How Ethical is Dr. Martens?

By October 17, 2017Big Brands, Fashion

They’ve gone from humble beginnings as comfortable boots for housewives in post-WW2 Germany to one of the most iconic British shoes repped by punks and musicians, and now by many other youth subcultures worldwide. Dr. Martens or “Docs” have certainly had an unforgettable style journey since their appearance in the ‘40s. But are they ticking the right boxes for people, planet, and animals?

Environmental Impact: Not Good Enough

Dr. Martens has a lifetime warranty collection and uses packaging from 100% post-consumer waste materials. They’re taking small steps to implement a waste reduction strategy in part of their supply chain. While these are positive signs, Dr. Martens’ overall impact on the environment is nothing to be proud of. They use very few eco-friendly materials, with most products being made from resource-heavy leather. Dr. Martens states that they source leather from Leather Working Group accredited tanneries, but don’t disclose their level of certification. Dr. Martens also fails to have robust policies on energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.

There is also no evidence that Dr. Martens has adequate policies or initiatives for water usage or wastewater management. Dr. Martens complies with a Restricted Substances List but has made no commitment to eliminate hazardous chemicals. This classic brand has a long way to go before they can be put on the environment’s nice list.

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Labour Conditions: Not Good Enough

Dr. Martens 1460 Geo StripeDocs are being repped by people from all walks of life across the globe, which begs the question – where are they made, and how are their workers treated? Despite being manufactured in the UK for close to 50 years, in 2003 production was moved to China and Thailand to avoid bankruptcy. These countries have a high and extreme risk of labour abuse. Despite having a Supplier Code of Conduct with an adequate definition of a living wage, there is no assurance that Dr. Martens is actually paying a living wage to their employees.

They do trace parts of their supply chain and mention auditing, but how and when these audits are carried out is unclear. By shifting to a fast-fashion model, Dr. Martens has really dragged their rating down. Dr. Martens has much more work to do to ensure that their workers are treated with the respect and care they deserve.

Animal Welfare: It’s A Start

Performing artist Qri Sung shows us how she styles her 1460 boot_FacebookDr. Martens does not use fur, angora, down or exotic animal hair or skin. They do, however, use leather and wool without being fully transparent about where this comes from – meaning it’s hard to gauge the treatment of animals along their supply chain.

One thing to commend Docs for – from an animal welfare point of view – is their introduction of a vegan line, made from 100% non-animal origin materials. However, they label the material as “a non-leather synthetic material”, without going into details. This could be made from Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) plastic, which Greenpeace lists as one of the most environmentally-damaging plastics. We’d love to see more transparency about their choice of materials. There are so many amazing eco-friendly leather alternatives out there and it would be fantastic to see big brands embracing them!

Overall Rating: ‘Not Good Enough’ GoY-Ratings_2

Dr. Martens has received a rating of ‘Not Good Enough’ overall, based on information from our own research. While the brand is making a start in animal welfare and taking small steps to improve labour and environment ratings, they’ve got a lot of work to do to improve their impact.

With so many amazing ethical alternatives popping up every day, you can have your boots and wear them too!

Nae GoY-Ratings_4

Trina Red Vegan Boots by NAETrina Red | Free worldwide shipping from Portugal

Take a walk on the ethical side in these gorgeous animal-friendly boots made in Portugal by Nae. These luscious looking Trinia Red boots are crafted from OEKO-TEX® certified microfibres in a CO2 free manufacturing system. Nae brings you beautiful vegan footwear in other unique and sustainable materials like recycled airbags, cork and pineapple leather!

Brave GentleMan GoY-Ratings_4

Visionary Boot in Blue Suede by Brave GentleMan

Visionary Boot in Blue Suede | Ships internationally

Brave GentleMan has crafted their entire range from environmentally-friendly and completely vegan materials. These super stylish boots are made from Italian-milled EU Ecolabel certified microfibre, crafted under fair labour conditions in Portugal.

Download the app!

Trusted ethical ratings in the palm of your hand.



Editor’s Note: Ratings correct at time of publication.

Feature image via Dr. Marten. Additional images via Nae and Brave GentleMan.

Isobella Wolfe

Author Isobella Wolfe

Isobella is an ethical vegan, globetrotter, and perpetual student who spends her free time curled up with a book and her cat, Lentil. Follow her adventures on Instagram at @isobellawolfe.

More posts by Isobella Wolfe

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Geoffe Locke says:

    Durability should be a factor. RRR, includes reduce, and if Doc’s last twice as long as other boots, which in my experience, they do, then their environmental impact per pair of shoes is halved.I have two pair of classic boots with constant wear for at least 10 years. The only thing replaced has been the shoe strings. They will easily go for another 10 years given their condition, fingers crossed. Before the docs, I had a pair that lasted less than three years.

    • says:

      Your are right that durability is important, especially in a world where fast fashion brands making poorly made clothes dominate. The Good On You rating system does give points to brands that make long lasting products.

  • Judith says:

    So, how well are the animals (mainly cows) treated at the places where Doc martens gets their leather?

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