Here’s a little fact about me: I am pretty obsessed with Indonesia. I live in New York City but I grew up in Australia, where Indonesia is our largest neighboring country and our relationship with them has always been really fascinating to me. If you’re American, try imagining if Mexico had ten times your population and they were all Muslims, and you can get a very rough idea as to the dynamic between the two nations. It’s a very interesting place.
Anyway, for a long time Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch and one thing the Dutch brought with them was a love of traditionally made European leather boots. (I’m obviously simplifying the ins and outs of colonization here, I’m just saying what’s relevant to this review.) That industry took root and after the Dutch left in the 1940s it remained, and now Indonesia has a special place in boot culture as the place to get nice, handmade, European-style leather boots for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the “Western World.”
Sagara, based in the West Javan capital of Bandung, is Indonesia’s most popular bootmaker and I was so interested in their story that I actually interviewed Sagara’s founder to learn more about them. Then I decided I had to try out their boots to see what all the hype is about.
Sagara Legacy First Glance
- “Stylishly sturdy”
- Cigar pull up leather
- Similar to Higgins Mill
- Lined with lambskin
- Easy to dress up
Sagara told me the Legacy, Regent, and Cordmaster are their most popular boots and I decided to go with the Legacy IX, a classic derby boot which they describe as “good looking,” and “comfortable yet it’s stylishly sturdy.” That description fits.
I need to emphasize you can customize this shoe with a ton of different leathers and soles, which I’ll describe in more detail below, but I went with their cigar pull up leather. I have to say it came a bit darker than I was expecting based on the picture on their site, but still it’s a pretty nice leather. (Though it didn’t waste any time creasing.)
The boot has a gusseted tongue, it’s fully lined with lambskin, it came with the “Sagara rubber sole,” and if this boot reminds you of the Allen Edmonds Higgins Mill, you’re not alone.
[Read my full review of the Allen Edmonds Higgins Mill (on the right) here!]
There really are quite a few similarities between the two, although a big difference is the Higgins Mill is storm welted while the Legacy IX is hand welted, a super laborious process and something you never see on boots at this price point.
Still, the silhouette and the aesthetics aren’t far off : this is a very nice, basic, plain toe boot. The toe isn’t crazy flat but nonetheless, this is definitely a boot that’s easy to dress up and not all that hard to dress down.
Sagara Legacy IX Boot Leather
- Cigar pull up leather
- Sagara’s least expensive leather
- Chrome tanned
- Indonesian cowhide
- Accrued marks and creases easily
When you order this boot you can pick from fifteen different leathers, including aniline dyed pull up, pull up retan, rough out, butter calf leather and plenty of others.
This is their cigar pull up leather. I should point out that it is their cheapest leather, which I didn’t quite understand when I ordered it, but that’s my fault because I didn’t take a close look at the prices list they sent me. The cigar pull up leather is made from full grain cowhide and tanned with a chromium tanning agent, which makes it chrome tanned leather, and it’s finished with various kind of oil and waxes.
[Learn more about the differences between chrome tanned and vegetable tanned leather so you can make the right choice for your boots!]
And it’s Indonesian leather. Sagara keeps the precise tannery they use secret, which might sound strange to most people but it actually isn’t that unusual, a lot of brands — Tricker’s comes to mind —do the same because it helps to keep competitors from stealing their look. But not all their leather is Indonesian: they have cordovan and calfskin from Italy and Japan, they’ve got Japanese horsehide, and some of their boots are made from Horween Leather Company but this boot’s upper is domestic Indonesian cowhide.
Like I mentioned earlier, it creased and marked relatively easily. Being chrome tanned and not veg tanned might have something to do with it, but in any case I was staying at a friend’s place for the first week of wear and didn’t bring shoe trees, so that might be my fault.
Sagara Leather Care
- Sagara prefers “all natural” products
- Saphir’s is highly recommended
- Use Greasy Leather Cream or Renovateur
- Sagara will treat boots for free
Sagara believes that only products with natural ingredients are the best for caring for their leather. To that end, they recommend the very popular boot care products from Saphir. (Venetian Shoe Cream might be more popular, but does contain a “very small amount of very high grade petroleum distillate” in their formula.)
You’d probably be fine with Saphir’s Greasy Leather Cream or their Renovateur if you want your shoes to come out a little shinier. Like I said, this boot is easy to dress up and can definitely be worn with slacks and a blazer, so a shinier shoe might be up your alley.
Sagara told me they are planning on coming out with their own leather conditioner as well. They haven’t yet, but I’m sure it’ll be available on their site once they have.
Sagara will also treat your boots for you for free if you pay for shipping, which might sound like a good deal until you remember that shipping boots to and from Indonesia costs about $70 each way. So I’d just stick with Saphir for now!
Sagara Boot Sole
- Micro Rubber outsole
- Leather midsole and insole
- Not very flexible
- Contains EVA foam
You can get these shoes with a leather sole or a Commando sole but I went with the 100% Micro Rubber outsole that they call “Sagara Rubber.” (Mostly because it’s covered in cool angel wings.) I was pleased with it; it’s not too soft and not too hard, though I do want to point out that after a week of wear it did start peeling at the toe.
The midsole is about a 9-iron leather and you can decide to order it with two leather midsoles if you like. (Mine actually came with one for free because when they finished making it, they said that they made the shoe a bit roomier than they meant to. So I got a free midsole, which was very cool of them. The downside of all those midsoles is that the sole is not super flexible, but I’m still happy I got a free midsole.)
The boot’s totally lined with lambskin, and there’s a steel shank for arch support and stability, and to add to the arch support there’s what they call an “arch support footbed” made from molded EVA foam to provide support for the natural arch of the foot and to relieve muscle strain while walking and standing. Not many companies using EVA foam — I know Thursday uses one kind, Thorogood does in their moc toes, but especially for a company with such an “old world” approach to shoemaking I was impressed that Sagara put EVA in their shoe.
[Read Thorogood vs Red Wing vs Chippewa — which American workboot comes out on top?]
Speaking of old fashioned bootmaking, this shoe is handwelted. That’s an extraordinarily difficult and time consuming way to secure the upper to the sole, which is why most high quality shoes are Goodyear welted instead, which uses a machine. This is a flat welt, and handwelting is one of the oldest ways of constructing shoes and it really adds to Sagara’s vibe of good old fashioned handmade shoes, techniques preserved in amber from the colonial days of the 19th century.
Sagara Fit & Sizing
- European sizes preferred
- Most boots available in D and E
- Leather and sole pretty stiff
- Lambskin lining = no blisters
This is made on what they call the Mark last. They have a bunch of other ones but most of them are in D width, some are in E, but I’m not sure if you have extra wide or narrow feet if you’ll have many options at Sagara. Then again, they’re such a customizable brand that I’m sure they can work something out for you.
This company likes to use European sizes on their boots, which probably makes it easier to get the right size. I’m about an 11.75 on a Brannock device and boots that are true to size are typically an 11.5D on my feet. Most boot companies run large, though, and I need to order an 11D. It’s always tough to know what you’re meant to order and when someone is handmaking you shoes on the other side of the Pacific ocean it can be pretty stressful, but because they go with European sizes I went with 45D and it fit me just fine.
And the comfort? Well, the leather was pretty darn stiff the first time I wore them, but that’s to be expected. After about a week they softened up plenty and while the sole is pretty inflexible, I was impressed with the comfort and the shock absorption, buoyed no doubt by all the EVA. My only real complaint was that the heel is the highest of all my boots, well over 1.5 inches tall. The big wooden heel is probably reminiscent of the Dutch influence, though I might just be making that up — in any case, when you’re ordering your shoes I’d go to the trouble of asking what their heel height is and figuring out what you’d prefer on your boots. I didn’t, and I have a pretty darn high heeled boot now.
[What the heck is a last and why is so important? Check out my guide to shoe lasts.]
The million-dollar question: how much do these handmade, handwelted, European-style boots cost when they come from Bandung? This pair costs $235. (Full disclosure: I got 10 percent off because I published that interview with them, so I paid more like $212.) But the shipping is about $70, so at the end of the day you’ll probably pay about $300. Remember, though, that the price can change depending on what kind of sole and leather and everything else you get. An engraving, a different edge trim, number of midsoles, the works. If you get the vegetable tanned leather, for instance, they’ll cost about $20 more. Here’s the price list I received, though you should check with Sagara to make sure it’s current.
Now, while we’re talking about the purchasing experience, the price is the biggest pro but the process is the biggest con. I said the words “I want to order a pair of Legacy boots” in mid May and we went back and forth with questions about the leather, sole, sizing, and so on for over a month. There wasn’t really a language barrier, it’s more that they don’t reply super quickly to emails. They finally received the payment in mid July and it was mid October when they finally arrived. That’s a six-month ordering process! Now, if you know exactly what you want — if you ask for the pricing list and design options right off the bat and send them precisely what you’re after, your wait time will probably be closer to 3 months.
I get that it takes a lot of time to hand make boots, I do, but the process could have been tightened up a lot if they were just a tad more responsive to emails. But hey, that’s a con most people are willing to accept.
- Crazy cheap
- Totally customizable
- Fit well
- Great looking, versatile aesthetic
- Solid construction
- Handmade and handwelted
- Time consuming ordering process
- Heel is super high
- Sole started peeling quickly, though you can just put some glue in there
Honestly, I adore these boots. The leather picked up marks very quickly, but the biggest downside was the extraordinary amount of time it took between ordering and receiving them. If you learn from my mistakes and hammer out exactly what you want from the get go, you can probably cut that time down to a few months. If you can stomach that wait, the price definitely makes these worth a buy.