Dr. Martens is a brand in constant evolution in a never-ending search for talent and creativity, but as it looks forward, it keeps its heart anchored to the past, to the heritage of more than half a century of one of the most traditional yet progressive brands in recent history. Darren McKoy comes to the creative helm at a pivotal moment, where 60 years of existence mark a turning point between what is and what will be, opening up a world of possibilities and avenues to explore.
McKoy got this position just recently, but he's not new to the brand, as it has been his home for 7 years. He has participated in the production and design teams and been in charge of projects as important as the company's 60th-anniversary celebration and has managed to contribute and also feed off his and the brand's passion for self-expression, subcultures and teamwork, making each project unique. This is a very important aspect of the brand; each worker feels a passion for their craft. They are a team of footwear junkies, as McKoy calls them, and he is the biggest junkie of all.

As this is a house where legacy and history are of immense importance, it was vital for this position to be filled by someone who was aware of this and was willing to respect and honour it, not to mention someone who could innovate and adapt a classic to modern times in order to stay relevant. This respect is demonstrated in the processes and ways of working and creating, but also in the company's ethics and morals, and in its concern for freedom of expression and personal connection with customers. McKoy has experienced all this from both sides; from the consumer's side, when he started to be a regular user of the brand since his childhood, and from the creator's side, having the task of giving current and future generations a product with which they can identify themselves as much as he did years ago. We talk with him about his life and the brand, which are practically the same thing.
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Hi Darren, nice to meet you! First off, congratulations on your new position! How are you feeling about it?
I'm feeling really good, thank you! It's interesting now to start seeing things come to life. I've actually been working on this role for the past 12 weeks, but we just started to communicate it properly around the strategies and the different things changing, so I have been transitioning slowly into it. But these days have been crazy, I woke up this morning with so many messages and emails so it's really, really nice.
Was this Creative Director role an ultimate goal you had or was this something that came more naturally?
There was a bit of both, I think it was natural to a certain extent, it's quite organic, but I have always been aspiring to get to a place like this, so it is truly an honour to do so in such an iconic brand that it's kind of like the crown jewels. It's something very special and precious to be involved in and to be able to work with some amazing people – the creative, design, development teams – and also around the brand in general, which is full of so many talented people, so it's a really interesting and good place to be.
Did you think it was going to happen this fast or do you feel this opportunity came at a good time for you?
It's definitely a good time, I've been with Dr. Martens for 7 years, so I've seen many changes in the company, which is great, and I think we're now heading to this really interesting place in the second part of the evolution of the brand, moving forward and resetting it for the next 60 years. Regarding it being fast, yes it's been kind of fast but I think it has been an amazing journey.
You've been working for the brand for 7 years, as you said, is there something you always wanted to do or develop during this time if you were in a higher role, that now as a Creative Director you can actually work on?
The brand has a long history, so there are certain codes and the DNA of the brand that will always be linked to it. I think what's interesting is how we can make use of the icons of the brand keeping them fresh, moving forward and staying relevant. What's really important and what really opens up the future is what innovation can do for new treatments, applications and constructions and unleashing the creativity of the design and development team, and also young creators really allowing them to start thinking and bringing fresh and new ideas to move forward.
Now that you mention the brand values, Dr. Martens is a brand with a very strong identity. Do you feel like having such a strong and iconic image makes it harder to work with since your options are more limited by this? Or, on the contrary, it makes everything easier since you have this starting point already established.
That's a really good question. I think it's interesting because the thing I always talk about to the creative team is how the brand is built in 60 years of amazing heritage. If you think about the classic 1460 boot and how it stood the test of time, so many different tribes, styles and communities wore it during these 60 years, and it will continue to do the same for the next decades, so the harder thing to do is make the icons stay fresh and relevant. That's why our creative community really obsess over the classics and the icons, the materials, the details and the construction. They use that point to create the future and the innovation, if you look at the shape, the sole, the colours, the stitching, it always starts from the code and the DNA of the brand so it's always relevant, it never deviates, we will never allow it to deviate.
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So I'm guessing it makes everything easier because the most difficult part of a creative process is starting…
You don't try fixing something that is not broken, that's the reason why Dr. Martens is such a fantastic brand because it has a code, a DNA, a look, a person, an emotion. It evokes things differently in different people because you have such a great structural foundation, all you need to do is respect it and build on it, you don't need to go trying to change it and that's what the team tries to do.
How do you think this way of thinking, this moral code, works with the way fashion moves right now, where quantity often takes precedence over quality and everything happens so quickly? Do you think Dr. Martens has a safe market to continue with this ethics, or do you feel pressured in some way to keep up with the pacing the industry has set?
Again another great question. Dr. Martens is not a fashion brand, it's a 60 year-heritage brand and it will always be that, things can happen in the fashion market but our team will always look back to our wearers and our community. It's about continuing to do what we do really well and keep pushing our story forward, we will continue talking about the durability, versatility and utilitarian nature of the brand cause that's what has stood the test of time and that's what we will stand for in the next 60 years. It's about the DNA and the heritage, it's what keeps Dr. Martens relevant. It goes beyond fashion.
You mentioned subcultures and all the history that has built the brand to be what it is now. In the past, it was very identifiable which groups or communities wore them as a sign of identity and a way of differentiating themselves from others, whereas now you can see almost any type of person wearing them. Do you agree or do you associate Dr. Martens with any particular style or group currently?
Right, more than something that everyone wears I feel we are a sort of canvas for self-expression. We always talk about how we can have different consumers and if you look at their feet they are all wearing 1460 boots, but if you look up they can be wearing completely different styles and outfits, so I think it really empowers people to be what they need and want to be beyond any specific trend, it is more about giving them a platform to be them.
Continuing on this line, these subcultures were also very linked to music, which caused a strong association between certain bands and genres and Dr. Martens. Do you find any particular artist or music style that resonates with the brand in the current day as it did in the past?
The question is always: what music do you like? And I'm always like, I'm a man of music, I'm a person of music and I like all sorts of music, there's no specific type, it's all about mood and how you are feeling at a certain moment in time, so I think it's the same thing with Dr. Martens. Let's say you can go to a rock festival or a hip-hop party and you see all the cool kids wearing tracksuits and Dr. Martens. It's a brand of music, music is basically ingrained in the codes of the brand, it started back in the '60s with people like Pete Townshend and The Who and that has continued to transcend all the way till now. Style and music go hand in hand and I think Dr. Martens just plays a part in that in the sense of your expression of how you want to be heard and shown as.
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You mentioned the iconic 1460 boots and we know you worked on the project to celebrate the 60th anniversary of them, 12 months, twelve designers, and twelve reinterpretations of the classic boots, which is an amazing idea. Are you planning to work on something similar in your new role now?
Oh, 100%. We are definitely planning to continue to collaborate and bring our existing partners, as we call them ‘old friends’ into the spotlight and create some really good stories. We are always looking for new partners and new cool up-and-coming brands that share the same values with Dr. Martens. Or cool skate stores, new musicians, whatever it is, we are looking for new creatives to help repurpose and retell our story and their story for the consumers, because the tribes and the scene are constantly evolving, so collaboration helps us to keep up, to talk to the right people in the right place.
The 60th anniversary was an amazing project in terms of the impact it had on the brand and on the wearers, the people that we worked with were phenomenal in their approach to repurposing Dr. Martens, we really enjoyed it, it was very hard and intense also, but our partners committed to it. They are amazing people, we had a great time working on that project and we are sure will work on something similar in the future but of course in a slightly different way.
You have mentioned young creatives and trying to renovate the brand while keeping to tradition. Innovation can also come hand in hand with technology, and now it has become very prominent with the metaverse and everything going on with NFTs. Are you interested in incorporating these elements into the brand? Do you think it resonates in some sort of way, or are you really not that interested now?
I think it's an interesting area – seeing other businesses and organisations diving into that space. We are very comfortable with who we are and what we are doing. I think we as a brand will continue to ‘do us.’ In the future, you never know, as it is just around the corner. What we will do is continue creating and working with artists, people from our communities, wearers and consumers to create new stories in our own way using our current channels of communication and activation and bringing them to life. Like how can we do more things in-store, by inviting communities and creators, especially in Spain and maybe Italy, these great places where we have some really fantastic connections, that's what we are going to do more of.
Now, talking about you in a personal way, you've been working with the brand for 7 years now, but you've been having this connection with the brand for a long time since you had your first Docs back in your school days. Do you feel the same way towards the brand you did back then? Has the connection grown stronger now that you know the insides of the brand?
Yeah, definitely, it's probably stronger now and it's crazy because I got three kids and all of them wear Dr. Martens, so it has become a generational thing and it has always been a generational thing, really. In my family, the coolest uncle that I had when I was a kid wore Dr. Martens, he was an original skinhead, a proper one, he was a super stylish guy, he always wore the cherry Docs, so it has always been ingrained in our family. And in terms of now, I've just got an obsession with the brand, with the company, the people and the culture, so it's probably more intense now even though it started quite intense as a kid.
You are the first Black Creative Director of the brand, which is very important. Recently, with Black designers like Pyer Moss, Telfar Clemens, Maximilian Davis for Ferragamo, and many more, we've seen how their voices are being more heard than before. Do you believe this change is taking place, or do you believe it is more on the surface, but deep down the industry hasn't changed all that much?
The industry will always go for a change, which is a great thing to see. All the ethnicities and genders are rising and continuing to move the culture forward. In terms of Dr. Martens, it has always been an inclusive brand since day one – me here or someone else here it doesn't make a difference. For me it's more about doing good stuff, making good shoes, telling great stories and bringing the brand to meet points in terms of how we tell stories and connect with consumers. I think it's just a great time for the brand to move forward and do different things, so me being here or someone else, in terms of ethnicity, is really not that much of a problem, I think it's more about having a great inclusive team and business that embodies people.
To conclude this interview, I'm a fashion design student myself, and I'm aware that we younger generations are really worried about the future. Do you have any advice you can give to these new creatives that are just starting and may be worried about the situation of the industry they are going to enter soon?
I think the best advice I can give is to take a chance, take a leap of faith, continue to push, work hard, put yourself out there because good things come to people that work hard, and I think it's just to persevere, to have a goal, connections, and to embrace the opportunities.
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