Friday, June 9, 2017

The Value Boot Proposition - Indonesian MTO

Junkard SC 2089 Boot in  Brandy Shell Cordovan

Allen Edmonds Eagle County
It was only a few years ago that Allen Edmonds was giving Styleforum members free MTO options on all of their models, including clearance items. If reading that didn't rustle your jimmies, allow me to explain: you would pick out a clearance item, change whatever you wanted aside from the basic skeleton until it often resembled very little of its original incarnation, have it made as a one-off, and then pay the clearance price with your MTO fees waived. How do those jimmies feel now? 

I used the service just once in 2013 on a pair of unfortunate-looking boots called the Eagle County, but it was incredible. A customer service angel named Allison handled all of AE's communication for MTOs, and she went as far as to send me a sample pair of shoes in the same last, shipped free both ways just so I could try them on for size before I ordered. I changed a lot of it, naturally - went for walnut calf from what looked to me to be a pretty unattractive original choice, brass eyelets and 3 speed hooks vs 2 hooks + regular top eyelet, upgraded to a full independence lambskin lining and insole, black split reverse welt, brown transparent edge dressing, and switched out the chunky Harrier sole for a Toby mini lug outsole. All for free. Final price? $197 shipped.

My Allen Edmonds "Eagle County" MTO
So while that option is sadly gone now, the good news is that there's been an explosion of viable alternatives in the entry-level welted footwear market once occupied by only a few merchants. However, there are still not a lot of made-to-order (MTO) options at the price point. Meermin are probably the most famous of these, running group pre-funded MTO orders similar to how Gustin's business model works - who coincidentally also produce boots now. Still, those MTO options are all preset, so there's no customization you can do as an individual to the specifications already decided upon.

In the last few years, though, a separate market has emerged in the international community from an entirely new corner of the world: Indonesia. Back in the 1920s, in the city of Bandung's district of Cibaduyut, a seed was planted that would eventually establish the area as the center of the country's shoe industry. Workers from the original factories eventually branched off and formed their own factories, and today there spans a 2 km stretch of shoe factories in Cibaduyut  - one of the largest in Asia. More recently, a small number of those shops have come to specialize in custom-made welted shoes and boots, which is the focus of this discussion.

Txture Supremacy Boots

Those who follow the work over the years have noticed that the quality of materials and craftsmanship have come leaps and bounds in a relatively short amount of time. In-house last development, finer construction techniques, and training capable craftsmen not used to making lower-end cemented footwear are all arduous processes, but lately there have been some good things coming down the pipeline.

From the many reviews and commentary I've looked at, the strengths of the Indonesian MTO are many:

Junkard waxed flesh, triple leather midsole, commando
half/heel sole combo
  • Affordability - Prices range generally from mid $100-200s for standard leathers like calf and domestic pull-up up to $400s for shell cordovan (typically from Rocado or Shinki-Hikaku + shipping to the US, which averages around $60 USD. Even with shipping, that places them squarely in the territory of industry strongholds like Red Wing and Wolverine. In addition, that affordability extends to some of the more interesting leathers that are available with a small number of shoemakers - stuff like waxed rough out, crusted leather, etc.
  • Customization - Want a roughout service boot with a plain captoe, double midsole, dainite outsole, in 270 degree stitchdown construction? No problem. Wingtips with a spinning-stitched Norwegian 360 welt and Cuban heels? Fine. Monkey boots on a crepe sole? You got it. 
Junkard MTO Form

  • Hand Finishing - On average, there's a large amount of hand finishing that goes into the work, such as handwelting. Emil from Winson features fiddleback waists on some of his shoes, closed channel stitching, etc. I'd caution that more hand finishing doesn't necessarily translate into better finishing, however.
  • Service Boots - For whatever reason, service boots seem to be the specialty of the Indonesian market - less so closed-lacing and more formal footwear. Those pining for a Viberg or Truman service boot without the ability to spend that amount of money on it now have a more affordable alternative for the general aesthetic.
  • Uniqueness - There's a very slim chance you'll ever come across another guy wearing those same boots in your lifetime.
Sagara Rocado Shell Cordovan Regent Boots

It's not all rainbows and sunshine, though. There are also some important downsides that are worth noting:

  • Communication - Communication is well known to be challenging, at the very least. And that's ignoring the language barrier. It's become basically the norm to read reviews focused in large part on how frustrating it is to try and correspond with the vendor at various points of the process (and more often after the sale, unfortunately). It's not unheard of for Txture, one of the more prominent and impressive brands around, to go silent for weeks at a time without replying to inquiries. The prevailing theory is that it's largely due to the small amount of people employed - most of which don't speak English, but there are many who think it might be more than that. It should also be said that they aren't all that bad. Winson is probably known as the best in terms of customer service, based on feedback around the web. Many companies are also more easily contacted using Whatsapp, Instagram, or Line rather than email.
  • Materials - The quality of leather domestically is reportedly not quite up to standards abroad as of yet. In particular, there seems to be a lot of domestic pull-up leather which, while not being a solid indicator of quality, is almost always much thinner as well and suffers from loose grain. However, I've seen some nice rough outs and imported cordovan from Europe and Asia, and the quality of leather that's sourced can vary quite a bit from maker to maker. One small annoyance that many guys (including myself) can't unsee once you've noticed it are the huge gaping eyelets used. Some companies have started importing smaller eyelets at the request of many customers, but it's by no means universal. Similarly, branded rubber soles are harder to find, and you'll generally see that domestic rubber wears much faster than outsoles from Vibram or ITSHIDE.
  • Inconsistency - Indonesian work seems to vary quite a bit from maker to maker, and in some regards seem to be pretty variable depending on the particular model, or even the particular order. You'll sometimes notice some wandering stitching lines if you pay close attention, less consistent clicking, looser tolerances, etc. These are problems that exist in the American/European market as well, but it seems to happen at a higher frequency in Indonesian work right now. I think it's safe to say that, while cheaper, the work cannot go head to head with established bootmakers at 3x the price.
  • Last Forms - Boots like the 1000 Mile and Indy boot have been produced off the same last designs for god knows how long. But developing lasts is a not a minor process and generally requires a great deal of trial and error to get it right. A lot of Indonesian lasts are a bit on the clunky and voluminous side compared to their American and European counterparts, and proportions can look a little off. This seems also highly dependent on the maker, and things seem to be getting better all the time.
  • International Pricing - International customers are frequently charged a higher price than domestic.
  • Distance - similar to buying from European companies, shipping and returns internationally are a huge pain and worthy of consideration in their own right. So sizing becomes a critical issue, and getting details confirmed with someone who doesn't speak English natively becomes even more important.

The Short List - Indonesian Shoe and Bootmakers


Txture Pacific Boots

Txture - Some of the cleanest work around, with one of the largest catalogue of available options, including multiple lasts with various profiles. This would be in my top choices if not for one thing - customer service is famously atrocious. I also don't understand the decorative white stitching line on the side they keep trying to add to all their boots.

Sagara Liberty Boots
Sagara - Probably the most refined and visionary Indonesian shoemakers, and also one of the most expensive. Still, Sagara's work is clearly some of the best. Both standing stock and MTO options available, though wait times seem to be on the higher end.

Junkard SC2078 Natural CXL

Junkard - A wealth of available options, supposedly better customer service than Txture. Standard toe is unstructured, instep is on the higher side, and the last is a bit pointier at the toe than some other options, though I've read they can also build off of the newer, rounder last if requested.

Winson Inception Boot

Winson - One of the smaller operations, more focused on dress shoes per report, seems to have the balls to try almost anything (both good and bad). Some of their creations are flat out crazy (see above). Supposedly fantastic customer service.

Santalum Service Boot

Santalum (no active website at time of this post) - Not my favorite outfitter, from what I've seen. Some mixed reviews regarding customer service out there, they offer shell but at a higher price than most, seem to have slightly lower finishing level than Sagara and Txture perhaps.

Chevalier Captoe Chromexcel

Chevalier (website not functional) - Chevalier were featured as a group buy on Massdrop a few times with one of their Chromexcel offerings. Fairly well-reviewed, though sizing turned out to be an issue for a few and some noted feedback regarding the quality of domestic leather, as discussed above (this is not a Chevalier-specific problem).

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I've been turning over the idea of giving one of these companies a try later this year, but my basic requirements are this: an attractive last, quality leather (probably imported or from one of the higher quality tanneries in Indonesia), imported/branded rubber outsoles, smaller eyelets, clean finishing, and adequate customer service.

For further reading into the Indonesian , try Reddit's Goodyearwelt, Styleforum (Junkard, Sagara), or searching the local Darahkubiru forum (Sagara, Txture, Junkard, Winson, Chevalier) for a good amount of pictures. Most companies are also found on social media and update fairly regularly.

















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