By  on March 2, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- Dr. Martens, the clunky, steel-toed British shoe that has become required footwear for thousands of young men and women around the world, has been tiptoeing into the U.S. with its line of apparel.

A limited amount of merchandise from both the unisex Dr. Martens Useful Clothing line and the men's wear and outerwear Gents line -- both of which were launched in Europe six months ago -- are currently being tested in the Brass Plum junior departments of four Nordstrom stores here. The merchandise started appearing in January. Nordstrom carries the shoes in the junior departments.

Stephen Griggs, managing director of R. Griggs Group Ltd., whose family has been manufacturing Dr. Martens Footwear -- known casually as Doc Martens -- in the U.K. since 1960, has big plans for the new lines.

He said he is close to sealing a deal with a U.S. distributor for the clothing, and hopes to see it in other department stores as well as some of the trendy boutiques that currently carry the footwear, such as the Los Angeles-based NaNa shops.

In addition, Griggs said, the company is planning to open a 2,000-square-foot Dr. Martens store in London's Covent Garden in November that will feature its apparel, accessories and shoes line, along with a cafe.

The apparel is being produced by Dr. Martens Clothing Ltd. -- a new subsidiary of the Griggs Group that's headed up by the husband-and-wife team of Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway.

The Hemingways started in the apparel business over a decade ago when they sold custom-decorated Doc Martens shoes from a stall in London's Camden Market flea market. Now they are better known as the principals in Red or Dead, a 10-year-old London avant-garde fashion firm, which they are continuing along with their work for Dr. Martens.

It was the Hemingways' experience with apparel and their familiarity with the Dr. Martens style that got Griggs interested in pulling them into the new venture.

In fact, Griggs said that the move into sportswear was planned, not accidental.

"We didn't start out by making T-shirts to promote shoe sales and then, somehow, end up in the apparel business," Griggs said during a recent visit here. "We deliberately plunged headlong into producing apparel six months ago. Now we make everything from cotton underwear to leather jackets."The apparel is sold in some department stores and specialty stores in England and France.

Leather items, including the motorcycle jackets and peacoats featured in the Gents line, are produced at the Griggs Group company headquarters in Wollaston, Northamptonshire, England, where the 2,200 employees already have experience in putting together leather goods, Griggs said. Other apparel such as knit goods are made by Hong Kong contractors, he said, and tweed pieces such as tailored trousers are sewn in Scotland.

Wholesale prices of the Useful Clothing line run from about $15 to $40; on the Gents line, prices are $40 to $400. Once a U.S. distributor is set up, Griggs said he expects the Useful Clothing division to do about $1 million in its first year in the U.S. Footwear sales in 22 countries now amount to $186 million annually.

In addition to apparel, the subsidiary company is also producing a line called Dr. Martens Useful Accessories, which includes hats, belts, bags, underwear and socks wholesaling at about $10 to $30. Looks include Dr. Martens logo socks, leather belts with handcrafted silver metal buckles, knitted woolen hats and hunting caps. While the bags, such as satchels and shoulder styles in canvas, nylon and leather, are being produced in-house, Griggs said he is looking for a licensee to take over the category. By this fall, Dr. Martens will also introduce licensed watches, he said, with a sunglasses license next on the list. All of Dr. Martens' Useful Accessories will be merchandised in recycled cardboard packages.

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