It’s almost impossible to disassociate Dr. Martens from the counterculture. Throughout its six-decade-long history, the British bootmaker has been adopted by mods, skinheads, punks, goths, and grunge fans alike, who favored the brand’s boots for their tough-wearing leather and stomp-resilient sole. Indeed, whether a 1460 8-eye boot or 1461 3-eye shoe, a pair of Dr. Martens will endure almost anything you put them through – as the brand says, “The only thing tougher than a Dr. Martens boot is the person wearing it”.
With that in mind, last year Dr. Martens launched the Tough as You campaign to pay tribute to the resilient spirit of the subcultures and youth movements that have long worn them. Now, they’re going deeper with a sequel campaign that questions what it actually means to be tough by shining the light on today’s activists.
The center of the campaign is a minute-long spot that features grime punk musician Bob Vylan, model Avie Acosta, body positivity activist Lotte Van Eijk, and Seattle-based rock band Naked Giants. Although they all have different stories to tell, they are united by their common fight to overcome hardships, such as prejudice and discrimination, to get where they are today and, in doing so, have defined their own meaning of what it means to be “tough”.
“If you tell me that I can’t do something and I feel like I should be doing it, I’ll work even harder to get there,” explains Vylan. Growing up as a black man in the predominantly white area of the UK, Vylan always felt like an outsider. This sentiment was compounded when he was expelled from school at a young age and told he wouldn’t amount to anything. But, instead of letting these setbacks discourage him, Vylan only strived harder for success, dedicating himself to music. And it’s paid off. His amalgamation of punk, grime, and hip-hop has landed him on NME’s essential artists of 2020 list, as well as on the bill of a number of festivals this year.
Genderless model Acosta has also paved their own way, overcoming gender prejudices that constrained them from being themselves at a young age. Growing up in a small town in Oklahoma, Acosta’s view of gender as a socially-enforced construct wasn’t widely understood. It wasn’t until they moved to New York with nothing but three suitcases that they felt they could finally become their true self. Within a few months of touching down, Acosta had acquired an agent, a supportive group of friends, and a number of modeling jobs on both the men’s and women’s runways. They are now an advocate and role model for the rising number of gender-transcending models.
With the campaign, Dr. Martens is demonstrating that the macho-associated definition of toughness no longer stands and that it is not about brute strength, but rather the ability to fight for change, especially in the face of adversity. Throughout 2020 they are encouraging wearers of the sturdy boots to reflect on what it means to be tough and share their own personal stories of resilience.