Dr. Martens have decided to scrap their lifetime guaranteed “For Life” range of boots and shoes with immediate effect. The decision to cancel the range was made without warning and without reason. We have contacted Dr. Martens for information, they have declined to comment.
For a brand that once made all of its boots within the UK with a cast-iron reputation for durability, this is a particularly sad move. The reality is that it signals the completion of a decades-long transition from high-quality to high-fashion.
There’s no last-minute opportunity to grab a pair of lifetime guaranteed boots. Those who recently purchased a pair will still be able to register for the guarantee until May 25, and the “For Life” guarantee will continue to be honored for all historic purchases. However, the wording of the statement makes us wonder for how long.
The statement posted on Dr. Martens' website.
The announcement claims that in August of this year, Dr. Martens will be launching a replacement line of boots. These new “Hardlife” boots will be “similar in performance”, but with no guarantee. It’s difficult to imagine that “similar in performance” will mean identical or better performance, and it’s equally tough to believe that Dr. Martens will continue to produce and stock “For Life” standard shoes for all future warranty replacements.
Although no warning was given, the writing has been on the wall for a little while. The range only launched in 2009, an outpost of durability to offset a perceived drop in quality after production moved to China seven years earlier. In 2016, Dr. Martens reduced the “For Life” color options to just two - black and oxblood. Stock was replenished less frequently, with individual sizes frequently running out. At the time, we contacted Dr. Martens for comment and were reassured that the “For Life” range was here to stay. We covered it at the time.
Just two months ago, we saw a similar guarantee-climbdown from Maine outdoor giant L.L. Bean. Their indefinite guarantee was reduced to just one year, though to their credit they did give their reasoning. Blaming policy abuse, their statement read “a small, but growing number of customers [have] been interpreting our guarantee well beyond its original intent.” While we’d rather that L.L. Bean had retained their original policy, it was always vague and kind-spirited in intent. Dr. Martens’ policy was absolute, which we found in its favor.
Tara reviewed the lifetime guaranteed docs back in 2016.
Without any official comment we can but speculate on Dr. Martens’ rationale for dropping the range, but it's fair to assume the decision is financial. At the start of 2017, prices were hiked from £165 to £185, hitting £195 at time of cancellation. There has always been a £20 ($25) charge for each successful claim, dubiously filed as an “administration” fee but happily paid given the generosity of the scheme. Under such terms the guarantee would only make financial sense for Dr. Martens if the boots really do last.
Perhaps, like L.L. Bean, they didn’t expect customers to use the guarantee to its fullest extent. But then why have such a cast-iron guarantee? In the cold light of this news, it’s hard not to see Dr. Martens’ generous “For Life” scheme as a short-term marketing tactic, designed to make the rest of their range appear to be high quality.
Regardless of the motive, it’s a sad loss. Dr. Martens’ previous position was at the very least interesting and unique, as they attempted stylishly to straddle quality and cool. Beyond the punk-popularised classic boots, it’s now possible to purchase hundreds of designs, churned out in Chinese factories. But at the same time they had a genuine history of quality, and a line of boots that stood up to the test of time, with an industry-busting guarantee to boot. Now all they have is the history.
We’re lucky that smaller companies than Dr. Martens take durability extremely seriously. In future, we will try to be wary of such schemes from established brands. If we do receive any further information from Dr. Martens we’ll share it immediately. With any luck those that have already purchased under the “For Life” scheme will be adequately protected.
We have removed the “For Life” listings from our site.
James Bates-Prince is the Brand Manager at BuyMeOnce. He's an expert on the electronics industry and fast fashion. For a vegetarian anti-consumerist, he tries his best not to be preachy.