Dr. Martens proves the power of collaboration during tough times

On the hottest day of the year in Paris last Thursday, I had an hour to spare before the Louis Vuitton menswear show at the Palais-Royal, a fitting venue for Kim Jones’s collection, just down the road from the Colette store. The stand-out product at Colette this time (there is always at least one), was a pair of bright white Dr. Martens lace-ups with an air-cushioned sole in the Colette-blue – synonymous now with the store and the brand Colette Roussaux and her daughter Sarah Andelman have created.

Inspired by this gorgeous pair of limited edition Docs, I decided to do my homework on the Dr. Martens brand when I returned to London, including the reasons behind the Colette tie-up. I was intrigued to read that despite all of the challenges it has faced over the decades, Dr. Martens is still thriving and defining fashion trends today.

Throughout its history, Dr. Martens has performed well during times of political and social turbulence. Consider, for example, the mass adoption of its iconic boots by the punk and ska movements of the 1970s and 80s. We are in the midst of very turbulent and divisive times right now, so it is perhaps no surprise that young people are returning to the brand in droves. It was recently reported that sales at Dr. Martens have risen by nearly 40% in the past three years, from £209m in 2014 to £292m in 2017.

Having survived the threat of bankruptcy in 2003, the brand has succeeded at reinventing itself in recent years, and that’s where the Colette collaboration comes in. Colette has built up a big following among hipsters and modern-day fashionistas by offering a carefully curated mix of exclusive products spanning the worlds of fashion, art and tech.

The collaboration shows that Dr. Martens is keeping its finger on the pulse of today’s youth by building relationships with innovative and exciting new brands. In addition to Colette, the company has this year agreed tie-ups with cult brands Supreme, Vetements and Engineered Garments as it looks to stay relevant for new audiences while delighting loyal customers with new products and limited editions.

“The partnership comes about because of the shared ethos between DM’s and Vetements. We’re both non-conformist, innovative, and want to redefine established thinking.” – Dr. Martens statement

This approach seems particularly sensible in today’s tough trading environment. Besides the wider climate of political and economic uncertainty, brand loyalty is declining in today’s digital world as consumers are faced with more options than ever before. Businesses need to think creatively about collaboration if they are to attract new customers and ensure their long-term survival.We see it right across the fashion world these days. Last month alone, J.W. Anderson announced a long-term collaboration with Converse, Russian designer label Gosha Rubchinskiy partnered with Burberry for a new collection (above) and The Shoe Surgeon unveiled a tie-up with Adidas for Paris Fashion Week. Such collaborations provide the older, more established business with a renewed sense of cool and credibility, while the lesser-known brand gets the chance to grow its profile and its following.

The trend is even more pronounced when it comes to technology. Fashion brands are searching for partners that can provide them with the visibility and reach needed in today’s highly competitive digital world.

As I wrote last month, Farfetch is one of the brands leading the way, but there are plenty of other technology businesses looking to partner with fashion houses and support their digital transformation plans. Parisian designer Isabel Marant recently partnered with Yoox Net-a-Porter Group to launch an online store, while Moda Operandi has collaborated with Amazon Pay to create a shoppable Instagram experience. Even Nike has realised the way the tide is turning, and this week confirmed plans to begin selling on Amazon.

Collaboration is on the rise outside of fashion, too. Just look at Sainsbury’s, which recently added Crussh juice bars to its growing list of concession partners that are setting up shops within its bigger stores (others include Argos, Habitat and Sushi Gourmet).Just as fashion brands are adapting their business models for the future, retailers are forging new collaborations as they seek to repurpose their bricks-and-mortar outlets. The success of Dixons Carphone, which this week reported profit growth of 47%, shows the huge potential that is unleashed when the right retail brands come together.

We at The MBS Group work with many companies that are driving profitable collaborations across different industries. Getting the right chemistry mix between the two brands is always key, as is understanding the changing behaviour of customers.

Indeed as Dr. Martens’ long and eventful history shows, the customer should sit at the heart of everything, guiding a brand’s future strategy.

Moira@thembsgroup.co.uk | @MoiraBenigson | @TheMBSGroup