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.

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