Niwa Leathers – bridle leather coaster

Rocky from mill handmade had recently visited Niwa Leathers in Japan – see his guest post from earlier this month on the blog – he brought me back a souvenir too!

A coaster, you say, but look closely and you’ll find many details that point to this coaster being the careful work of an expert craftsman.

This coaster is made of two pieces of leather, which have been stitched together with linen thread, rounded and then burnished.

By the bloom on the dark brown leather, you’ve probably guessed this is a bridle leather.

The brand is stamped on the upward face.

The edges are straight with a subtle, bevelled curvature and neat creasing. The corners have been carefully rounded.

The stitching is regular and very straight.

The downward face of the coaster is made of a vegetable tanned cattlehide, and received the exact same treatment as the upward face bar the stamping. No shortcuts have been taken.

A close up of the stitching and the bloom reveals very detailed and fine work near the edges of the coaster.

Finally, the superb edge finish that is Niwa’s signature. The beveling and burnishing has been done with remarkable precision… so smooth and slick, it’s hard to tell the coaster is made of two pieces of leather.

Niwa Leather is definitely worth checking out, especially if your taste in leather tends toward the bespoke or ‘white collar’ end of the spectrum.

Check out Niwa’s website here.

Niwa Leathers

Very exciting guest post by Rocky Taniran of mill handmade.

All writing & photography by Rocky, edited & formatted by Indigoshrimp.

Niwa Leathers

About one hour north east of Tokyo lies a little workshop, home to one of our pioneers, Niwa Leathers. Hajime Niwa has been leather crafting for 20 years, starting his journey learning as a bag maker. He is now a master among his peers, famous for immaculate details and playful use of colours.

Despite his fame and extensive knowledge of leather crafting, Niwa still considers himself a simple craftsman and is humble in his soul. Upon entry he greeted me with care and was more than delighted to let me browse his collection and used goods. Despite some of them being over 15 years old they have aged gracefully – full of character and wear. The stitching remains immaculate and his famous edge is a feast for any enthusiast.

Watching him work, it was clear that he treats this profession with the utmost respect, showing no traces of shortcuts or bad form. His execution is precise and clean, a combination which is surprisingly not as time consuming as fixing up little mistakes.

We finished with a cup of coffee and some sweets while talking about his journey. It was an absolute delight to visit this wonderful man, nothing short of life changing and I would not hesitate recommending him to anyone who is looking for high end custom bespoke goods.

Faler Leathers – bifold wallet 2 month update

It’s time for an update on my Faler Leathers custom bifold!

If you follow my IG account, you might have seen periodic updates of this wallet over the past couple of months, but here are some proper photos of this wallet at 2 full months of effective wear.

A few things to look out for here: molding, texture, colour, shine and staining. Also, notice how the construct and detailing still look immaculate – a testament to John’s careful work. The threads are yet to fray, the edges remain slippery smooth, and the outer panel shows no sagging.

Despite the heftiness of this bifold, the leather has curved and molded to, uh, basically the shape of my butt, given I wear my wallets in the back pocket of my jeans.

The texture is hard to appreciate without being able to touch this wallet, but you can see the grain is much more defined and there is a sense of slipperiness of the surface that wasn’t apparent in the beginning.

The depth of colour and the incredible shine sets this Wicket & Craig vegetable tanned leather apart from most of its American and European counterparts from other tanneries. The leather does not look tired at all, and I have to say it is, so far, ageing better than even very fine Italian naturals such as Buttero.

Of course, your results may vary – how leather ages depends very much on use and care, and as such the patina development will be entirely unique for each individual piece.

The tone and depth of this natural tan is perhaps best appreciated in the above two photos. This is a proper caramel tan, a fairly rare evo pathway as far as I’ve seen. The inner is surprisingly clean too – this W&C leather is functions better as an internal leather compared with many other vegetable tanned leathers.

I really like how this wallet has aged, and more & more John’s careful work is revealed in the ruggedness of this wallet in daily wear. Check out more of his work at Faler Leathers, and don’t forget to ask John about customisation options.

Tanuki Inc. Japan – Red Cast Tapered RCT1 review

After being away from the denim hobby for a few years, I had a lot of catching up to do when I returned to the indigo life last year. Many brands and start-ups were new to me, and out of these denim makers the ones that impressed me the most were perhaps Tanuki Inc. and Stevenson Overall.

After being introduced to Tanuki’s RR1 jeans last year – my review can be found here – I found the Retro denim very much to my liking, and have been consistently wearing the RR1 for the past 6 months.

Background information about Tanuki Inc. can be found in my previous review linked above, but the short version is that Tanuki is a project started by a group of like-minded craftsmen from different professions within the jeans making industry. Tanuki stands out from other Japanese brands by focusing on highly technical & innovative denims and modern cuts, whilst still retaining the considered craftsmanship and attention to detailing that has been the domain of reproduction-oriented Japanese makers.

The folks at Tanuki were kind enough to allow me early access to their latest fabric, the Red Cast denim, in their signature Tapered fit. Without further ado, let’s have a look at the Tanuki RCT1 jeans.

The Cut

The RCT1 features Tanuki’s Tapered fit, which is the second most spacious in their current line up of six fits.

I measured this size 36 pair of the Tapered cut, in loomstate, with the following results:

Waist   19.25

Inseam   36.25

F Rise   10.75

B Rise   15.75

Thigh   13.5

Hem   7.25

After a proper shrink-to-fit, there is initially a ~ 8% shrinkage:

Waist   18.5

Inseam   33.5

F Rise   10.375

B Rise   15

Thigh   12.75

Hem   7.125

For reference I am 185 cm tall, around 95 kg, 44 inch chest. In the photos here I’m wearing the size 36 for the first time, after shrinking the denim with a thorough hot soak.

For me, the jeans are long enough to allow cuffing even after shrink to fit.

As you can see from the measurements, Tanuki’s Tapered cut is very much a variation of the lifter’s fit – possessing a medium rise and decent room in the seat & thighs, yet maintaining a trim silhouette by aggressively tapering from the knee down. Overall I would say the fit is true to size and able to accommodate slightly larger folks without discomfort in the upper legs or any nut-cracker action.

The Denim – Raw

What we have here is an unsanforised, low-tension 16.5 oz fabric, in right-hand twill, that has been woven on a narrow shuttle loom. The cotton utilized is a slightly longer than usual staple from Texas.

This Red Cast fabric is a very special denim indeed, both in terms of the weave and the colour. Immediately, you’ll notice the red cast, but it is not the red cast with which we’re familiar – more than a purple hue, the blue here is fairly intense and the tinge of red can be observed both within the indigo and around it.

Traditionally, a red cast denim is produced by using extremely pure indigo dye, basically synthetic indigo without any additives such as sulfur. The result is a shade of indigo which is (blue + red) = purple.

Tanuki has taken a more detailed approach here, however, and have specially developed the indigo used on this Red Cast denim to be both more pure and more reactive with organic & acidic compounds that are commonly found in the environment. The warp threads are rope dyed through just 6 dips, yet with the oxidation time in between dips maximized to achieve the deep, red-tinged colour you can see here.

The low tension weaving combined with the use of semi-slub yarns in both the warp and the weft produce a very textural fabric. Further, by controlling the rattling on the loom, Tanuki was able to manipulate the level of loom chatter so as to create a denim with a vintage feel which isn’t too loud or artificial in appearance. Overall, this Red Cast denim is certainly slubbier than the previously reviewed Retro denim, closer to the Natural fabric in hand-feel and surface appearance.

To increase the vintage character of the Red Cast denim, Tanuki engineered it to have a small amount of nep. The denim is dotted sporadically with outwardly protruding tufts of weft threads, one of which can be seen in the photo above.

Despite the rough fabric, this denim is not scratchy or uncomfortable at all. In fact, Tanuki pays special attention to all of their low tension fabrics to ensure that the texture of the denim does not impact comfort, performance or longevity – a point of difference compared with many other denim makers from whom slubbier denims tend to be scratchy, prone to early tearing and initially uncomfortable.

The slubby texture and irregularities within the denim can also be observed clearly on the weft side. However, the weft threads reveal another hidden aspect to this denim…

If you look carefully, you’ll see that the weft threads are not bleached or ecru. Instead, the weft is a shade of biege with a tinge of red! This subtle colouration adds further to the red tone of this denim.

The colouring of this thread is most easily discerned at the selvedge edge, where bleached threads are used to close off the fabric, contrasting with the coloured weft.

The end result? The denim not only has a red-in-blue, purple hued indigo colour, but also a faint red glow that rises from behind the warp threads. This Red Cast denim is certainly a very unique fabric.

The Denim – Shrink-to-Fit

To shrink down this unsanforised denim, I soaked it in hot water for a hour with agitation every 15 minutes. I then finished the process by rinsing the jeans in warm water several times.

The soak water turned out a very deep shade of green after an hour!

There was a lot of starch in the denim, and even after the extensive soak & rinse process the jeans were still sticky with starch. The colouring of the yarns can be clearly discerned when the fabric is wet – look at that tea coloured cotton!

After contact with water, not only does the weave tighten and the slubbing become accentuated, but the denim also becomes rather hairy. Very curiously, the red tone and the general depth of colour in the indigo has increased – Tanuki explained to me that the hyper-reactivity of this indigo applies to water contact too, which increases the intensity of the red cast.

Indeed, the overall appearance of the denim is noticeably darker now and the redness more apparent. The transformation with water is pretty intense with this Red Cast denim, and the indigo featured here is perhaps the darkest from Tanuki so far.

The fabric definitely has a rougher feel after shrinking, but it is not uncomfortable at all. Rated at 16.5 oz, this Red Cast denim has slightly less body compared with the Natural fabric. Overall, it is a comfortable and easy to wear denim, despite the rugged texture.

Much like the Retro denim, this Red Cast denim must be soaked before its full potential is released!

The Details

Like all the other Tanuki jeans so far, this pair features their signature vegetable tanned deerskin patch at 2.5 oz (1 mm thickness).

This is one of the nicest leather patches I’ve experienced, and I base this opinion on how the patch on my Tanuki RR1 has aged so far after 6 months – it has performed very well in aspects of grain development, depth of colour, lustre and wash resistance.

The button fly features four metal buttons with antiqued copper finishing and plain back-studs. These buttons are sturdy and substantial.

The antique finishing on these buttons are rather well done.

In my previous review of the Tanuki RR1, one of my few criticisms pertained to the lack of customisation in the hardware featured. I am very glad to see that in their latest batch of jeans, Tanuki has made it so that the external Universal rivets have all been customised and antiqued in a similar way to the buttons.

The hidden rivets are Universal’s, nice & thick!

The belt loops are raised, with a fairly prominent ridge.

A shirting-quality red gingham cloth is used as front pocket fabric and back pocket liner. This is one of the nicer pocket cloths I’ve come across, even among Japanese brands, though it does not feel as substantial as Kurashiki sail cloth.

The front pockets are deep enough & shaped in such a way so as to easily accommodate modern phones or a smaller wallet. The front pocket holes are also cut lower and with a deeper curve, resulting in pockets that are very easy to use. Even if you don’t put anything in the front pockets, it’s quite comfortable resting your hands in there!

The back pockets are nicely sized and will hold any type of wallet comfortably. Traditionally sized bifolds, rider’s and mid-wallets will fit into the pockets completely.

The Chinese character for ‘two’ features again, in signature red and white bar-tacking. If you look closely, tonal indigo stitching can be seen running across the pockets, hinting at the half-lining of the back pockets.

The Construct

The sewing of this pair of RCT1 jeans is mostly the same as the previously reviewed RR1 jeans, being neat and ‘streamlined’.

I counted 7 thread colours in a variety of sizes.

Main threads: Lemon, Orange, Tea.

Secondary threads: Red, Black, White, Tonal Indigo.

Playing on a similar theme, the Red Cast jeans feature a red line of stitching running down the inseam instead of the signature blue line which feature on Tanuki’s other jeans.

Further, the Red Cast jeans also feature red stitching on the coin pocket.

Similar to my observations in the RR1 review, here I am impressed by how the main thread colours are carefully coordinated and blended into each other in a subtle but elegant way. You must look closely to notice this detail, as the orange and tea threads are easily mistaken for the same colour at first glance.

The sewing is neat and straight with no stitch-lines too close to the edges. Take the chain-stitching on the waistband for example.

As you can see, thicker threads have been selected for the chain-stitch.

More examples of the chain-stitch work can be found in the back yoke and hems. The consistency and regularity of the construct are noteworthy.

The button holes are very nicely made. The sewing is very dense on both sides and precisely placed.

The button holes deserve another look – sewn then cut, check out the density of the sewing too!

The fly is neatly locked on both sides. This is one of the neatest non-selvedge flys I’ve come across, even with the contrasting thread colours!

The belt loops are not tucked, but are accurately placed and bar-tacked.

The bar-tacking, riveting and button placement are all carefully executed. Check out the great finish at the fly reinforcement!

The inseam is neatly locked too, all of the sewing running precisely in parallel and none of the fraying denim stick out!

No loose threads on the inside or outside – a very clean look indeed!

Thoughts & Opinions

Many experienced denim hobbyists had doubts about Tanuki last year when the hype of its launch overshadowed the substance of their products, the situation made worse by a couple of competitors waging questionable forum campaigns against Tanuki. I am glad to see that Tanuki has been keeping its head down and focusing its effort on developing new denims and new fits. One year on, as the first batch of Tanuki jeans are starting to produce some great fading results, Tanuki can be counted among the most popular brands in the raw denim community at large and have won over some fairly hardcore fans too. The proof of the pudding is in the eating – I believe at this point Tanuki’s jeans more than speak for themselves.

Tanuki continues to impress me with their new fabrics and updated cuts. The original Natural Indigo and Retro fabrics were some of the best loomstate denims that I’ve ever handled, and the subsequent solid tone denim releases (ID x ID, black) were great combinations of modern aesthetics and Japanese denim tradition. Tanuki’s latest Red Cast denim continues this record of producing fantastic loomstate denims, and these RCT1 jeans prove to be one of the most interesting Japanese jeans of 2017 thus far.

Like I had mentioned previously in the Tanuki RR1 review, it is very rare to encounter a pair of jeans for which the denim has been completely custom engineered from the ground up… the resources and industry connections required to achieve such a feat is simply unavailable to all but the most prestigious Japanese makers and brands, with Tanuki having significant advantages in this area due to members of the project being actual denim weavers and loom specialists. Denim of this calibre are few and far in between.

The RCT1 features a rather modern Tapered fit which should appeal to current generation denimheads. Ample room exists in the top block such that movement is relatively unrestricted despite the slimming fit, even for people with more masculine lower body builds. Reproduction enthusiasts need not apply, though they may find the Regular Straight cut more suitable.

The Red Cast denim itself is a great twist on how the red cast of indigo has traditionally been achieved and, much like the Retro denim, is a marvelous fabric that is full of geeky details which will be appreciated by hobbyists and collectors alike. The tone of the indigo is reminiscent of early century denims, giving the jeans a rustic appearance that is quite appealing to me. Unlike most red cast denims on which the indigo have intense purple hues, Tanuki’s version imparts a tonal shift in both the warp & weft that is much more towards a darker shade of red…the colour of a nice Taiwanese oolong tea, if you like! The vintage character of this fabric has been further enhanced by a very specific slub n’ nep texture that was achieved through expert manipulation of the shuttle-loom.

The detailing and construction of these RCT1 jeans are very considered too. Tanuki jeans feature some of the nicest sewing around, with the overall construction comparing well with other top-tier Japanese brands. The peripheral components such as the leather patch and pocket cloth all feature first class materials which combine nicely with the denim itself, and overall the jeans have a cohesive aesthetic and an artisanal quality. The deerskin leather patch in particular, from a leather enthusiast’s perspective, is one of the nicest patches I have ever handled.

This ‘cohesiveness’ I mentioned is an often forgotten aspect when examining jeans, yet I think it is one of the most important factors that separate Japanese jeans from the usually inferior jeans made in other countries. It is a vague consideration to be sure, something that is hard to precisely explain, but you know it when you see it and, more importantly, jeans simply look weird if cohesion is lacking. (NB: I don’t mean to hurt anybody’s feelings here and I acknowledge there are some great jeans being made outside of Japan, but there is no dispute within our hobby that the Japanese are at the top of this game!)

Now that Tanuki has added custom embossing to the external rivets, the other aspect of the jeans that I believe could be upgraded is the use of a customised top button. I really want the face of a Tanuki on the button 🙂

If you haven’t tried a pair of Tanuki’s jeans yet, I’d suggest that you need to at least see a pair in person at some point. For me, after wearing the Tanuki RR1 for the past 6 months and now getting some time with the RCT1, I would actually recommend Tanuki ahead of Oni or PBJ!

To conclude, I believe these Tanuki RCT1 jeans will make a great addition to the denim collections of both new and advanced denim hobbyists. New comers to Japanese denim will appreciate the comfortable yet modern fit and the considered detailing, whilst hardcore geeks will really enjoy the nuances of this Red Cast denim – the RCT1 has something to offer everyone.

9 out of 10, highly recommended!

Tanuki is available through several stockists – check out Godspeed Store for Tanuki jeans and even Tanuki wallets!

The Effects of Japanese Retailers Selling Abroad: A Hobbyist’s Perspective

Heddels has recently released an interesting article discussing the politics and finances involved in the international retail of Japanese denim. While I do agree with much of what was written, the article did prompt me to reflect on these issues from the perspective of a long time hobbyist. Here are some of my thoughts:

My own interest in denim began during the 2000s, as a teenager, catching onto the very tail end of the reproduction craze of denim in Japan. In those days, brands that are now household names among the denim community were little known – it took quite a number of years before street-wear enthusiasts and pioneering Western denim retailers created a large enough consumer group and knowledge base for the Japanese denim hobby to begin flourishing.

Certainly, North American retailers such as Self Edge and Blue in Green were major forces driving this increasing awareness during the mid-2000s, contributing to the hobby not only through foot traffic in their brick & mortar stores but also through facilitating the growth of the worldwide denim community via the social media of the day – denim forums such as Superfuture, for example. These early stores made available previously difficult to obtain denim garments – at marked up prices compared with Japan of course – without the hassle of navigating the potentially risky use of proxy purchase services of the day.

Oldie but goodie. Experienced denim nerds will know about Pants Shop Avenue. Photo provided by Pants Shop Avenue.

Even in those early days, however, serious hobbyists such as myself were already purchasing directly from Japan. It was well known within the Superfuture community that if you wanted to purchase Studio D’Artisan or Denime jeans, Naoki at Pants Shop Avenue is your man. If you wanted to purchase Samurai Jeans, then you’d send e2nd an e-mail. Oni jeans? Go directly to Hinoya. Buzz Rickson sweatshirts? Definitely SeaBees.

Back then, the only reason I’d purchase from a Western retailer is if they had a collaboration product that was particularly interesting or if they had exclusive stock of shirts & jackets in Western sizes. As a young man with expensive hobbies, the lower prices when purchasing directly from Japan outweighed any other factors or risks involved in denim shopping, and given I didn’t live in San Francisco or New York, it wasn’t like I could visit any of the Western stockists in person anyway.

Collaborations – good for promoting shops, and hobbyists love them – win + win.

More than a decade later, the denim hobby certainly looks very different.

New shops have popped up both inside and outside of Japan. Of significance is the launch of Japanese retailers Denimio and Okayama Denim – these are operations based in Japan with all the local connections, yet they target the denim market outside of Japan and have the English language abilities & Internet know-how to facilitate easy purchasing by non-Japanese speaking customers. These web-shops sell their products at Japanese pricing and are stocked much more extensively than the average brick & mortar store, usually ending up more competitively priced than even Rakuten stores too due to their offer of free international shipping.

Recent Pure Blue Japan mark-up has caused quite a stir, and a bit of whinging.

Meanwhile, the growth of Japanese denim ‘culture’ and awareness is now mostly facilitated by the Internet and social media. A forum thread on Superfuture or a Instagram post by a well known influencer will have far wider reach compared with attempts at educating new customers by a Western stockist. B&M shops, from my own memory of the past years, have never been viewed as authorities on subjects within this hobby anyway. In most English speaking countries we don’t have close-knit communities based on interests in Americana or work wear clothing, people with serious spending power don’t hang out at local denim joints all day, and certainly people largely approach this hobby in a much more individualistic type of way…which I don’t believe the Japanese brands can fully understand.

All in all, from my perspective as a hobbyist in 2017, brick & mortar shops are less relevant to me (in terms of my private purchasing of denim) than ever, and certainly more than 90% of my purchases are from overseas retailers via the Internet. Even with a handful of specialist denim stores having launched in my city in the past few years, my purchasing habits haven’t changed – the Internet remains my shopping mall of choice, and where possible I would like to obtain my garments from as close to the manufacturing source as possible. As a working professional with some disposable income, most of the time it’s not even about the cost, but rather the depth and range of stock that the larger Japanese online retailers can offer over most Western retailers.

An increased emphasis on Western markets? Tanuki works closely with Western stockists…but loopholes remain.

However, I do believe that Western stockists and B&M stores remain important.

Firstly, the vast majority of people who might be interested in Japanese denim never reach the point of enthusiasm as the old timer Superfuturians. Most folks would be very well served by picking up a pair of Japan Blue jeans and Red Wing boots from their local shop, and will never have the desire to spend hours of their life reading about how a pair of Tanuki jeans have been dyed or the reproduction details on a pair of Conners Sewing Factory jeans. Further, individualised sizing advice and in-person fittings will make the raw denim experience much less stressful for beginners.  This allows the hobby to grow not in depth but rather in absolute numbers, which is still a great thing!

One of my local specialist denim stores – Godspeed. A cool space like this cannot be replicated digitally. Yet.

Secondly, when stores are run by genuinely enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff, the passion can be infectious and will help in the creation of future hobbyists. For most people, having a cool guy or girl telling you about Japanese jeans is much more persuasive compared with reading about jeans on an Internet forum or some geeky blog. Further, through special events and functions, the denim hobby can be promoted more widely within the local community – the recent Weaving Shibusa screening and Denim Panel Talk in Melbourne was a great example.

Community events grow awareness and people interest. Stores and brands can’t survive if the hobby dies!

Thirdly, B&M stores can facilitate physical spaces where local denim culture might mature. An often neglected aspect of this hobby is the importance of interacting, in person, with like-minded people. When this is not possible, people tend to burn out of this hobby far more quickly, as had happened to me at one point – hobbies are usually much more fun & engaging when you can share them with other people, and even more so if one could establish an identity within said hobby. Local denim hang-out spots are important for this reason, even if we’re never going to form little clothing gangs like they do in Japan.

Finally, an important aspect of the denim hobby is the repair and alteration of our garments. Although it is possible to find such services through the Internet, a well equipped B&M store is far more likely to be able to offer timely, reliable and personalized denim services.

Anthill Workshop – alterations and repairs are best done in person.

To conclude? I’d say that the aims and wants between brands, retailers and hobbyists are very different but most somehow all be reconciled. If a brand or a store is to succeed in the currently saturated and very competitive Japanese denim market, they must carefully consider what it is that their customers want, beyond the actual denim jeans that they’re trying to sell. Price fixing or banning online international sales by Japanese brands are unlikely to win over any potential customers, even if the reasons are justifiable from one or more perspectives – a determined hobbyist will always find a way to buy from Japan directly, there’s no stopping us.

Instead, it may be more useful to look at the problem a little more laterally and work with Western retailers in fulfilling the wants and desires of denim consumers, capitalizing on the advantages that a physical retail space might offer over the pricing and stock availability that is the strong suit of Japanese web-stores. Building loyalty and community may be the saving grace of brick & mortar shops in the long run, whereas pricing politics will detract from this goal.

Nick’s Boots – ‘Manito oxford’ shoes review

I’ve been wanting to try out Nick’s Boots for a few years now, having heard good opinions about their boots. Although Nick’s is one of the major Pacific Northwestern bootmakers, they are little seen and much less talked about among denim and heritage-wear enthusiasts compared with White’s or Viberg. Indeed, Nick’s has a much smaller following in East Asia compared with the other Northwestern companies, and up until recently their selection of casual boots & shoes for hobbyists have been fairly limited.

Last year I was shopping for a pair of Americana derby shoes, and had contemplated a pair of White’s Boots’ ‘oxfords’. However, I saw that Nick’s had released a shoe model called the ‘Manito’, and decided that I might as well try my first pair of Nick’s.

As per my usual for American footwear, I made a custom order through Kyle at Baker’s Boots. The purchase was made in July 2016, with the shoes delivered to me in Australia during March 2017. This pair has been custom spec’d and is a bit different from what Nick’s offer as stock for the Manito.

Overview

Nick’s has named this pair of shoes the ‘Manito oxford’.

I’m not sure why this pair of shoes is referred to as an oxford – these are clearly derby shoes, and do not have the eyelet tabs attached under the vamp – though many North American bootmakers also seem to mislabel their derby shoes. Blog friend and leather craftsman Ray tells me that, in America, only nerds call them derby shoes.

Regardless, the Manito is a high-arched derby shoe which has been made as a shortened version of an American workboot. Nick’s bills them as part of their casual footwear line-up, intended for leisure and the weekends.

Indeed, the reason for the existence for the Manito, as per Nick’s, is that boot lovers like us sometimes want to wear shoes. The Manito was designed as shoes for the boot geek.

The Manito is built on Nick’s 5332 last, and features their #2 plain toe. The construct method is the stitch-down, and I opted for the full double-stitch experience.

Standard Manito shoes are made with Domain leather, which is basically Seidel Tannery’s version of the a vegetable re-tanned leather à la Horween’s Chromexcel. My pair has been built with CXL horsehide instead.

Let’s take a closer look!

Shape & Fit

As mentioned previously, these shoes are built on Nick’s 5332 last with a #2 toe. I ordered them 8.5 D, whereas my Brannock’s size is 9 with a width closer to E. Two reasons for sizing 1/2 down: the 5332 last runs a tad big, and I didn’t want to wear thick boot-socks with these shoes.

The 5332 last features an up-turned toe and is relatively tall, giving good volume to the vamp. The noted rise in the midfoot area creates a deep curve which is quite striking from the side-profile, hinting at the work-boot origin of these shoes and adding some strong Americana flavour.

Nick’s arranges its toe shapes from #1 to #4, with the boots widening as the numbers increase. The #2 toe featured here is narrow but not pointy – very suitable on these vintage-style shoes.

The resulting fit is snug with medium thickness socks: just slightly tight in the forefoot, with a small amount of pressure on the little toe. This is perfect for me, and my feet experienced no discomfort at all after the first day’s wear. However, I did notice the right shoe was slightly but noticeably wider fitting in the heel compared with the left shoe.

The ‘Legendary Arch’ arch-support that Nick’s has built into these shoes is significant, even more pronounced than other Pacific Northwestern boots. As a result, I find my toes do curl in a little when walking, and the rocking step is pronounced when wearing these shoes.

Add to the fact that these shoes are heavy – heavier than any other shoes I’ve handled – newbies to this style of footwear will need to learn how to rock their steps.  (づ ̄ ³ ̄)づ

Nick’s held true to their word – the Manito wears like a boot. It looks like a shoe but is, as far as your feet are concerned, a low work boot.

Overall, the Manito at 1/2 size down fits me like a glove, and is very comfortable to wear. The shape of the shoe is reminiscent of old-fashioned American workboots from the previous century, and pairs very well with blue jeans and other workwear garments.

Leather

This pair features Horween’s 6 oz Chromexcel horsebutt in black and brown.

Horsebutt is tanned as a strip, usually 40 to 46″ in length and 6 to 10″ in width. Considering the fact that horsehide tends to have a more variegated grain compared with cattlehide, the narrow width of the horsebutt strips become a problem when making shoes, limiting the height of footwear and making clicking difficult.

Thus, American bootmakers approach horsebutt in two ways. One method is the bootmaker can buy large quantities of 2nd & 3rd run horsebutt and make cheap boots – I experienced this first-hand when I owned two pairs of Thorogood horsehide boots a few years ago. Needless to say, I don’t own any Thorogood boots anymore.

The other, more expensive, method is to carefully click 1st run horsebutt and accept the fact that more and better horsebutt leather is needed. I’m glad to see this is the approach that Nick’s have chosen, and what you see here is some of the cleanest horsebutt I’ve ever handled.

In fact, this CXL horsebutt is more consistent than even most CXL cattlehide I’ve seen! This is great footwear leather indeed – oily, supple, responsive, and features the deep shine for which the Chromexcel tannage is well known. Comparing this horse CXL with regular cattle CXL, the horsehide has a denser, smoother grain and more intense lustre.

Very nice stuff, more than worth the $50 up-charge for horsehide.

Construction

The uppers are densely and neatly stitched with non-contrast threads.

The stitching pattern on the Manito is more aesthetically pleasing to me compared with, say, Wesco’s JH Classic shoes, the plain-toe version of which does look a little too busy.

The quality of construct of the uppers is very good – all the pieces are neatly attached and the edges are nicely spaced and very clean. I only managed to find one loosened stitch, which I tucked back in with a needle.

The counter construct on the Manito is different from similar shoes by White’s or Wesco. You can see here the counters have been minimised, resulting in a dressier side-profile. This cleaner appearance is also due to the fact that other than the vamp attachments, the rest of the shoes feature only single rows of stitching.

The stitch-down is relatively clean – there are some irregularities and unevenness in the stitching, which are emphasized by the contrasting thread colour, the full sized welt and the fact that there are two rows of stitches.

To be honest, I’ve come to expect irregularities in the stitch-down when purchasing Northwestern American footwear, and I speculate that, to a degree, some of unevenness is unavoidable in the stitch-down method. However, I’ve recently seen some stitch-down boots by a couple of Japanese boot makers which had cleaner, more regular and denser stitch work than Nick’s or other American makers – so, a neater stitch-down is possible!

Of course for a neat appearance, I could have asked for a single row of stitch or a close trim, but as far as Americana footwear is concerned, I say it’s either double-row stitch-down or go home.

In the stitch-down method, the upper is turned out and stitched onto the midsole. The edge finish on this pair of Manito shoes are, unfortunately, not the best. There are a few notches on the lateral edge of the right shoe, as you can see in the photo below.

Further, there is one spot on each shoe where the upper leather is not trimmed properly, resulting in the edges overhanging the midsoles somewhat in these spots. I ended up trimming back the upper leather in those two spots and then re-burnishing the edges with beeswax. (In the photos where I am wearing these shoes, the edges have been repaired. All other photos feature the shoes in original condition.)

My pair of Truman boots has a much cleaner edge finish. My White’s boots feature a slightly different approach – the edges are trimmed back at an angle, resulting in uniformity and increased visibility of the natural midsole.

Sole Unit & Misc.

The inside of these shoes are completely lined in soft leather and very well cushioned, resulting in a high level of comfort that surprised me at first. As I mentioned previously, despite the snug fit and the heavy mass of leathers, these Manito shoes have been very kind to my feet. They are a pleasure to wear!

The natural leathers utilised for the midsole and heel-stacks are thick and raw, providing great contrast to the uppers and outsoles. I especially love the substantial Dogger heels featured here, so pretty!

Some folks may not like the contrast, but there’s something about thick stacks of natural leather that really floats my boat. So attractive~~~

The lugged Vibram outsoles and heels have been nicely attached.

Nails are used for reinforcement in the midfeet and heels.

Overall, the sole units are nicely constructed and pleasing to look at.

Opinion

This is my first pair of Nick’s Boots, and it’s been a mostly positive experience.

I was impressed by the quality of the leathers, the high level of comfort, the attractive shape, and the neat construction of the uppers and sole units.

These Manito shoes were made exactly to my custom order, with no errors in the specifications – this is an important consideration given that I live in Australia, and as such any exchanges or alterations will be expensive and time-consuming.

In terms of design and aesthetics, these shoes combine very well with the garments and accessories that you would usually see on my blog. If you are a denim head or leather nerd, you will have no trouble incorporating the Manito shoes into your wardrobe.

On the downside, I was a little disappointed by the longer than advertised build time: I waited for 7.5 months. The lack of finesse on the edge trimming was also a bit jarring, considering the rest of the shoes were impeccably made – I was able to fix most of the cosmetic issues on the edges myself using a Stanley blade and some beeswax, but I really shouldn’t have to.

Overall, though, I will say that these Manito shoes are very high quality and a joy to wear – comfortable over a long day, and does not stress the feet even when new. The fact that I was able to have them made with very clean & dense CXL horsebutt is a big bonus.

Recommended?

Yes, but the shoes are not without flaws. Nick’s Boots is a must try if you are an Americana footwear enthusiast, and these Manito boots are not only attractive but also supremely wearable. However, the flaws mentioned above are possibly symptoms of Nick’s change of management and subsequent loss of experienced staff & rapid expansion…Personally, I’ll wait a year or two until the growing pains have finished and their production line stabilizes before I order my next pair.