Martens and they are turning out around 2000 shoes a week.

Steve said the firm has benefitted from the smart thinking of people who fought to maintain a bare minimum of manufacturing capacity in England when the production switched abroad.

“Back in the last century everything Dr Martens made was made in the UK. Roundabout the 2001/2002 recession the brand had to move things overseas to stay afloat but somebody there – I can almost name the somebodies actually – was very smart and managed to hang on to the ability to make product, but what was a bare minimum has grown, has been significantly invested in since 2007. It’s doubled in size every four years since then. The increase in demand we have had in the last 12 months is unprecedented,” he said.

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Shoe industry leaders, training experts and academics mark the launch of the new level two apprenticeship. Steve Bent from Dr Martens is in the middle at the back with a dark beard.

When quality workmanship is such an important factor commercially, the new apprenticeship standard is a useful way to try to lock in the skillsets that make such a difference.

Steve explained the work that has gone into creating the new standards.

“What we’ve done is over the last couple of years there has been a group of uk manufacturers coming together from all over the country, quite a lot of them from Northamptonshire, who have been writing and revising the standard of qualification that would be needed for a national recognised certificate of shoemaking,” he said.

“It says this is a level two apprenticeship: someone who was worked in a shoe factory for a year or 18 months filling out all these criteria and is now useful to all of you and this is a point of difference above anybody else who would be looking to work in a manufacturing space.

“Getting all of the manufacturers together was so that we didn’t have a bias towards a particular type of construction or a particular brand’s needs and leave other guys out of this. So we have had Bill Bird from the orthopaedic industry come in and make sure that everything that gets documented as a requirement for this qualification would work in a small company making individual shoes, one-offs that have a medical application or big batch stuff like they make at Dr Martens or very high end stuff like they are making at Churchs or at Loake, or the sort of thing that gets made up in the UK’s biggest shoe factory up in Skelmersdale where they are making very fast, high quality, ladies stuff and making sure all those different constructions are served by the same qualification.

“There is a lot of stuff we do very differently but there is also a lot of stuff we have got in common. Shoemaking has its own language, has its own  shorthand, has its own vernacular and all of those things need to be kept current. They need to be understood by the people who are making the shoes, and it needs to be something we can all look at and say: ok I see somebody with this qualification, I know what they can do for me, I am going to get those guys in and interview them and consider having them work in my team.”

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