Dr. Martens disaster: what’s going wrong for the iconic boot brand?

The iconic boot brand of rebellion, is currently facing hard times. Here’s why its popularity is slipping and what the brand can do to reclaim its edge.

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Dr. Martens, the footwear brand synonymous with rebellion and durability, has been kicking around since 1901 – but now it appears it may be in trouble. Shares at the company took a sharp nosedive on Tuesday, falling by a third, and landing a staggering 80% below their 2021 initial public offering price.

So, what’s causing the Dr. Martens fall from grace? Here are a few reasons the brand is losing its grip on younger generations.

Stuck in the past

Dr. Martens’ core strength has always been its timeless style. Originally a work boot for British factory workers, the iconic yellow-stitched boots found a new home in the movements of the 60s and 70s, becoming a symbol of punk rock, rebellion and counterculture.

However, this very strength might be hindering them. With society’s move towards self-expression and individuality, the once-rebellious Dr.s might now be seen as too mainstream.

Dr. Martens’ competitors, like Vans and Converse, have successfully adapted their core styles to modern tastes, while still retaining its brand identity.

For instance, Vans has expanded its classic slip-on silhouette with a variety of vibrant colours, collaborations with artists like Vincent Van Gogh, and platform variations that cater to current trends, all while staying true to its core skateboarding heritage.

Similarly, Converse has introduced elevated versions of their iconic Chuck Taylor All-Stars with platform soles and elevated materials like leather and canvas variations, as well as partnered with fashion houses like Comme des Garçons for limited-edition releases.

In the last couple of instances where Dr. Martens have attempted to revive their brand, it has not worked out well for them.

Commercial hiccups

In 2016 Dr. Martens launched a vegan line, hoping to tap into the growing market for cruelty-free footwear. However, some consumers complained that the vegan material lacked the durability of the classic leather boots, leading to disappointment and dampening enthusiasm for the brand.

Further tarnishing the launch, the vegan line was recalled by Airwair, Dr. Martens’ parent organisation, due to a chemical exposure hazard in 2017. Prolonged and direct contact with the boot tongue lining could expose the wearer to the chemical Benzidine – a known carcinogen according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Copyright & legal woes

Dr. Martens is still an iconic brand regardless of their recent mishaps – so it should come as no surprise that there have also been issues with the competitive pricing strategies of the new heavy-hitters in fast fashion, who have wanted to get in on the boot action.

These players have recently made some ethically-dubious advertising moves to encroach on the success Dr. Martens maintains.

In an upcoming lawsuit between Dr. Martens and Temu, Dr. Martens alleges that the Chinese ecommerce platform manipulated Google searches to display lookalike products above their genuine Dr. Martens boots.

This follows a copyright battle in a similar vein that was recently announced between Squishmallows & Build a Bear.

The legal battle also highlights a crucial marketing challenge for Dr. Martens: adapting to an online space currently dominated by aggressive marketing strategies and cheaper alternatives.

What can Dr. Martens do?

Dr. Martens does not lack options to reclaim its footing, fortunately: striking a balance between honouring its heritage and embracing evolution is key.

Collaborations with up-and-coming designers could help to surprise and delight customers and inject fresh energy into their core styles, while limited-edition collections could create a sense of exclusivity and desirability. Additionally, Dr. Martens needs to prioritise a more sustainable production process, a factor that resonates deeply with younger, environmentally conscious consumers.

Engaging with younger demographics on relevant platforms and utilising targeted advertising that speaks their language will be essential for reconnection. Implementing changes while also staying true to its core values of quality and durability may mean that Dr. Martens can find a way to reclaim its position as a cultural icon.


Dr. Martens’ recent struggles highlight the challenges faced by even the most iconic brands.

While their classic boots hold a special place in fashion history, failing to adapt to changing consumer preferences and market dynamics can lead to a decline.

Whether Dr. Martens can successfully navigate these challenges, pull itself up by its bootstraps and reclaim its rebellious spirit remains to be seen.

Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 14 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.

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