03 Feb

How Ethical Is Dr Martens?

Dr. Martens have been kickin’ it across youth subcultures worldwide for decades, but is it working to reduce its impact? How ethical is Dr. Martens?

Are Docs ethical or sustainable?

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” has certainly had an unforgettable style journey since its appearance in the ’40s. But is this brand ticking the right boxes for people, planet, and animals? How ethical is Dr. Martens?

Environmental impact

Dr. Martens has a lifetime warranty collection and uses packaging from 100% post-consumer waste materials. While these are positive signs, Dr. Martens’ overall impact on the environment is nothing to be proud of. It uses very few eco-friendly materials, with most products being made from resource-heavy leather. Dr. Martens tanneries are audited by the Leather Working Group, but the brand fails to have robust policies and initiatives on energy use, water reduction, as well as carbon and greenhouse gas emissions. This classic brand has a long way to go before it can be put on the environment’s nice list, which is why we rated its environmental impact “Not Good Enough”.

Labour conditions

Docs are being repped by people from all walks of life across the globe, which begs the question—where are they made, and how are the 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. A plus is that some of its supply chain is certified by Workplace Condition Assessment (WCA), including all of the final stage of production, but there is no evidence Dr. Martens implements practices to support diversity and inclusion in its supply chain. It received a low score of 11-20% in the Fashion Transparency Index. It discloses partial policies and safeguards to protect suppliers and workers from the impacts of COVID-19. Most importantly, there is no evidence Dr. Martens ensures payment of a living wage in its supply chain.

By operating with a fast fashion model, Dr. Martens is”Not Good Enough” for people. Dr. Martens has much more work to do to ensure that its workers are treated with the respect and care they deserve.

Animal welfare

Dr. Martens does not use fur, angora, down, or exotic animal skin. It does, however, use leather and wool from non-mulesed sheep. The brand has a formal animal welfare policy aligned with Five Freedoms, and it traces some animal products to the first stage of production. But without being fully transparent about where the animal products come from, it’s hard to gauge the treatment of animals along the supply chain.

One thing to commend Docs for—from an animal welfare point of view—is the introduction of a vegan line, made from 100% non-animal origin materials. However, it labels 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 the 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.

Dr. Martens’ animal rating is “It’s a Start”.

Overall rating: Not Good Enough

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, it’s got a lot of work to do to improve its impact, especially when it comes to labour and the environment. Note that Good On You ratings consider 100s of issues and it is not possible to list every relevant issue in a summary of the brand’s performance. For more information see our How We Rate page and our FAQs.

See the rating.

 

Luckily, many amazing sustainable and ethical alternatives to Dr. Martens are popping up every day. Have a look at a few of our favourites below.

Good swaps

Ethical alternatives to Dr. Martens

Womsh

Rated: Good
black eco boots made by Womsh

Vegan Moon Black – Ships internationally from Italy

Fashion and sustainability can go together and Womsh is the brand that proves it. Its shoes are entirely designed and manufactured in Italy, and its clothing range is made from eco-friendly fabrics like organic cotton. Find most shoes in EU sizes 35-42, and clothes in XS-2XL.

See the rating.

Shop Womsh.

Shop Womsh @ Curate.

Good Guys

Rated: Good

Jane Unisex Vegan Loafers – Ships internationally from France

Offers

Black vegan ankle boots by Good Guys.

Good Guys – Boots

These cruelty-free, durable, and genderless ankle cowboy boots are the result of materials research and artisanal savoir-faire. Up to 50% off selected boots. (Ends: 15 JUN)

Shop now
Purple thick strapped sandals ethically made by Good Guys.

Good Guys – Sandals

Leisurely slide-on sandals, crafted from vegan materials and with ultra-comfortable contoured footbed. Up to 50% off selected sandals and flats. (Ends: 15 JUN)

Shop now
Colourful vegan sneakers by Good Guys.

Good Guys – Sneakers

Unisex vegan sneakers made of high-quality materials and produced in Europe under fair working conditions. Up to 50% off selected sneakers. (Ends: 15 JUN)

Shop now

Good Guys creates cruelty-free shoes for women and men, founded and designed by Marion Hanania in Paris. Through Good Guys, Hanania aims to create the perfect cruelty-free, made in Europe closet, where no animal product is involved, and the production guarantees fair trade working conditions. Find most shoes in EU sizes 36 to 46.

See the rating.

Shop Good Guys.

Shop Good Guys @ Immaculate Vegan.

Shop Good Guys @ thegreenlabels.

NAE

Rated: Good

Trina Boots – Ships internationally from Portugal

NAE is a Portuguese footwear, bags, and accessories brand using innovative materials to create goods with “No Animal Exploitation”. Its sustainable materials include recycled PET from bottles, OEKO-TEX® certified microfibres, recycled car tyres, natural cork, recycled thermoplastic, and even pineapple leaf fibre. Find most of the shoes in sizes 36-46.

See the rating.

Shop NAE.

Shop NAE @ Staiy.

Shop NAE @ Urbankissed.

Will’s Vegan Store

Rated: Good

Work Boots – Ships internationally from the UK

Will's Vegan Store produces animal and human friendly women's and men's footwear, clothing, and accessories at affordable prices. Find the women's shoes in US sizes 5-10, and men's in 7.5-14.

See the rating.

Shop Will’s Vegan Store.

Shop Will's Vegan Store @ Immaculate Vegan.

Nisolo

Rated: Good

Amalia All Weather Boots – Ships internationally from the US

Nisolo is an American brand that prioritises living wages throughout its supply chains while also working to combat climate change.

See the rating.

Shop Nisolo @ Made Trade.

Shop Nisolo.

Discover our favourite sustainable dupes to Dr. Martens

Editor's note

This article was published in 2017 and updated in October 2020. Feature image via Dr. Martens. All other images via brands mentioned. Good On You publishes the world's most comprehensive ratings of fashion brands’ impact on people, the planet and animals. Use the Directory to search more than 2,500 brands. To support our work, we may earn a commission on sales made using our offer codes or affiliate links.

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