We’re right in the middle of summer here in Australia, though regardless of the season or the weather, for many years I have only worn heavy leather shoes & boots. Some may find it strange – and certainly my family does – but I am loathe to wear flip flops or sneakers unless I were to go to the beach or engage in athletic endeavors…
“Maybe you could wear leather sandals? What about the natural leather that you keep talking about?” said a friend of mine.
Indeed, why not?
So it is I started looking for a pair of sandals which might fit the bill: hand made with good quality leather. It started off as a surprisingly difficult hunt!
A few days into my search, I was lucky to come across a little leather studio in the Nakameguro district of Tokyo. Based in his atelier by the name of Art Atelier du Travail, leather craftsman Ryosuke Obana has a brand of hand-stitched sandals and other leather goods – R atelier & Co.
Reviewed today here is the Phra Kaew sandals of R atelier & Co.
Shape & Fit
R atelier & Co.’s sandals come in five sizes, in ascending length: female S, female M, male S, male M, male L. Given that I am a US9/UK8, and these male L size sandals fit just right, I’d are very much made for the size of East Asian feet!
In terms of width, these sandals are between a D & an E as per Brannock’s device.
These are toe-pinch sandals, and the thickness of the straps does mean that these sandals have a break-in period. Initially, it is a little awkward moving at a fast pace with these sandals, as they tend to slide off…this improves with breaking in the leather and as your brain becomes acclimatised to grasping the straps with your toes.
One of the remarkable aspects about this sandal is that it is made with Tochigi Leather Co’s famous natural vegetable tanned leather!
The colour you see here is darker than natural tan, due to leather conditioner applied to the sandals before they are finished at the studio, and the fact that Tochigi usually curries it’s veg tanned leathers.
Tochigi’s natural leather has featured previously on this blog, but to recap:
It is a 1.5 month pit tanned leather with extra oils curried in. There is a moderate amount of growth, which is combined with a gentle shine. All in all, a superior leather compared with many of the commonly seen natural leathers. Though still not as nice as Village Work’s saddle leather or Baker’s oak bark leather, as footwear leather it’s pretty bombastic!
These sandals are made like belts and wallets!
Every aspect is done by hand, from the cutting to the saddle-stitch.
The linen cable hand-stitch, in particular, is a highlight of this sandal.
The straps are built into the layers of the body, and securely held with saddle-stitch.
Below the surface layer is a double mid-sole! The three leather layers add up to a pretty monstrous sole unit:
Of course, in line with the rest of the sandal, the sole unit is executed well, with the burnish looking impeccably smooth.
Sole Unit & Misc.
The outsole is an easily replaceable Vibram sole.
As you can imagine, the chunky body of the sandal does require breaking in, and, in the first few days, will squeak as you walk.
These sandals are freakin’ awesome!
Not for everybody, I know…but, as another leathercraftman aptly commented: “I appreciate the fact they exist.”
Ryosuke’s work is that of a professional, of course, though it is the fact that such considered crafting had been applied to a pair of sandals which makes it that much more special.
At 17, 000 yen they are expensive as far as sandals go, but factoring in its hand-made nature, the country of origin, and the expensive Tochigi leather, I think they are actually very good value. For example, they compare well with the superb sandals by Tokyo Sandals, which cost around twice as much.
Conclusion? A completely unnecessary luxury to be sure, to be appreciated only by true leather enthusiasts. That said, if you have an interest in natural vegetable tanned leathers and quality craftsmenship, these could be an extra excuse to carry another natural leather item on your person!
The friendly folks of Art Artelier du Travail are able to communicate in English, and purchasing from overseas is very easy. Definitely check out this leather studio!