Consumer Advocate: How long should shoes last?

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Given my recent activism around the probably bicycle related wear on a pair of my tweed trousers, it may be a little early to go on another disappointed consumer rant. Or is it? Heck, we pay good money for our nice clothes and shoes, so isn’t it reasonable to find they live up to expectations, or even exceed them? Should we just shrug and move on when something fails dismally? I say no. Let the shortcomings be known.

So today a colleague noticed how the soles on my classic Dr Martens shoes were split lengthwise. A closer look showed that this was the case on both shoes. Now, in the interest of disclosure, these shoes are not new. I bought them around 4-5 years ago. I don’t use them very often though, mainly in the Spring and Autumn when there is a chance of rain, so in real terms they have likely seen between 3-6 months of use if they were my only pair of shoes.

Hers and his, about 16 years difference in production. The 20 year old pair still look better.

Hers and his, about 16 years difference in production. The 20 year old pair still look better.

In comparison, WDG has a pair of Dr Martens she bought way back in 93-94. These have seen lots and lots of use, yet still look almost new. The uppers are shiny and unharmed, the soles are undamaged and still have plenty of wear left in them. There is a certain ruggedness to them that to me is the essence of the British working shoe. And they were made in Britain.

Mine were made in Thailand. Which I suspect is part of the problem. Not that Thailand is a problem per se, as I’ve seen lovely and well made things from there, but low cost production can be. Dr Martens charge 95 pounds for a pair of the Thai 1461 shoes. And 165 pounds for a pair of the Made in Britain version that came a little later. I’m very curious about the actual differences between the two. Is there any noticeable difference other than the printed country of origin? Can it be inferred that the cheaper pair must be of inferior quality, hence the need to market a premium version?

While 95 pounds might not be a very large sum of money to pay for a pair of shoes, I would still expect to get a couple of years use out of them, with allowance for wearing something different during the winter and summer. Hence why I decided to see what Dr Martens customer service would say about the matter.

Dear Dr Martens,

much to my dismay, I just discovered that the sole on my left shoe is splitting (as shown on the attached photo). This is a pair of classic Dr Martens shoes, purchased 5 years ago. Given the number of shoes I use, these have been sparingly used, probably no more than 3 months if used everyday.
My girlfriend has a pair of the same model that she has been using since 1992 and apart from some wear to the sole they still look almost new. 
I do notice that this pair were made in Thailand, which does make me wonder if the quality of the shoes produced in low-cost countries is so much worse than the British made originals?
I have previously written warmly about my DM’s on my blog, but given my current concerns I would be very interested to hear your response.
IMG_4404

To which Dr Martens customer service replied:

Hi There

Thanks for your email

Due to the age of this footwear, it is not a manufacturing fault, this is a defect as a result of wear and tear

Unfortunately we do not have the facility to re-sole our footwear. However you can contact Timpsons who can replace some of our DM’s soles and their telephone number is 0161 9466219.

Let us know if we can help you further.

Many Thanks
Courtney

Now, about from being adressed as “There”, this was a reply intended only to stoke the fire of my consumer fury. “Wear and tear”? The cheek! So a reply to their reply was hammered out, and more photos included:

Hi Courtney,

thank you for replying to my enquiry.
I think you may have missed the main point of my mail: While the shoes may be 4 or 5 years old, they have see very little use. There is very little wear to speak of, and the only tear is the sole has completely split apart.
My girlfriends pair are 20 years old and still perfect. And hers have seen very much more wear.
If you look at the attached photos you will see the following:
1) There is almost no wear on the soles
2) There is no wear on the logo inside the shoes
3) The same split of the soles has occurred on both shoes
I don’t believe you need the sleuthing skills of Mr Poirot to conclude that these shoes have seen little use, but there must be something seriously amiss with the quality.
Split soles on both shoes!

Split soles on both shoes!

Almost no wear inside!

Almost no wear inside!

A little wear on the heels, common to all my shoes.

A little wear on the heels, common to all my shoes.

It appears that I may have made it past the first hurdle, as at this point Courtney is actually a little more interested:
Hi Nick

Thanks for your response, whilst I haven’t missed the point of your email, In order for us to deal with your enquiry, please provide the following information:

•Your full current postal address.
•The name of the retailer they were purchased from (If the order was made with us then please let us know your order number)
•Please also describe the style name.
•If you are able to provide your proof of purchase or a bank statement showing the transaction.

Once we have this information we can then advise further.
Please let us know if you have any questions at this stage.

Thanks
Courtney

And right now this is where it stands. I’ve mailed over the info about model name, where I bought them and apologising for not keeping receipts from that far back. I’m not sure why they wanted my postal address, but it’s not a big secret so I have divulged it.
Interestingly, when I mentioned this issue on Instagram I received information about Solovair, who used to make shoes for Dr Martens in Northamptonshire, and still make the same styles today. How much does their version of the classic style cost? 115 pounds. Made in Britain and no fuss.
Finally a message back from Courtney at Dr Martens customer service!

Please return your footwear using the address label along with a returns form that is attached to this email. You will need to cover the cost of the return. If we find a manufacturing fault we can then refund your postage.

The inspection process can take up to 15 working days from the date that we receive them and we will contact you once an outcome has been reached.
In the event of your footwear being repaired, this can take up to 8 weeks. We will notify you if this is the case.

So, the shoes are now wrapped up and on their way back to Dr Martens HQ. What will happen next?
drmartensparcel
Incidentally, how do you feel about longevity of shoes? I’d be very interested to hear more views.
The latest news is that as of January 13th Dr. Martens have received and inspected my shoes, and will be repairing them. At the time of writing this, 4 weeks later, there has been no further news. 

How did it go from here? Read the follow-up story here!

As an aside, to illustrate part of the heritage of Dr Martens, here is a clip from “The Young Ones” from way back in 1982, where Alexei Sayle sings a song in their honour. This takes me right back!
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29 Comments

  • Clyde 20/12/2014 at 11:34

    Good work…. go for the throat 🙂 ….im interested to see how this plays out as i think your well within your rights to ask these questions…its fairly obvious theres a quality issue here.

    Reply
  • WDG 20/12/2014 at 11:47

    My 20+ years old Martens (in the picture above) are still in great condition after all these years. I´ve used them *a lot* and they have only the normal, expected wear on the soles and some scratches on the leather surface.

    IMO Martens have done a very unwise move with the outsourcing, and what they present today as their “footwear classic” is far from what they originally sold and made their reputation on.

    BOO! Dr.Martens

    Reply
  • Nick 20/12/2014 at 12:32

    Just to say love your posts. But I do wonder is it only me but I’m a man in my early fifties who wants to be on trend and still cares about my appearance however every store you go to everything is cut skinny ,super skinny ,slim , fitted. Now trying to find a pair of denims that are not going to cost s small fortune but that I can get over my knees to fit my real mens thighs and backside is getting tiresome. I have given up looking for trousers that are trendy not designed for an 80yesr old is it only me am I alone with this problem. I can’t be the only one surely not !!!!

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad 21/12/2014 at 07:34

      Hi Nick, I feel your pain! Depending on where you are situated though it shouldn’t be impossible to direct you to someone that could assist. The sort of place you want to go for a pair of dad style (in a good way!) jeans is Union Clothing in Newcastle, where they have a proper selection of mid-range brands and styles. Stay clear of the high street brands, their styles and quality are not for you. Similarly, at least to start with you don’t want to go overboard with super-expensive and rare Japanese jeans. I think you’ll find something very suitable and pleasing (and long-lasting) at around the 100 pound mark. Feel free to drop me an email at WellDressedDad@gmail.com if you’d like a bit more help!

      Reply
  • Shaun 20/12/2014 at 17:09

    I have followed you for awhile on Instagram, but this is the first time that I have been on your site. I have had a similar experience, I bout one pair of doc martens, that seemed tough, though the tread wore away quickly, but they were good, so I bought a pair of boots from them…they fell apart quickly…I was so disappointed that I broke down and ponied up for some red wings…American made, tried to beat them up…I failed they are amazing! Since then, I try and buy only American made products…and English, as I have a pair of KEF speakers…no offense to the over seas producers, but they just can’t compete with workers in great countries make a living wage!

    Keep up the good, and inspired posts!

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad 21/12/2014 at 07:28

      Many thanks, Shaun! Good to hear you have having more luck with the Red Wings (which could be considered an American equivalent of Dr Martens, same workwear thing going on). My only real issue with Red Wing is that the white crepe soles tend to wear quickly. The boots themself are very rugged.

      Reply
  • Scratch 20/12/2014 at 17:34

    After a few years in the wilderness Doc Martens have obviously decided to significantly up the RRP in a craven effort to “buy” both desirability and perceived quality. It’s a pathetic strategy and the marketing director/ head of brand in question should be quite literally given the boot.

    And @Nick – there are plenty of decent brand jeans around that aren’t skinny fit – you just have to get out there, have a good look and try a tonne of them on.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad 21/12/2014 at 07:38

      There is probably seminars one can attend where just this strategy is sold. I imagine that with a little effort a list of companies that have tried a similar tactic could be drawn up. Aigle, Nigel Cabourn and Mulberry come to mind.

      Reply
  • Scratch 20/12/2014 at 17:46

    Actually, I saw a classic pattern emerging here. An old knackered brand suddenly ups the RRP by a good wedge while simultaneously relocating production to a low cost centre so absolutely maximising short to medium term profits.
    The brand then goes on a charm offensive with some “on point” collaborations or two and then begins a strong marketing campaign.
    One would think that this is all designed to get the highest financial return in the medium term. A good balance sheet means a good price will be realised for the company should it wish to sell. This “rips as much profit and sell as high as possible” without a single thought to the actual quality of ones goods is the most basic VC business model I thought.
    And surprise as quick google reveals that DM’s is indeed now owned by the VC firm Permira.

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad 21/12/2014 at 07:43

      This does sound like a pretty accurate description of todays Dr Martens, yes. They must have massively increased production, a bewildering array of new models and collaborations, venturing into clothing to further squeeze the brand value, opening shops and also joining the “Made in Britain” bandwagon.

      Which is the way business is done, of course, and it would be silly of me to criticise them for making a success of things, unless they jettison the qualities that made the original brand good, in the name of maximum profit, as indeed may be the case.

      Reply
  • Dominik Clemens Fox 24/12/2014 at 09:11

    Nothing new on that front 🙂 I didn’t buy Dr. Martens for a long time and bought a new pair about 6 years ago. Luckily I decided to buy Made in England ones without knowing about the outsource. They were much cheaper than now (€ 160,–) and last as long as the old ones from the 80s and 90s did. A friend of mine had ones that lasted 13 years under heavy use. 4 years ago he bought new ones and decided against the Brit version due to them not “looking right”. Game over, they don’t exist anymore, after four years. I also have Asos Made in England Air Wair shoes that are Solovair, I blogged about them two years ago. All good shoes, especially for the price. Like good ole Docs 🙂

    Reply
    • Dominik Clemens Fox 24/12/2014 at 09:14

      P.S. nowadays I prefer Red Wings though. Full grain leather that ages beautifully, and mt feet prefer their round toe last over most Solovair lasts 🙂

      Reply
  • Tim Milne 31/12/2014 at 18:51

    Hi Nick
    I had a similar experience with some Sebago Fairhavens, which I really like, but which split across the sole within a few months of infrequent ware. I took them back to the retailer, who basically shrugged their shoulders and suggested I contact Sebago, who were only mildly less indifferent. They refused to replace them (or repair them) but after a lot of arguing, all I could get from them was a 50% discount on some replacements, which when I ordered them came with the hideous white sole. I’d given up at that point, but came across some more (the black sole is hard to find) on sale in the Sebago store on Regent St. in London and bought them. They split too.

    Consumer legislation seems to out to lunch on shoes and fashion and anything short of it falling apart in the shop is assumed to be ‘ware and tear’. Nobody is asking for perfection or immortality of products, but since so many of these pseudo heritage brands like Sebago trade heavily on some implied notion of lasting, classic, timeless quality, it seems shocking that their products last no longer than cheap piece of tat from the high street.

    But, I still love the Sebago shoes and having found no similar alternative, I’d settle for getting them repaired. Do you know of anyone who’d put new soles on shoes like these?

    Reply
    • Well Dressed Dad 31/12/2014 at 18:54

      Hi Tim, thanks for sharing your tale of woe and disappointment! For sole replacement, I always talk to Richard at Shoe Healer in Doncaster first. If you search the blog you’ll find two of my experiences with their work documented.

      Reply
  • Rich Trenholm 02/01/2015 at 12:59

    I noticed that EXACT same split the other day in one of my 1461s. I’ve been wearing them every day, but if my memory is correct I only bought them in May. That’s about eight months!

    I love DMs for the name and the iconic style, and my 1460s have lasted well, so I’d hate to give up on them. I’m thinking for my next pair I might invest in the For Life scheme – you buy the same shoes for a slightly higher price (1460s are £165, 1461s are £145) but they come with a lifetime guarantee to be replaced or repaired.

    From the T&Cs:

    “The FOR LIFE guarantee covers the failure of any component which has been subjected to normal wear and tear (such as upper leather, stitched seams, eyelets, soles, welt, linings and reinforcements) and not unreasonably abused. The FOR LIFE guarantee excludes any failure of laces and footbeds or product which, in Our reasonable opinion, has been used for industrial wear or subjected to unreasonable wear and tear.”

    Sounds reasonable – I’d be interested to know how good it it in practice

    Reply
  • thegeelewis 04/01/2015 at 17:27

    Love it! Don’t let them off the hook! they have outsourced production they can’t outsource accountability for the product

    Reply
  • Bob 24/01/2015 at 08:17

    Man, she should have just answered the difference in quality between the asia-made and MIEs… likely they’d say none. Price difference is likely also because of the upkeep cost difference in doing business in both countries, thus most things are made in asia, i.e. china.

    Reply
  • Judah Smith 01/06/2015 at 05:58

    I had an issue with my nearly new 1460s. It was the sticking unravelling in my case. I mailed them back and they sent me a beautiful new pair. I do appreciate their costumer service in my situation.

    Reply
  • mattsharps 22/07/2015 at 16:03

    Hi,
    Thanks for writing this as it really helped me, I basically did the same for you with my 1460s and sent them back, and I got a brand new replacement pair today (I only sent mine back 4 days ago). Wouldn’t have gotten a free replacement without you!!

    Reply
  • Dave 04/06/2016 at 14:39

    Hi,just found your page ,and read your blog,i have been wearing docs since 1974,solovair docs made by nps.the second to last pair I bought were made in Thailand.i have had them for a year and wear them when I’m not at work to socialise in.i have also just purchased a pair of 1461 ox blood from Cobb’s lane made in England.my Tai ones are absolute rubbish.both souls split, leather if you can call it is sub standard and has split so badly that I cannot wear in the wet.never ever buy Asian docs.the made in England docs are heaven everything you would expect from English made shoes.i m now just purchasing another pair ,but I’m going to go to solovair for the Gibson’s black yellow stiching.as I want to see if they are just like they used to be.i just know they will be the dogs.

    Reply
  • Filipe Serralheiro 14/06/2016 at 13:58

    I know it’s a bit like unburying an old post… But I would like to thank you for your insight on this issue.

    The same happened to me, my 5 months old DM brogues developed a big gash along the sole after only being used about 10 times.

    I stumbled upon your blog, read this article and also contacted DM, which promptly provided me with free postage and after receiving my defective shoes offered me to choose any of their products up to £40 more than I originally paid for mine.

    Overall I’m satisfied with the service received, although I do agree with you that DM shouldn’t have this kind of issues and I no longer trust their product to have the quality they once had.

    I do still have a pair of original steel toe DM boots, which are at least 15 years old and, apart for the usual scruffs on the outside, are still in perfect shape and ready to last me for 15 more years.

    Anyway, again, thank you for your article. It certainly help me.

    Cheers X
    Filipe

    Reply
  • Ben Zyl 07/04/2017 at 23:48

    Sole separation in DM’s, after thirty+ years experience they ALL do that after about a year. Much like sole splitting or heel tears, it just happens. I’ve heard much about the newer Asian ones being crapper but have a hard time believing that’s actually possible!

    Reply
  • Karin 02/08/2017 at 21:37

    Same as the others here! I don’t have a hole in the sole, but the leather has split open on both of my DM 1461 that I bought last fall. This is not my first pair of DMs but def my first pair to break this quickly. I have boots I’ve had for about 10 years with almost no tear. So far I’ve gotten the generic email back asking for photos etc. but we will see how this goes.

    Reply
    • nick 02/08/2017 at 21:42

      Best of luck! Hopefully they will stand behind their product. Less than a year of duty must be a record…

      Reply
  • Liz Brownlee 23/09/2017 at 00:49

    So – this was written in 2014 – what was the result – same thing just happened to my son’s!

    Reply

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