“I stand for enjoying hard work and dancing to the radio.”
Dr. Martens

Stephen Bent is no Gary Aspden. His devotion to his brand has not seen him turn advisor or collaborator, and he has not produced exhibitions nor short films confirming his allegiance.

But just as Gary Aspden can wax lyrical about adidas Originals, so Stephen Bent knows his shit as far as Dr. Martens is concerned.

Manager of the brand’s Cobbs Lane factory (the £25 a pair shop is not an urban myth but resides next door), part of Bent’s job sees him play tour guide for new recruits, inquisitive members of the public and press, hence Clash is making its debut in the Northamptonshire village of Wollaston.

A typical month consists of about 12 tours and today, despite getting in late due to a Warpaint gig and rising early to conduct a full day’s work ahead of a midday finish, our host is on top form.

“I’m an alternative music nut,” he says, “I grew up obsessing over The Who, The Clash, Ian Drury, the grunge scene. Always a bit of an outsider, it seemed to me in my youth that you couldn’t make good stuff if you weren’t working from the ground up in the right boots.”

“I went through art college and up various avenues before getting into factory management without ever really compromising my style or my tastes,” he observes, noting of the brand’s appeal, “You can be yourself in a pair of Dr. Martens, whatever your surroundings.”

Today that means black mock croc boots with red laces, but like Carrie Bradshaw in a parallel universe, he admits to having “a revolving door of Black 1490’s and Red 1460’s. I’d love to say I have no more than a dozen pairs but the truth of it is it’s more like 25.”

Several components make up ‘the factory’; in the entrance resides both a motorbike and a jukebox as well as portraits of Dr. Klaus Martens and Bill Griggs plus snapshots of Robert Pattinson and Madness. Directly next door is the heritage centre, a one room museum that holds the sort of detailed collection you’d pay actual real money to see.

’69 is an obvious one to go for and in ’97 it seemed like every music festival I went to was all about the brand,” notes Stephen as the boots recent history here becomes a prime conversation topic and we quiz him on the most interesting year.

“But 2010 for me is where we can tell it like a comeback story,” he decides. “The 50th anniversary collection was a step change for how the world sees Dr. Martens. We stopped being about an 8-eye boot in various states of colour and shine and started to look like a fashion house with a core DNA. The investment in materials, constructions and development just suddenly went through the roof. 2010 is like Dr. Martens redux.”

Downstairs the factory proper is preceded by a selection of adverts and press clippings, as Kisstory floods the floor and a bold group of pink (soon to be) DMs instantly demands our attention. We’re walked through each station and talked through devices, anecdotes and cold hard facts.

Did you know ‘skiving off’ came from the skiver, a piece of machinery that you have to sit down to use? Or that the cow (read: leather) on your feet would have been meat on a plate a whole two years beforehand?

“I know a lot of useless trivia,” offers our host, “but the most random Doc’s fact that springs to mind is that the Battle of Northampton took place in 1460… And that has nothing to do with why the boot is called a 1460.”

The only DM’s shoe factory based in the UK (PVC, insoles and shoeboxes are made elsewhere in the country while most designs are produced abroad), Cobbs Lane is solely responsible for the Made in England collection, the production of which is overseen by 45 members of staff; double the number on hand when Stephen first joined circa Halloween 2011.

“It’s the individuals who make up the team (that are there best thing about working here),” he confirms. “I’ve worked in a lot of places and this is the only one I know of where everyone brings the best they have to offer to work everyday. It’s pretty inspiring.”

The boots as we know them first launched in the UK on 1st April 1960, so how exactly does a team like this celebrate an anniversary like that? “Doc’s day is a big deal at Cobbs Lane. The apprentice team made Doc’s themed cupcakes for the rest of the staff and we started the day with a team breakfast, then snacked all morning while making vintage boots,” comes the response. “We’re always finding a reason to break bread together in the factory, birthdays, anniversaries, house parties, pools wins…”

Finishing up, or rather before running off to the factory shop to score myth-shattering bargains, what, in the spirit of Dr. Martens semi-notorious tagline, does Stephen Bent stand for? “I stand for enjoying hard work and dancing to the radio.”

Words: Zoe Whitfield



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