Lone Wolf Boots – ‘Sweeper’ low work boots review

Sugar Cane jeans were some of my first pairs of real Japanese denim, and during those earlier years I would collect and study their catalogue booklet every six months. Sugar Cane’s products had been some of the most innovative back in the early to mid-2000’s, as far as Japanese denim and work-wear are concerned, though things seem to have slowed in the past couple of years.

Part of the Sugar Cane line-up includes the Lone Wolf brand, under which Toyo’s footwear are sold. These Lone Wolf boots were some of the earliest Japanese work boots that were readily available to purchase from outside of Japan – I’d drool over these Lone Wolf boots in the catalogues, and yet uncertainty regarding sizing and the relatively high pricing kept me away, and it would be some years before I saw them in person in Japan.

More than a decade later, I’m sitting here reviewing my first pair of Lone Wolf boots, feeling like – in many ways – my clothing hobbies have come full circle. This review has been a long time coming, and perhaps a bit overdue…

Let’s take a look at these Lone Wolf ‘Sweeper‘ boots.

 

 

Overview

Ruf-Tuf Lone Wolf Boots is somewhat similar to the Fiction Romance line-up for Sugar Cane’s clothing – combining reproduction aesthetics and detailing to create pieces that could have been. Indeed, Lone Wolf’s line-up consist entirely of 1940’s to 50’s style American work boots, everything from Engineer boots to lace-to-toe Roofers.

A combination of mainly American materials and precise Japanese craftsmanship produce a certain distinct feel that is very different from modern American boots.

The Sweeper boots being review today are the seldom reproduced style of low work boots, similar to the Rolling Dub Trio ‘Coupen’ boots I reviewed many months ago. The boots are much closer to shoes in height, though the toe shape and build very much resemble a pair of work boots.

The Sweeper comes standard in four variants – this pair being the all black rough-out edition. Brown, tan and mixed leather options are available also.

 

 

Shape & Fit

Like previously mentioned, even though these Sweeper boots are not strict reproductions, the overall shape stays true to 40’s and 50’s work boots. That being said, the bulbous ‘work toe’ has been toned down somewhat, and the Sweeper is not as wide or as tall as other Japanese interpretations of Americana work boots.

The toe start at E width, and really doesn’t get wider than that as we move towards the mid-foot, where the width tightens up.

The toe box is actually relatively short for a Japanese reproduction work boot.

This being a 4″ tall low work boot, rather than a 3″ tall shoe, does mean that the climb in the vamp is more dramatic, and so the Sweeper fits on the foot more like a boot than a shoe.

You can see in the photo above that the opening of the boot is curved, which combines with a snug opening diameter and slanted counter to create a strong hold just above the ankle. The tight, curved opening did cause me some blistering during the first couple of wears, so some breaking-in is required.

The up-turn in the toe is also quite significant, and thus even with the unit sole, there remains a rocking sensation as I walk.

I am between a US 9 D to 9 E in terms of Brannock’s sizing, and the Sweeper at US 8.5 fits me well in terms of both length and overall width with medium thickness socks. If you exclusively wear thick work socks, going true-to-size might not be a bad idea, unless your feet are on the narrower side (< D). If your feet are wider than E width, you might struggle with tightness in the toe box somewhat.

Overall, these Sweeper boots are comparatively streamlined as far as reproduction style work boots go. Going TTS or sizing down by half may be the way to go.

 

 

Leather

Not much official information is available about the leather utilized on the Sweeper, but I’m fairly certain these are aniline latigo leather from Horween tannery.

The leather is used in the rough-out configuration, meaning that the grain side is facing inward and the flesh (corium) side is exposed. This is a more rugged way of using leather for footwear, and allows the wearer to additionally ‘dub’ the leather with waxes to protect against inclement or cold weather.

This latigo leather is fairly good quality, and the flesh side has a nice finish – more fibrous and furry than the average suede, the exposed leather fibres are much longer and unprocessed. Personally, I prefer this type of rough-out finish to finely processed suede – more durable, and actually easier to keep clean!

I have to say though, that the leather selection here was perhaps very exciting 10 years ago, but is now somewhat dated. Boots of this caliber should probably feature something a little bit more exciting than aniline latigo, even if reproduction aesthetics is key.

 

 

Construction

Lone Wolf’s boots are apparently entirely made in a small, family-run Japanese footwear workshop. Type writing aside, these are very nicely executed stitch-down boots.

Stitch-down boots are, of course, the specialty of Pacific North-Western boot makers such as White’s, Wesco, etc. Lone Wolf’s construct here is better than what I’ve seen the Americans churn out in recent years.

5 panels make up the body of the Sweeper. A combination of single and triple stitching is used to piece together these panels. The stitching is tonal black, very dense and superbly neat.

The counter is one piece, extending above the opening to form a small pull tab; the curves here really make these boots more interesting to look at compared with most other low work boots.

The double row stitch-down extends from the tip of the toe to the mid-foot, and is precisely sewn with rather thick thread.

The edges of the turn-out/mid-sole are further beveled and polished. The execution here is much nicer than my American work boots – compare this with the awful edge work on my Nick’s Manito shoes, for example.

The top edge of the quarters are neatly rolled, adding some elegance to this rough-out work boot.

The stitch-work is very impressive, on pair with more expensive Japanese boots. Everything is just so precise – it’s almost jarring to have this kind of neatness on a work boot.

The Sweeper features bellows tongue, with the grain side out. This configuration means that the tongue will not be displaced during rigorous activity. The stitch-work to secure the tongue is, again, remarkably neat.

Overall, the Sweeper is one of the most well made ready-to-wear work boots I’ve come across, comparable in construct to other Japanese brands which may cost a little more.

Sole Unit & Misc.

The Sweeper boots aren’t completely blacked-out. The 5 eyelets on each side are brass coloured, and very sturdy.

Lone Wolf manufactures its own laces. These black rough-out Sweepers come with unwaxed, flat-braided black laces. The laces are more black than the rough-out leather, and strangely provides a bit of contrast…

Vintage style woven labels are attached to the inside of the tongues. A very nice touch.

The insole is somewhat utilitarian, but importantly it’s all leather!

The inside of these boots are fully lined. Nothing too fancy, but the finishing is neat and the materials used internally are top quality too.

Vibram’s #4041 Cristy waffle sole is used for the outsole, attached to a leather mid-sole.

Not the prettiest, and to be honest aesthetically does not match with the overall mid-century vibes, but these waffle soles do make walking very comfortable and keep these Sweeper boots relatively light.

Overall, top quality components and materials all round.

 

 

Thoughts

I must say that these Lone Wolf ‘Sweeper’ boots are a joy to wear and quite flavorful as far as work-wear aesthetics are concerned, despite being a black-out boot.

The design, shape and construct are all top class. I believe that, in the realm of work-boots, we’re not going to get anything better made short of going full custom with a niche Japanese maker.

I can see that the Sweeper has been subtly updated over the years, comparing this pair to Lone Wolf’s older low work boots from the last decade.

The toe box is certainly vintage style, but the height and width are not, by modern standards, exaggerated. The panels are all nicely curved, resulting in the Sweeper having a bit more elegance and flair than a straightforward work boot.

At 49, 800 yen + tax (2017 pricing), there’s not too much to complain about. This is certainly entry level pricing for a Japanese work boot, but the workmanship, materials and design all punch above this price tier.

The construct is impeccable, really. A much better stitch-down boot than what is available from the USA nowadays, at least in terms of neatness of make and overall finishing.

These Sweeper boots may lack some of the finer details of my RDT Coupen boots, but there’s not a big difference in quality. Keep in mind the Coupens are about 30% more expensive.

Where these Sweeper boots do lag behind somewhat – relative to other high-end work boots – is that the Horween latigo leather being used, IMO, is somewhat dated for 2017. Other Japanese and American work boot brands are nowadays using leathers that are much more interesting. Don’t get me wrong, the leather is good quality, it’s just a little, well, boring for what is a relatively expensive boot.

I’m not too enamored with the Vibram waffle sole (purely an aesthetics issue), so I’ll be looking to convert the outsole units to something a little more ‘mid-century’ when the time comes to replace these soles.

Overall, I’ve been pretty impressed by my first pair of Lone Wolf boots. The Sweeper boot is very well made, hard-working and even a little bit handsome.

At the ~50, 000 yen price tier, there are a few more Japanese boot brands I’d like to try, but I’ll definitely purchase another pair of Lone Wolf boots some day. I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending these Sweeper boots to work-wear fans – certainly do take a look at them at your local Sugar Cane retailer.

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Vanitas Japan – ‘Ego’ mid wallet review

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Today I would like to show you a very special wallet, a piece that’s been in the works for more than a year now.

This ‘Ego’ wallet is from Denimio, who have collaborated with Kiyosumi Matsumura of Vanitas Japan to release a line of limited edition wallets, aiming to introduce Vanitas to denim hobbyists around the world.

Long time readers of this blog would have seen Matsumura-san’s work already; his wallets have been previously featured on the Craftsmen’s Own post (under his other brand, Tempest Leather Design’s) and the Tanuki long wallet overview post. Matsumura-san specializes in intricate, custom leather work, and is one of the very best at shaping leather.

Much of Matsumura-san’s work does not have his own name attached, being commissioned by Japanese fashion and work-wear brands. Our craftsman today is a professional leather worker of more than 20 years experience, having undergone baptism by fire in the difficult environment of Japanese leather workshops during his apprentice years.

Vanitas Japan represents Matsumura-san’s top of the line, custom carved work, each wallet completely hand crafted, taking many days to complete. This type of work, being produced by an experienced Japanese professional, does not come cheap – a hand-carved phone cover could leave your bank account 120, 000 yen lighter, for example.

However, to introduce this next tier of leather crafting to denim fans worldwide, Denimio has collaborated with Vanitas to produce limited pieces of this Ego wallet at half the usual price, designed and spec’d as work-style wallets which have great synergy with denim jeans.

Let’s have a closer look at this awesome mid-wallet.

 

Packaging

As you would expect from a custom Japanese maker, the Ego is nicely presented in a high-quality box.

The wallet comes with a cloth storage bag. Further included are information regarding the brand and a warranty card. Befitting of a Japanese product, the packaging and presentation here is one of the best I’ve seen.

 

Design

The Ego wallet measures 15 cm tall by 10 cm wide when folded.

As you can tell from the measurements, this is a larger mid-wallet, almost lengthy enough to be classified as a trucker or long wallet. It is both slightly longer and slightly wider compared to the average American style mid-wallet.

The Ego fits comfortably in my jeans pockets, the top of the wallet jutting out by 1 or 2 cm depending on the jeans.

A maximum thickness of 2.5 cm when folded is measured near the spine.

Being a larger wallet, a D-ring is incorporated at the spine to facilitate the use of a wallet chain or rein, should you want to spice things up a little.

The inside of the Ego is a complex variation of the ‘floating panels’ design of work-wear wallets. In total, there are six quick-access card slots, two card storage spaces, one notes compartment and one coin holder.

The left side of the wallet holds your cards in three storage layers. The front panel features three quick-access slots at the front, and one storage compartment at the back. The base panel features another three quick-access slots.

The coin holder takes up the entire right side of the inner. The compartment was deliberately over-sized so that it could also be used as a card storage compartment, in case you didn’t want to carry coins in your wallet. There’s an additional, unformed card storage area beneath the coin holder, accessible near the spine.

Finally, the fully lined notes compartment is deep and wide. It will hold any paper or plastic money horizontally, and some currencies even vertically.

 

Philosophy

Vanitas isn’t just a cool name for the brand. Matsumura-san derives much of his inspirations for crafting the Vanitas line of leather goods from the symbolic art styles of the 16th century Dutch masters of Vanitas.

These early still-life works are thought to stem from Christian thinking of the time: life is futile, human endeavors have no true meaning, and only the act of praising God has any intrinsic value.

Of course, it is not that Matsumura-san aims to infuse his work with Christianity or nihilism – the modern man’s take on Vanitas and memento mori styles of art can be, of course, different to a 16th century Dutchman’s.

For me, Vanitas and Matsumura-san’s art work on this wallet represents a curious blend of existential dread, the possibility of an indifferent world, a reminder to be mindful about life, and the dissonance between the assumed futility of human actions and Matsumura-san’s effortful art.

The very intricate motif includes a human skull, flowers with leaves, and a beetle.

Death, impermanence and insignificance.

These are all classic thematic objects within the Vanitas style, which Matsumura-san has transplanted onto the leather, as if by magic.

Just like how the evolution and aging of this wallet will be unique to you, the significance of this motif and meaning of the themes which inspired this work is for you to decide. Our intellectual and emotional reaction to this type of existential provocation is certainly central to our psychology, perhaps more indicative of who we are than the clothes we choose to wear? Maybe, but I think my day job is creeping into this review a little bit.

We’ll take a look at the very fine details later on.

 

Function

This larger sized wallet will be a challenge to the uninitiated, but for someone like me who is very familiar with work-style wallets, it is a breeze to use.

One aspect of the Ego wallet which I really enjoy is that the leather remains the main character even when the wallet is fully loaded. Opening up the wallet, the natural saddle leather is on full display, with the cards minimally obstructing the view.

There’s enough storage space for at least ten cards – this storage capacity increases to almost twenty if you further use the coin compartment for card storage. More than that even, with the second storage compartment in use.

The coin compartment is more than spacious, holding a dozen coins without bulging or changing shape.

The notes compartment will hold more cash than you’ll reasonably need for a road trip. I don’t have enough cash to really test the limits here…

 

Leather

The leather utilized on this wallet is fittingly Japanese – natural saddle leather from a small tannery in Himeji, selected specifically by Matsumura-san to accommodate his intricate carving, stamping and shaping work.

The outshell has been hand-glazed with water, a process required as part of the relief and modelling work. As a result, the outer leather has a slippery feel, slightly condensed grain and an incredible, wet shine.

The saddle leather on the inner and the D-ring tab has not undergone the glazing process, and so retains the leather’s original, incredible grain growth!

The black suede that lines the notes compartment is smooth, waxy and lightly furry. The texture almost reminiscent of pig skin.

The black colour of the suede contrasts nicely with the tan of the natural saddle leather, and is thematically appropriate in combination with the Vanitas theme.

Like I’ve previously mentioned on the blog, vegetable tanned saddle leathers from Himeji are quite incredible, with deep grain growth that is second only to Baker’s oak bark leather, and the very best potential for patina development and colour change.

You’d have seen some examples on this blog of Himeji leather in mid-evolution, whether it’s Red Moon’s house-specialty leather on my Pailot River rider’s wallet or the Shonan leather on my mill handmade Japanese wallet – how the leather start incredibly pale, but gathers warmth and even more shine as the weeks go by. The resulting caramel colour will be crisp, slightly toasty and never boring: I know for a fact that the ageing process will be incredible.

 

Construct

For the Ego wallet, the focus of attention and the showcasing of Matsumura-san’s craft rest with the motif work on the outshell. The cutting & stitching of the leather panels is a walk in the park by comparison.

To streamline the work on this wallet from his usual custom fares, Matsumura-san had to acquire a new set of tools – luckily, Denimio had his back.

The creation of the symbols within the motif is very time-consuming and treacherous work – one mistake, and Matsumura-san will have to discard his work and start all over again……this has apparently happened more than a couple of times, given the skull and the beetle in particular demand precision beyond what is reasonable.

I particularly like the sutures! The prominent suture is modelled after a coastline in Japan, and the dot just above the eye socket indicates Denimio’s location on the map!

Matsumura-san incorporates a variety of techniques to create this art, including carving, stamping, lifting & shaping and multi-layer sculpturing work. He has kept the designs of the symbols neutral and un-exaggerated, in line with the still-life approach of Vanitas.

The skull is raised using four layers of leather to create a 3-D appearance, supported by a shaper underneath so that it will not sink or distort with wear. Matsumura-san creates this shaping structure with powdered leather, a process taking one day for each shaper for each wallet!

Compare this with most other carved wallets, which utilize only a maximum of two layers of leather and a cotton shaper, which tends to lose integrity over time.

(NB: Matsumura-san sometimes incorporates six layers of leather into the 3-D work for his more extravagant, custom pieces.)

Once the basic shapes and heights of the designs are set, Matsumura-san then painstakingly begins the modeling work, creating every little indent and fine line which define the symbols and give the motif detail.

This is not just simple stamping or carving – the process is more akin to working wet clay with a fine tool.

The branch of flowers and leaves is impressively done; every part of the plants is detailed, and no two leaves alike.

Yet, the beetle is perhaps the most impressive demonstration of the precision with which Matsumura-san has carried out his work. The beetle is blended into the plant, and does not look unnatural in its environment. Yet, when observed in isolation, it stands out among the leaves – an impression created through a defined outline and careful lifting.

The slippery hand of the glazed leather contrasts with the defined and intricate texture work on the motif. This considered and contrasting play of textures pays homage to the early Vanitas paintings.

The D-ring tab is precisely and neatly constructed, sitting centered on the spine of the wallet. The tab has been raised, giving it a solid and sturdy feel.

The brass D-ring is customised and nicely beveled.

You will have observed too, that not only are all the edges burnished with gum, but they are also edge creased and pressed.

The hand-made saddle-stitching is precise and regular, sitting uniformly at 6 SPI throughout the wallet.

There are more than 500 individual saddle stitches on this wallet!

More than 500!

There are no wonky corners, and the width of the stitching is fairly consistent.

The stitching at the crossover of the panels are very nicely executed; none of the threading have cut into the leather at all.

The card slot openings are creased on both sides and have both ends finished with a circular punch, to ensure minimal distortion of the leather with use.

An opening has been made at the bottom of the inner spine, to ensure the leather does not distort when the wallet is folded and the bottom of the spine does not bulge out.

A gold Hasi Hato snap button secures the coin holder. The Japanese snap works like a charm and operate very smoothly with a satisfying pop.

All in all, the basic aspects of wallet construction are well thought-out and neatly done. The motif work is in a realm of its own, however, and steals the spotlight!

 

Thoughts

The Ego wallet is a fantastic, denim-friendly wallet from Vanitas Japan which show-cases a level of skill and art that is seldom seem on a work-style wallet.

Matsumura-san and the folks at Denimio have worked very hard in the past months to bring this cross-over statement piece to fruition, and the long hours of design and experimentation invested into the Ego really shines through when I lose myself in the little details of the motif.

I’m a big fan of considered and well executed leathercrafts, and yet the Ego goes beyond simply being a well made wallet. It is thought provoking as a memento mori object, should you choose it to be. It is also a piece of artwork that perhaps crystallizes more than two decades of sweat and tears that Matsumura-san has shed in the leather-crafting profession.

Indeed, the Ego is a statement piece, a belated introduction of Vanitas Japan to denim and leather hobbyists worldwide. As a statement piece, of course, the themes and styling may not be to everyone’s taste – followers of minimalism or pure 1940’s Americana may not be intrigued. An yet, the Ego was not made to have mass appeal, and truly each Ego wallet has been painstakingly crafted over many days with the true leather hobbyist in mind.

Fans of memento mori objects and fellow ponderers who have glanced into the existential abyss will not find a finer wallet. In many ways, the potential aging of the vegetable tanned natural saddle leather with time and wear is more true to the themes of Vanitas compared with the classic blacks and browns.

I have to commend Matsumura-san for being willing to experiment and step outside the house-style of Vanitas Japan to create a work-wear wallet with Denimio. This confluence of styles makes the Ego wallet unique: incorporating strong themes and a catching artwork, and at the same time working nicely with denim & other rugged fabrics.

At 60, 000 yen, the Ego is half the price of Vanitas Japan’s usual offerings, though no short-cuts were taken in the construction of the wallet. All the important detailx on a work-style wallet are present and neatly executed; the Ego is made entirely with top-end Japanese materials and the very finest Japanese craftsmanship. Further, Denimio is offering an introductory discount for their stock of Vanitas Japan, lowering the price of the Ego wallet to 55, 000 yen – an absolute steal for this caliber of craft!

(Use the code carpediem to receive the discount.)

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Image via Wazahito

After handling the Tanuki long wallets earlier this year, I had already been impressed by Matsumura-san’s crafting. His work on this Ego wallet has just blown me away, and I can recommend Vanitas Japan to you without reservation.

Don’t wait on the New Year to acquire your own Ego wallet – there’re only five of these wallets in existence. Come join the Ego club, and let us contemplate the essence of futility together!

Check out Vanitas Japan at Denimio. Your code is carpediem !

Webshop product page is launched:

https://www.denimio.com/vanitas-x-denimio-collaboration-mid-wallet-ego-01.html

 

 

The W & Anchor Bros. – Type 2 work shoe review

The W & Anchor Bros. is one of the shop brands of faith in Taipei, which specializes in work-wear, vintage goods and leathers. faith had been the first work-wear oriented shop in East Asia outside of Japan, and was the very first international stockist of The Real McCoy’s. Having traded slow-fashion and well-crafted garments for more than a decade, faith now has a couple of product lines of its own, mostly focusing on leather-related products.

Kurt, the store owner, had previously released a 1940s style work shoe back in 2014 under The W & Anchor Bros. brand, and earlier in the year the second iteration of this work shoe was produced, named the Type 2.

I’d first come across this pair of shoes on Instagram some months ago, and I had it on my list of footwear purchases to consider during my trip to Taiwan. Like I mentioned in my last post about my quest for shoes, this pair of work shoes won out as the single most worthwhile footwear purchase during this trip.

Let’s take a look!

 

Overview

The idea behind The W & Anchor Bros. work shoes is to create a work-style derby shoe that is based on the aesthetics of shoes from 1940’s America.

Specifically, worker’s shoes from the mid-century period worn by American postmen and related servicemen were the main inspirations behind the design of these work shoes. These shoes were designed for blue collar workers who were active and on their feet, and yet had additional requirements for smartness of attire and a clean appearance. As such, the styling of these shoes are matched with work-style clothing, such as denim jeans and chino pants.

As previously mentioned, Type I of this particular line of shoes was produced by Kurt in 2014, and there are also some two-tone versions and other prototypes that had been made. The Type 2 of 2017 you see here is an updated and upgraded version of the Type 1, incorporating improvements in details such as the toe-shape, up-turn, leather type, stitch-density, etc.

Old prototypes and samples dating back to 2014. I wouldn’t mind a blue pair too TBH.

Kurt has designed the shoe from the ground up, including custom lasts, and has partnered with a footwear workshop in his native Taiwan and Dr. Sole of Taipei to produce a pair of shoes that’s almost entirely made in Taiwan.

 

Shape & Fit

The shape of these Type 2 work shoes are rather striking, and very different from other work boots and shoes I’ve seen.

The toe is relatively wide, beginning with E width at the front of the toe box, progressing to EE width at the level of the metatarsal-phalangeal joints, where our feet are the widest. From the widest point the shoe begins to narrow to a D width at the mid-foot, then again widening back to E width at the heel.

These shoes are also quite tall in the toe box compared with other derby shoes, more similar to Japanese reproduction work shoes.

All in all, the slightly bulbous and wider toe shape is very much reminiscent of early to mid-century work boots, and yet the slimmer mid-section adds some elegance.

Further, the sole unit is slightly slanted, with the out-sole extending slightly further than the mid-sole. I feel this little detail really adds to the ruggedness of these shoes, giving them a more substantial appearance – this is most apparent when I place them side by side with my similarly coloured and shaped Nick’s derby shoes.

The up-turn of the toe is quite high, more noticeable compared with even work shoes were American makers such as White’s. There is a very gentle rocking sensation as I walk in these shoes, and despite the ruggedness and weight, there’s no tendency for my feet to drag.

The holding points on these Type 2 shoes are nicely distributed from the toe box down to the heels. For me, I sometimes have trouble with work shoes not being fitted enough around the ankles, but there’s no such problem with this pair.

My own feet measure a US 9 on the Brannock’s device, with a width between D & E. These shoes fit me perfectly, and despite them being extremely solid (and quite a bit heavier than most other shoes), I walked around Taipei all day on the first day of wear without any discomfort or blisters forming.

 

Leather

Leather from Horween tannery has been used for the Type 2.

However, rather than the standard fair of Chromexcel (CXL) or Cavalier, Kurt’s chosen to go all out and utilise the Essex, which is a pure vegetable tannage treated similarly to Horween’s own shell cordovan.

It is smoother and shinier compared with Horween’s more common re-tanned leathers, and ages more gracefully too.

Even after a couple of weeks of wear, this brown Essex leather has not dulled like CXL would. The handfeel also remains quite nice, unlike re-tanned leather which can sometimes feel more rough or gritty with wear.

Regardless, Horween’s various tannages are quite well suited for footwear, as these leathers are rugged, relatively dense and quite oily.

The inner lining consist of natural vegetable tanned leather.

 

Construction

The Type 2 work shoe has been produced via the Goodyear welted method, with a storm welt, additionally featuring double row stitching from the mid-foot forward.

This stitch-work here is dense  and one of the very neatest I’ve seen.

The outer edge of the midsole is beveled and burnished nicely.

The uppers are carefully pieced together. I cannot find one wonky stitch.

I really like the vintage-style detail, of having the middle row of stitching being wider and of a contrast colour.

The edges are finely folded in, resulting in a clean opening at the ankle.

Finally, the counter is tightly closed at the back.

Overall, even the smallest details are well looked after. There’re no random stains on the midsole, no unevenness in the leathers used, no rough edges or mismatched paneling between the two shoes.

These Type 2 work shoes are very well made indeed!

 

Sole Unit & Misc.

The 5 eyelets on either side are gun-metal paint coated.

The included tonal lacing are high quality, flat braided laces.

The tongue is additionally backed, and does not wobble or shift when worn.

The insole consist of layers of thick, natural vegetable tanned leather. Very well cushioned, and comfortable on my feet.

The added single layer of leather mid-sole is a nice touch. Many American derby shoes, e.g. Red Wing, lack this layer, and thus look insubstantial in comparison.

The soles and heels feature rubber products from Dr. Sole Originals, with the sole being customised with The W & Anchor Bros.’ logo.

These are very high quality components made in Taiwan, made of  cork-filled, nitrile compound, up to twice as costly to manufacture compared with the other soles & heels featured on nicer shoes. Like an upgraded version of what’s utilised on the Alden Indy’s, basically.

After testing these for a couple of weeks, I can confirm that the heels and soles wear slower compared to the Vibram’s and Itshide’s I have on my other shoes. I usually wear out heels pretty fast, and would put a dent into my heels within a week or so, but these Dr. Sole cork heels have proved fairly resistant.

I actually bought two more pairs of heels directly from the Dr. Sole concept store. I love the vintage-style washers and peg holes!

 

Thoughts

Without beating around the bush, I would like to say that this is my best <$500 footwear purchase these few years. The W & Anchor Bros. Type 2 work shoes are better in construction and more considerate in design than similarly priced work shoes from other parts of the world. The quality, both in terms of craft and materials utilized, are on par with Japanese shoes that could be twice as expensive.

Would you believe this pair of Type 2 work shoes is only $11, 000 NTD ($365 USD)???

Remarkable value indeed.

Beyond that, and the aspect of these shoes which impressed me the most, is the design of the small details and overall aesthetics. These work shoes are one of the most unique and flavorful I’ve come across, from the perspective of a work wear hobbyist. Recently, there has not been another pair of work shoes that’s caught my attention more than this pair from faith. As I look upon my rack of shoes and boots, all of them bench-made and many custom, these Type 2 work shoes stand out – the Nick’s Manito derby shoes sitting next to this pair really pales in comparison.

Credit for the awesomeness of these shoes goes to Kurt of course; it is only with his passion in the work-wear hobby and his many years of vintage collecting & leather product design work that a work shoe of this calibre could be engineered.

Kurt had mentioned that the retail pricing of this pair of work shoes should be much higher, and his margin of profit here is actually less than 10%! However, hobbyists world wide are yet to have associated Made in Taiwan with quality manufacturing as far as footwear are concerned, largely thinking that the standards are similar to what is Made in China, and thus it has been hard to convince stockists at trade shows to pay what the shoe is worth.

I really hope that through this review, these The W & Anchor Bros. work shoes will have changed your mind about the standard of excellence that is possible when a pair of shoes have been designed and made in Taiwan. I can’t think of any other work boot or shoe in the same price bracket that comes close to competing with this pair.

Long time readers of this blog will have noticed that I haven’t actually recommended folks to purchase any of the reviewed footwear on this blog in the past 18 months – there’s usually a problem with construct or the value proposition is low – but this pair from Kurt would really be a worthwhile purchase. IMO, if you’re a fan of rugged boots or work-wear, you must look into these Type 2 work shoes!

All in all, I’ve been super impressed, and I’m really hoping that Kurt will release more boots and shoes under his The W & Anchor Bros. brand.

(Seriously, if you have $360 lying around, buy this pair for yourself as a Xmas present!)

Shoe Quest in Taipei

Other than bringing my shoes and boots into Dr. Sole for repair, the other thing I really wanted to do in Taiwan was to find a pair of shoes that I can wear to the hospital on weekdays.

People often don’t know this, but before all our shoes were being made in China, they were made in Taiwan some decades back. There are still shoe factories and workshops in Taiwan capable of producing some really good stuff, so I went looking.

 

The first stop was the Red Wing Taipei store. Red Wing are American boots, but I was quite curious about their Irish Setter boots, after the recent rush by American stockists to sell these boots which were previously exclusive to Japan. I had the thought that the Irish Setter boots might be cheaper in Taiwan – IMO, at American retail prices, Red Wing boots are overpriced.

I must say, the exterior of the store was nicely done.

For whatever strange reason, the interior of the store was really dark!

It was difficult to assess the grain and colour of leathers.

Further, Red Wing did not allow any photography in the store, but did agree to me taking photos of boot fittings.

The range was pretty big, everything from basic moc-toes to Beckman chukkas. I was there to see the Irish Setters though – they had them available in 4 boot types (pecos, moc-toe boots, moc-toe shoes, plain-toe boots) and 2 leather types (oro-russet and black klondike).

I know the klondike leather is supposed to be tea-core and limited edition, etc. To me, however, as far as black leathers go, it was pretty average. Oil-tanned, slightly over-corrected, unremarkable hand.

The oro-russet wasn’t much better – it just had a more interesting colour.

The build of these shoes were fairly basic too, as far as Goodyear welted shoes go.

Anyway, RRP is 12000 NTD for the shoes and 15000 NTD for the boots, that’s 400 USD & 500 USD respectively!

Way overpriced, obviously.

I moved on from the Red Wing store pretty quickly after trying a couple of pairs.

 

Mother shrimp joined me for the rest of the journey.

Classic Works was next, and boy was it a treasure trove of Japanese footwear!

John Lofgren, Rolling Dub Trio, Moto, Addict Clothing, etc.

If I lived in Taiwan, I’d probably visit these guys very often.

It was great to see the Lofgren engineer boots in Badalassi tannery’s minerva leather (above), priced only just slightly above Japanese RRP. The Addict Clothing boots were pretty sensational too, and if I had my way I would have walked out with a pair of green engineer boots!!!

Mother shrimp veto’d the purchase though, and reminded me that doctors don’t wear ridiculously coloured, feminine boots. I wasn’t going to argue, and thus Japanese boots were off the menu.

The clerks were very enthusiastic in showing me some Japanese shell cordovan wallets though.

The one above is from the MasterHand brand by Barns Outfitters. Very reasonably priced for a shell cordovan wallet, saving cost by machine stitching the piece and using shell from the little known Miyauchi tannery in Japan.

Another interesting piece was a more expensive shell wallet by The Superior Labor. The Shinki shell cordovan featured had a nicer shine and better hand-feel compared with the Miyauchi shell. Despite the added expense, the wallet is machine-stitched still.

I moved on from Classic Works with some reluctance, and later regret not taking more photos of the footwear they stocked. Again, and perhaps this is the trend in Taiwan, the interior of the store was very poorly lit, and my photos did not turn out nice enough for me to show here.

 

I took a detour to Take Five, as I wanted to see what the new Benny’s Store was all about. Take Five remains the most complete stockist of Japanese brands in Taiwan, although if you’re not a member, expect to pay a significant overseas premium.

Well, Benny’s Store basically stocks stuff like Orgueil – earlier time periods, more ‘gentlemen’ style pieces. Anyway, neither part of the store had anything close to my size…

Judging by the decor you can certainly tell Take 5 is doing better than their competitors though, haha! That being said, the vast majority of what Take 5 stocks can be more cheaply acquired though Denimio or Okayama Denim, and in larger sizes too.

 

US Country Store was right across the road from Take 5, and most of the store is now Trophy!

Trophy is, of course, known among denim nerds for the ‘dirt’ denim they use. I was more interested in their tops though, and unfortunately they don’t make anything for the upper body that would fit me.

I had a look at Trophy’s engineer boots too. Lofgren’s is a better boot, to be honest.

They had a nice bike displayed out front.  🙂

 

Next stop was Jeans Da!

I’ve been seeing these guys pop up on Instagram, and they’ve been pretty keen on marketing to Westerners too, so I was keen to see what’s up.

The store was nicely lit, very well decorated, and supremely photogenic!

However, it was clear by what was being sold up front (various denim treatments and detergents) that Jeans Da was aimed at the denim beginner and non-hobbyists.

Jeans Da sells mainly goods under their own brand. Their denim garments are mostly designed in Taiwan and made in Japan. There was a big focus on washed and distressed jeans; speaking bluntly, the house-style wasn’t my cup of tea.

There was a sashiko + horsehide coat that caught my eye, and yet again the largest size was much too small for me.  😦

Back on track for my shoe shopping.

Jeans Da has a range of boots and shoes that are made in Taiwan!

Pricing is 450 to 500 USD.

I thought their shoes were quite interesting, with a funny ‘biscuit’ toe shape. They didn’t come with rubber soles, however.

Waxed flesh too!

I’ll pick these over Red Wing any day.

Their boots tempted me, but I was resolved to find a pair of shoes instead.

Thinking on it now, at 500 USD I would expect nicer leathers on these shoes and boots – you can see in the photos here that the clicking ain’t so great on many of the pairs.

Jeans Da was interesting for sure. Not the type of brand that I would wear, but happy to see Taiwanese folks give the denim and work-wear game a go.

 

My final destination was faith, of course.

I’ve visited Kurt at faith a couple of times over the years, and I remember checking out some Buzz Rickson T-shirts at his old store, which was about half the size of my garage.

Long time readers of my blog will have read a couple of posts and reviews I’ve written over the years about products from Kurt too.

faith is a lot less glamorous than the other stores, and yet it was the first and most steadfast. Kurt was one of the very first vintage and Americana hobbyists in Taiwan, and was in fact The Real McCoy’s first international stockist – a fact that the new boss at McCoy has seemingly overlooked in favor of reaching minimum orders, apparently.

Walking through the store…yes, it is a little cramped, and yes, a little disorganized…but you can tell straight away that the store is run by a true hobbyist, and not a businessman. I could spend all day here, but I was mainly here to buy shoes.

I didn’t take much notice of the garments in store – I knew that nothing would fit me anyway.

Kurt has launched his own product lines in recent years however, and it was the SFK leather goods and The W & Anchor Bros. work shoes that I came to see.

I should mention Kurt has some nice machines.

Through his own brands, Kurt’s made everything from belts to candles.

The designs are actually really nice!

Kurt’s got a good eye for vintage-style detailing, and it shows in the products that he designs or makes.

Admittedly, some of the finer leather work details are not quite at the level of the wallets and belts I’ve showcased on this blog, but the aesthetics are pretty spot on.

So many trinkets! I almost didn’t know where to look – at every corner there was an interesting vintage piece or one of Kurt’s new products.

The work was solid and honest.

The latest belts were particularly nice.

The tea core leather that Kurt uses is much better than Red Wing’s klondike.

Then I saw this guy…

…and my quest came to an abrupt end.

These were absolutely the most beautiful pair of work shoes I’ve seen!!!

Made in Taiwan too!

And at 11000 NTD (367 USD), cheaper than the local Red Wing shoes!

If it were possible to fall in love at first sight with a pair of shoes, that was the moment for me.

Even mother shrimp, who had been unimpressed earlier with the Japanese shoes at Classic Works, recommended I buy this pair.

Well, long story short, mother shrimp ended up buying these for me, and I will have a review of this pair of work shoes for you in a few days!

Thanks mum  🙂

m^2 minimum squared – Slim Wallet review

I’m hoping to show you something a little bit different today. This piece we’ll be looking right now is a wallet, yes, though rather different compared with the usual you’d have seen on this blog.

m^2 (minimum squared) is a husband and wife team from Valencia, Spain. Adrian & Sanela specialize in carefully engineered, minimalist wallets. They follow the motto that form follows function; the idea, specifically, is for their wallets to occupy the least amount of space and at the same time having enough capacity to carry – in a user friendly manner – the cards & notes that are essential for everyday. Adrian & Sanela had solved this little riddle, and the resulting design (their Slim Wallet with Elastic, SWE) actually won a Red Dot Design Award in 2016.

The wallet sent to me for review today is the newest version of the award winning original – the Slim Wallet (no elastic, SW) in Horween’s Dublin leather.

I am aware that there are already some reviews out on the internet over the past years of m^2’s wallets, and so today – rather than a generic overview – I’ll try to think about this Slim Wallet (SW) from a work-wear & leather geek’s perspective.

 

Packaging

The SW comes nicely parceled in a sturdy box with a personalized note and a very cute little chain of sample swatches, showcasing the various leather options available.

One of the neatest packaging presentation on a workshop leather piece I’ve seen until now.

 

Design

The design is where the SW stands apart from the many other wallets that have been featured here over the years. Firstly, the function over form approach is fairly unusual in our hobby, and the extreme levels of minimalism and ergonomics involved in this wallet are usually not part of the work-wear or leather-craft hobbies.

In terms of two dimensional footprint, the SW has a surface area not too much bigger than a credit card. This is significant because the SW can actually carry 10 cards and a handful of notes comfortably.

Considering the three dimensional volume, at near maximum capacity – carrying 10 cards, 8 notes – the SW has the rough dimensions of 9 cm x 7 cm x 1.5 cm. Thinking about it a different way…the SW occupies less than half the volume of a traditional billfold, yet carries the same amount of items!

This massive carrying capacity, relative the the small space and mass of the leather piece, has been made possible by engineering – Adrian is an engineer by trade, and he has adopted a mathematical approach to the design of the SW, which is based on their original SWE design from a few years back. The SW mostly just does away with the elastic band.

A single piece of leather is transformed into a small wallet with 4 card slots and 1 notes compartment. The pattern design and folding lay-out is actually, the more I think about it, totally genius.

All the card slots are oriented in the same direction, and will either hold two or three cards (indicated in the photos here) with the same, relatively tight tension.

The two front slots are easy to access, whilst retrieval from the two inner slots will require you to open up the notes compartment as below.

The notes compartment is very well sized and easy to use. It will hold all the common international currencies – I’ve tried Australian, American, Taiwanese, Japanese – without the need to fold the notes.

The top flap is tucked between the two sides of the body once the wallet is loaded, and this little number will fit pretty much anywhere – front pocket, back pocket, shirt pocket, vest pocket – without distorting the drape of the garment too much.

 

Leather

m^2 is probably best known for their use of British vegetable tanned goat leather on their SWE, though my SW is the latest version made of Horween’s Dublin leather.

To enable the complex folding required for the design, the Dublin leather utilised has been skivved – using a laser – down to 0.7 mm thick! At this thickness, the leather is entirely in the grain layer; I can even see some pores from the backside of the leather.

The SW is further available in various colours of CXL, but Dublin is the nicer leather if you’re a leather purist.

Horween’s Dublin is one of their newer full-vegetable tannages, applying Horween’s method of manufacturing shell cordovan to cattlehide. The straight veg tan is the Essex, whereas the Dublin is the wax-finished version of the Essex.

CXL, on the other hand, is a re-tanned leather (chromed then briefly vegged) – more rugged, but less graceful over time.

In reviewing this wallet, I used it pretty intensely over a two week period, and in the photos below you can see how the leather ages initially:

And more:

What you can observe here is that the leather’s significant oil content and pull-up allows it to age in a way which is vastly different from most natural vegetable tanned leathers. The evolution aesthetics is very recognizably Horween!

The relatively early stretching and changing of shape is mostly due to the thinness of the leather, but its softer temper plays a role too.

 

Construct

The crafting of this wallet is an interesting combination of modern tech and traditional hand-work.

First, the hide of leather is neatly skived to thickness using laser, and one piece of  leather is cut from the hide, also using laser!

The cutting of this single piece pattern is incredibly precise, of course, and this precision is absolutely required in the next step, where the leather is folded – origami style – into the thin but complex layers you see below, thus forming the various slots and compartments of the SW.

The fact that the final result, seen here, is symmetrical and matching means that not even a millimeter of error can be made from the very first step.

The end result, despite its minimalism, is quite remarkable from a technical perspective.

Sanela’s hand-stitching is done with Ritza 25 waxed polyester thread.

Stitches have been sewn at 6 SPI.

Overall, very straight lines and neatly stitched. There are six thread colours to choose from, and I’ve settled on the tonal brown stitch.

The folded edges end up on the same side, whereas the opposite end consist of the open edges. The leather has been laser-cut, so the open edges have a particular ‘burnt’ edge that comes with this high-heat cutting process that doesn’t require further burnishing.

After using the wallet for a period of time, I’ve come to appreciate that the various edges and corners on the SW all contribute in someway to the end goals of user friendliness and minimized volume.

While simple in appearance, from concept to crafting, there has been a deceptively large amount of effort invested in a very small wallet.

Certainly, not just another card wallet. The SW is very precisely made, and despite the relative simply appearance at first glance, the construct is much more complex compared with traditional wallets and it is quite clear on close examination that every little detail has been carefully studied and applied.

 

Thoughts

Overall?

I am certainly very impressed by the design concepts and precise make of the Slim Wallet from minimum squared.

It is my smallest wallet by far, even smaller than some of my card-holders, and yet the capacity is that of a full-sized billfold. The engineering and crafting considerations that’s been injected into the SW is certainly much more refined and complex compared to most other wallets.

The SW is not a work-wear wallet though.

While there is no strict definition or inclusion/exclusion criteria when it comes to work-wear leathers, the SW’s novel design, overall small size and very thin leather utilized does mean that guys who are into Americana or early century work-wear won’t be very interested in the aesthetics here. By design it is small and light, and yet for followers of rugged styles the insubstantial nature of the SW is the biggest drawback.

That being said, there is a new breed of denim fans out there: dudes who are into modern cuts and clean, sleek silhouettes. The SW could be a great choice if minimalism is your cup of tea.

Of course, for guys who wear formal clothing nine to five, the SW fits perfectly into your jacket’s inside pocket and won’t distort your lines. It would be a great wallet for travelling, sporting or hiking too.

From a leather or carry-good geek’s perspective, the SW is a great addition to any collection, occupying the “smallest & lightest” niche when it comes to wallets. The materials and crafting featured are on point.

At 165 EUR, the SW seems a little pricey relative to its size – most card holders of similar size are under 75 EUR – but do keep in mind that the SW is, in fact, a true wallet rather than a simple holder. Further, as explained in the body of this review, the amount of work that is invested into each SW is pretty insane.

All in all, a very interesting addition to my vault of wallets. The SW is certainly like nothing else I’ve ever used, with the design and execution being uncommonly precise. This minimum squared wallet is a very unique piece that I’ll continue to carry when I want to travel lightly.

Check out more of Adrian and Sanela’s work on their m^2 website!

 

 

 

Dr. Sole and HEYOU Art & Craft Department

My recent trip to Taiwan and Okinawa was a family trip and I didn’t get much time to pursue my interests. That said, I managed to steal a couple of afternoons to go shopping, and did accidentally stumble across a pair of souvenir jeans in Ishigaki.

Apart from meeting up with Bryan (which I covered in one of last week’s posts) I’d been wanting to get a few pairs of boots & shoes fixed up at Dr. Sole and also hoped to find a pair of nice Taiwanese shoes.

I wasn’t looking to purchase any garments, as imported brands from Japan and the US do incur a mark-up, and also because Taiwanese stores don’t really stock clothes in my size. Leather goods wise, I wasn’t able to visit any of the local workshops due to time constraints, though I certainly hope to do so at some point in the future.

One general observation is that denim and Americana don’t have big followings in Taiwan. There is a small but dedicated circle of vintage collectors and work-wear hobbyists, but the scene is not very busy – there certainly has not been an explosion of interest as we’ve seen in South East Asia.

There’s probably a few factors at play here. What’s obvious to me is that, firstly, despite Americans having a presence in Taiwan since WWII, post-war obsession with American culture never really caught on, at least no where close to what’s occurred in Japan.

Second, the economy has been stagnate for almost two decades; the majority of younger folks don’t have the spare money to waste on superfluous hobbies like artisan jeans or Goodyear footwear. Consider the fact that the price of a pair of Red Wing boots or Samurai Jeans is about one-third of the local worker’s monthly salary. It’s harder to justify a NTD 15,000 pair of boots when a decent breakfast can be had for NTD 50. There are many other aspects to consider, such as the influence of collectivism and the rise of nationalism among the younger generations, but given I’ve been living in Australia for so long, the nuances here escape me.

Anyway, my first stop in Taiwan was Dr. Sole.

Footwear enthusiasts among us would have heard of these guys – Dr. Sole not only does bench re-builds for shoes and boots, but also produce a Original line of retro-style soles and heels which have the durability of modern materials.

I’d been wanting to get my Tricker’s Grasmere and Stow boots resoled for some time now. My RM Williams camel craftsman was very much in need of fixing up. Also, I’d wanted to change up the sole unit for my Barker shoes. You can see them on the counter in the photo below:

The dudes at Dr. Sole are super cool, and spend most of their time in the workshop at the back of the store, behind the black shelves in the photo above.

The boss, Lin, is the tall bloke on the right.

These guys are talented cobblers, and significant for boot lovers, Dr. Sole specialize in Goodyear welted and stitch-down resoles. Their prices are reasonable too, considering the high quality hand work and materials involved.

There’s lots of interesting goodies lying around, everything from vintage Cat’s Paw stuff to Dr. Sole’s own Original rubber goods.

I didn’t have nearly enough time to look it over however, as my family had a dinner reservation and were quite annoyed by my prolonged browsing. My mother commented to the Dr. Sole guys that we are all crazy…

Lin himself is a big American boots fan, and has a few vintage pairs on display, among customers’ boots waiting to be collected and Simple Sample‘s line of ladies’ work footwear.

Simple Sample‘s women’s boots looked fantastic!

Mrs. Shrimp wasn’t interested, unfortunately…

Dr. Sole doesn’t have its own brand of men’s footwear yet, though it does offer expertly resoled/refurbished boots for sale. Certainly, the Red Wing boots that had been reworked looked so much better with the nicer sole units.

The shop was full of little curiosities. I do regret not being able to look through everything.

Their collection of vintage heels and soles was awesome. All in smaller sizes, but it was great to see so many different types in one place.

The Dr. Sole Original products are the nicest modern rubber soles and heels I’ve come across. From this point forward I do think I’ll be using mostly their rubbers when it comes to fixing up my boots.

These honestly look and wear nicer compared with most of the American & British rubber goods.

I bought some of the cork heels and two bottles of Huberd’s Shoe Oil. I would’ve purchased more, but I was uncertain about the heel sizes of my various boots.

Lin briefly discussed some of the key points in boot re-building, pointing out the various possibilities and limitations. These guys don’t take short-cuts, and an extraordinary amount of hand-work is involved, much more compared with the average cobbler joint.

He mentioned American stitch-downs like White’s or Wesco can be converted into Goodyear construct.

Lin’s own boots on the day were pretty cool too. Dude’s got big feet, and he’s wearing modded Viberg’s which he has painted himself:

This was a really cool shop to say the least, and certainly an important destination for boot freaks who visit Taiwan.

I ended up leaving my four pairs of boots & shoes with Dr. Sole. It’ll be another 2 months or so before they’ll be done – I’ll show you some photos of the results hopefully in January next year.

Jordan, also a part of the Dr. Sole team, is a leather craftsman – he runs HEYOU Art&Craft Department, which has a small shop right next to Dr. Sole.

The shop was small, but it was jam packed with all sorts of goodies!

Again, I’m regretting not being able to spend enough time looking through all the little things. By this point, mother shrimp and Mrs. shimp just about had enough.

Apart from Jordan’s own crafts, the store also stocks some vintage goods, Adjustable Costume, etc. All very interesting for sure.

Jordan makes some really nice leather goods – his bags and belts in particular are rather unique. There were also jewelry, handkerchiefs, hand-straps, hats, wallets….

I was quite taken by Adjustable Costume’s work pants, and decided to place an order (no size 36s in store, haha) for a pair with a special fabric. Hopefully I’ll be able to show you this special pair in a couple of months.

Definitely, a store for me to visit again…by myself of course.

I’d run out of time at that point and my family dragged me away to dinner. However, it was mission accomplished with regards to dropping off my boots, and I’ve put in an order for some new work pants too.

If you ever visit Taipei, definitely give Dr. Sole and HEYOU a visit. Dr. Sole does allow international customers to send their boots in for re-building, so get in touch with them for your footwear needs.

Visit this blog again in a couple of days when I’ll show you my later stops in Taiwan!