This is Charlie's journey resurrecting a pair of his favorite engineer boots with Unsung House.
One of the main draws of purchasing and wearing welted footwear is the ability to resole your boots and shoes when they start to wear down. If you find that whatever soles you were using wore away too quickly, or were too slippery, or too hard, you can get new and different ones slapped on that better fit your lifestyle. But what if your boots never fit quite right in the first place? What if, over the course of you wearing them, you found yourself disliking the shape, or last, that they were built on? What could you do then?
Get them relasted, of course. A very talented cobbler can not only restitch a welted boot, but can also remove the midsole and insole, and stretch the boot over a new last, effectively changing the shape of the boot. The last can be made to fit your feet, for a truly custom fit.
The issue is that it's difficult to get your boots relasted. The Pacific Northwest makers like Wesco will only relast their own boots, and with cobbling and cordwaining becoming an ever dwindling profession, there are few independent craftspeople remaining who have the skill and talent to relast boots and shoes.
I had a pair of engineer boots that I didn’t know what to do with. They were made by Onderhoud from Indonesia. They were expertly made. Rizky, the man behind Onderhoud, is considered by many to be the most talented among the Indonesian bootmakers.
My issue was that the fit wasn’t quite right, the shape was a little too derby-ish, and that the heel was missing the oomph that a classic engineer boot should have. For these reasons, I didn’t really wear them anymore, and was considering selling them. It wasn’t until I saw Unsung House pop up on Instagram that I considered remaking them into the boots I had wanted in the first place.
Great work from Onderhoud, but they were not the right shape for my feet
I decided that Unsung House would be the ones to relast my Onderhoud engineers, I reached out over Instagram to the @unsung.houseaccount. Now, if there is something I don’t like doing, its cold DMing Instagram accounts to inquire about services. A lot of Instagram-based makers and craftspeople, while being extremely talented artisans, generally offer pretty poor customer service. The good ones are often either too overwhelmed with work or orders to reply to inquiries, too short staffed (these outfits are often run by, at most, two people) to offer the close touch communication-style that shopping for an MTO item requires.
Grant, who runs the Instagram account, replied promptly and we got down to work talking price, options, and estimated time for completion. He was extremely helpful and responsive, walking me through different options (of which there are many).
From Unsung House's delicious menu
I waffled for a while about what I should get. After all, I was trying to build the boot that I had wanted in the first place. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with the work from Onderhoud. The stitchwork was great, the edges were all well sanded and finished, and the heel was pleasantly beveled.
The issue was the last. It was too derby-like, as if the last that was used had been borrowed from one meant for another type of shoe. In the end, I ended up going with a flat welt on top of a Dr. Sole supergrip half-sole. Of the three lasts that Unsung offer, I chose their propriatory No. 2 last. Grant designed it specifically for an unstructured engineer boot, with a taller toebox that would eventually collapse with a nice pleasing roll to it. Since I have odd banana feet with a large forefoot and a narrow heel, Grant felt that this last would fit me best.
The last thing I had to do before Grant could start was send him detailed measurements and tracings of my feet. Since you should never do this yourself, I tricked Xavier, my coworker at S&S NYC, into doing it for me. I told him it was part of his training, and he believed me. He had been hired that week, and was easy prey. Sorry buddy. Once that was done, I packed up my boots with the tracings, shipped them off to Grant, and eagerly awaited the ~4 weeks it would take for him to relast them.
Grant stayed in close contact the whole time, checking in with me about little details and suggestions he had. He also requested a picture of my feet to get an idea of their shape. Without socks. I held my breath, texted my wife that I loved her, and then I obliged.
Censored to protect our dignity. Standard & Strange is a family store, and this is our family blog.
Throughout the relasting process, Grant sent frequent updates, including minor adjustments to the heel stacks. I was very specific in that I wanted a certain shape. After some back and forth, he delivered exactly what I wanted.
Getting the boots back from Unsung House took about three weeks, and when they arrived at S&S NYC, I was eager to get them on. They looked like completely different boots to me. The shape was much more suited to my ideal sense engineers, and the heel stack was even better in person.
The heel counters had be brought back to life as well, so heel cup held its shape. The welt looked beautiful, with tight and even stitching, with a very high SPI (stitches per inch).
The stance was also perfect, with the bottom of the sole and heel sitting evenly on the ground, which even the best ready-to-wear makers can mess up sometimes. Brass nails now reinforced where the half sole met the center of the boot, and the hand-done stitch around the center of the half sole was a nice touch and evenly done.
The toe shape was also exactly what I was after, and much more boot-like. They looked like Engineer boots with a capital E, and I was over the moon
I could not (and still have not) found a flaw in the work done.
Putting them on, I was shocked. These engineer boots had gone from a so-so fit to probably the best fitting boots I had ever owned. Grant had somehow turned those tracings of mine into a 3-dimensional shape that fit the contures of my foot perfectly.
I had never considered that engineer boots could have arch support to rival the Pacific Northwest makers, but there it was, the inside sweep of the boot cradling my arch nicely. My heel, making that satisfying thunk into the counter, felt secure without any heel slip whatsoever. I didn’t even need to use the instep straps anymore to get a secure fit in the boot. I was floored. In fact, I’m still floored these many months later.
The job Grant did has held up wonderfully. The upper is molding in a new way to my foot, and the oak bark tanned insole is nicely formed to the bottom of my foot. With the midsole fully broken in, the boots are flexible and comfortable to wear all day long. The home-made edge dye is fading slowly but nicely, and the edges are still nice and dark. There is no splitting in the heel stack or where the welt meets the midsole. Everything has held together without any flaws.
For less than half the price of a custom boot, Grant has delivered what is essentially a new boot custom fit to my feet. The fact that he was able to do this remotely is very impressive, and I can only imagine how they would fit had he measured and worked with me in person.