Why Dr Martens is investing in recycled leather

KENNY WILSONMay 31, 2023

We’ve recently invested in a company called Gen Phoenix (previously named E-Leather) which is one of the leading producers of recycled leather at scale. Gen Phoenix takes leather offcuts from tanneries, which are destined for landfill, and uses a process which separates the leather fibres before re-entangling them – producing a roll of recycled leather.

Gen Phoenix is based in Peterborough, UK but serves customers globally, such as clients in the aviation and transportation sectors. This investment [Dr Martens invested an undisclosed sum as part of a total investment raised by Gen Phoenix of $18m (£14.5m) in March 2023] aligns with our sustainability ambitions to reduce waste, source more sustainable materials and become a net zero company by 2040 [announced by the business last year].

We also hope that it [the investment] may support industry-wide adoption of more sustainable materials at scale.

We believe that producing durable and timeless products which, if cared for correctly, will last our wearers for a long time, and this is one of the best things about us. However, we also want to leave things better than we found them, so we are looking to lessen our environmental footprint as we produce our products, without compromising on style, fit, comfort or durability.

This is a key challenge for us because some of the lower impact materials we have tested in the past, such as recycled materials, or plant-based upper materials have been less durable.

For example, during FY23, a bio-based vegan upper material reached the final stage of testing, but it unfortunately failed a performance related test. We are continuing to work with the supplier to improve the durability of the material so it meets our high standards.

One of the reasons generations of people have bought and continue to buy Dr. Martens [products] is because they are made to last – it is vital our products continue to deliver this value for our wearers as we move toward lowering our impact and making our products more sustainable.  This will be key for all brands seeking to incorporate alternative materials into their supply chains.

The test pairs we have made with Gen Phoenix look like a regular Dr Martens 1460 boot and deliver on durability. We’re really looking forward to incorporating the recycled leather material into selected lines made at our Northamptonshire factory early next year. The upper in the shoes in the selected lines will be made from 100% recycled leather material.

We felt that it was important not just to incorporate these new materials in selected products, but to also invest in the company responsible for producing them. Innovative companies, such as Gen Phoenix, need to be able to scale up, grow, and offer sustainable materials at a competitive price point. It is also important they invest in research and development, developing innovative new materials which deliver better environmental credentials for more brands to be able to use in their products.

At this stage, we have no set view on what percentage of our products might include this material in the future, or other materials with a similar environmental goal. What we do know is that there is consumer demand for more sustainable products, including refurbished products.

This is demonstrated by our ongoing recommerce partnership with the Boot Repair Company and our trial with the online re-sale platform Depop here in the UK. Encouraged by the success of this trial we are now also trialing a similar initiative in the USA.

This investment is just one part of our much broader sustainability strategy. Our Planet, Product, People sustainability strategy launched in our FY22 annual report sets out our commitments for the future, all designed with the objective of leaving things in a better place than we found them.

We recognise the environmental challenges related to the climate crisis, and that we have a responsibility to protect the planet for future generations. We know everyone who works at DM’s expects this of the company, and our wearers do too.

As custodians of the brand, we are clear in our vision to build a business with sustainability at its core which delivers long-term impact. Our investment in Gen Phoenix, along with the use of their materials in some of our products, are small but important steps for us. This is an exciting development, and we are looking forward to the future of the partnership and what it will bring to both the brand and the development of sustainable materials.

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