14 November 2002 | Robin Parker
British shoemaker Dr Martens has rejected claims that its decision to move manufacturing from Britain to Asia will put its supply chain efficiencies at risk.
All of the firm's footwear is to be made in south-east Asia from early next year, in a bid by R Griggs, the family-owned British manufacturer of the Dr Martens' brand, to cut costs.
Niall Campbell, director of the British Footwear Association, said that while Griggs will save on labour, it might face rising shipping costs and lead times.
"It should still be easy to source materials cheaply but it is expensive to deliver finished footwear to western markets. I'd be surprised if Griggs will be able to match the two-day deliveries it is used to in Europe."
But a Griggs spokesman said it would press suppliers to keep production of its products to the current six to 12 weeks, despite the greater shipping distances.
"We have dealt with East Asian supply chains. We know what to demand from our suppliers," he said.
The move was also a blow to the UK's manufacturing base. It comes only months after the company joined 14 other Northamptonshire-based footwear makers in a scheme to cut costs by sharing warehouse space and distribution networks.
Campbell said: "It was perhaps inevitable over time, but I would have expected a gradual move over two to three years, if only to maintain Dr Martens' British heritage and Northamptonshire ties.
"While we never expected every firm to continue with the project, it is sad to lose such a major player."
Dr Martens is expected to withdraw from the project once the pilot phase ends next month. Griggs is to close all three of its UK factories and several branded shops early next year, laying off more than 1,200 staff. It said the move will give it "broader flexibility in product design and access to different technology".
Future production is expected to be based in China, where 60 per cent of all consumer footwear sold in the US is made, including that of Dr Martens' rivals, Caterpillar and Timberland. Dr Martens sells more than half its products in the US.