Boot Review: Is Santalum the Red Wing of Indonesia?

Santalum is an Indonesian boot company based in the West Javan capital of Bandung, which is basically Asia’s unofficial boot headquarters.

A lot of people find it surprising that Indonesia is mentioned so often as a boot hub, but there are a ton of brands there like Junkard, Winson, Jalan Sriwijaya, Txture, and Sagara which is probably the best known Indonesian brand and one that I’ve reviewed before.

Very long story short, the reason Indonesia is so big with boots is that they used to be colonized by the Dutch, who brought to the islands a love of nice, handmade, European style boots. (Along with a ton of other cultural and imperial practices that are obviously beyond the scope of this li’l boot review.) While running the colony, they trained a lot of Indonesians in this old world style of making boots by hand, and when they left after World War 2 this boot industry remained. Now Indonesia, and especially Bandung, is where a lot of people order shoes when they want old fashioned European boots for a fraction of the price you’d pay in Europe.

Santalum was founded in 2010 by Laurensius Mahendriyo and everything is done by hand — they only produce about four pairs of boots per week, which makes it hard for them to scale and makes the ordering process kind of lengthy. But for many guys, that’s exactly what they want from their boots: hand made, small batch, evocative of old world manufacturing, and steeped in history and reverence for the craft.

If you want to learn more about their ethos, I’ve interviewed Laurensius before here. If you want to get to know their product, let’s take a look at their Mile 85 boot.

[Santalum are a bit hard to buy online. Some of their products are available on this third party site, but your best bet is to just email them at [email protected]]

Santalum Mile 85 Boot First Glance

  • Narrower than most moc toes
  • Crepe sole
  • Norwegian welt

This is called the Mile 85 boot. It’s got brass eyelets, a gusseted tongue, and it’s made from copper tan pull up, this nice moist leather it’s a bit similar to Red Wing’s Rough and Tough leather but with a waxier finish.

And if you’re looking at these thinking of Red Wing’s Moc Toe, I can see why you would. The sole is similar to the crepe sole on Red Wing, but the Mile 85’s silhouette is quite a bit slimmer. Certainly I wouldn’t call them dressy (it’s pretty darn hard to have dressy moc toes) but if I had to liken these boots to anything, I’d they’re like a slimmer Red Wing’s Moc Toe or Thursday Boot Company’s Diplomat.

There are plenty of differences, though: more conspicuous stitching on the moc stitch and the most eye catching aspect, this unusual Norwegian welt, which makes them super water resistant. More on that later — right now, let’s take a closer look at this leather.

santalum shaft

Santalum Boot Leather

  • Handcut Indonesian cowhide
  • Waxy pullup leather
  • Chrome tanned
  • Can take a beating

Once again, this is the copper tan pull up leather. It’s 2 millimeters thick and it’s Indonesian leather, sourced from an Indonesian tannery. Santalum does make a lot of boots with American Horween leather but this is Indonesian cowhide that Santalum hand cuts after they wax the leather themselves, so the surface is a little waxier than some other pull up leathers out there.

Generally speaking, pull up leather is quite moist. It’s full of oils and fats and it results in something that is both pretty strong and pretty stretchy, a leather that can take a beating and doesn’t need much babying. It has quite a rugged feel to it, which is why Red Wing’s pull up leather is called “Rough and Tough.”

santalum leather

You can see in these pictures that these Mile 85s have scratched and aged just a little bit as I’ve been wearing them around Brooklyn, but this kind of leather and this kind of boot really do confer this air of adventure and they look prettier as they get uglier. Honestly, I’m hoping they get more scratches as time goes on, as I think they really work well with this aesthetic.

Pull up is also usually aniline dyed in the drum to produce a pretty nice depth of color which I think this leather has. It’s nice to look at and it looks great in the sunlight, and a lot of that also has to do with the fact that this is chrome tanned. I’ve seen “chromier” chrome tanned leather (Thursday Chrome comes to mind) but this is still pretty nice, especially for the price.

When compared to vegetable tanned leather, chrome tanning takes a lot less time and the leather it makes is usually a bit stretchier. Potential downsides are that while it will last a long time, it may not be quite as long lasting as vegetable tanned leather and it’s a lot worse for the environment, so it depends on what you like.

[Does chrome or vegetable tanning make for a better boot? Find out in our guide to chrome vs vegetable tanning!]

santalum moc toe

Santalum Leather Care

  • Venetian Shoe Cream is recommended
  • Use every two or three months
  • Brush regularly with horsehair brush
  • Made to be worn hard

There’s not really a lot to say here. Like I said, the leather is pretty tough and can take care of itself and as Santalum’s founder told me himself:

Wear them hard, that’s what boots are meant to be.

They did suggest using Venetian Shoe Cream every two to three months, that’s a super popular shoe conditioning product made from a bunch of different waxes, each with a different purpose. (Learn more about this mysterious boot care stalwart in my Venetian Shoe Cream review.) Venetian Shoe Cream also has a little petroleum in it; if you are someone who doesn’t like petroleum on their boots you can use Saphir’s Renovateur which is their biggest competitor and is more or less petroleum free.

[Learn more in my Saphir Renovateur review!]

You also want to regularly brush these with a horsehair brush (I like this one from Kiwi) to remove dust after wearing them, but again, they’re boots for adventuring. The Mile 85 is a good shoe for someone who doesn’t love agonizing when they should have conditioned their leather. Wear them hard.

santalum sole

Santalum Boot Sole

  • Dr. Sole’s Wedge Sole
  • Soft, spongy outsole
  • Leather midsole
  • Steel shank
  • Norwegian welt

This outsole is called Dr. Sole’s Wedge Sole, officially the Dr. Sole #3060 Cushion Sportsman. Dr. Sole is a Taiwan-based company run by a couple of cobblers called Lin and Jordan who specialize in soles.

The Cushion Sportsman is made from crepe, a crude form of natural rubber that’s usually obtained when coagulated latex is passed through heavy rolls called “crepers.” There are a lot of different kinds of crepe: Clark’s Desert Boot has a crepe sole that is insanely flimsy, Red Wing’s is pretty tough, Dr. Sole’s seems somewhere in the middle. It’s made with an expanded rubber that’s made by blowing air into it, so it’s a tad more spongy than Red Wing’s sole, but it’s still way harder and hardier than Clarks.

After the outsole there’s a leather midsole and a steel shank and what may be the most remarkable part of the boot: the Norwegian welt.

santalum norwegian welt

A lot of folks say Norwegian welts and storm welts are pretty similar, some people say storm welts are a type of Norwegian welt, others say it isn’t, I don’t want to get into all the infighting in welt world but what I will say point out about this Norwegian welt is that it’s much more pronounced than a storm welt (you can compare it with the storm welt on Allen Edmond’s Higgins Mill). It’s got a double row around most of the boot which brings to mind rows of shark teeth: one is the stitch holding the upper, midsole, and outsole together, the other is keeping the upper and the insole together.

The main thing to know about Norwegian welts is that it’s kind of an old world way of making hiking boots, boots that are really designed to withstand mud and water. Originally they were for adventurers, explorers, and outdoorsmen, 19th century Indiana Jones types running around former colonies. So I think the Norwegian welt further emphasizes this whole ethos of Santalum and Indonesian bootmakers in general as part of an industry that’s steeped in old world bootmaking traditions.

santalum leather sole

Santalum Fit & Sizing 

  • Order a half size down, but get your European size too
  • Relatively narrow last
  • Great shock absorption
  • Decent arch support

On a Brannock device I am a size 11.75 and since most boots run large — Red Wing, Wolverine, Thursday, Viberg, et cetera — I’m usually a size 11. Santalum also calls these boots a size 11, but they primarily designate shoes by their European sizes so they call this a size 44.

Naturally, a lot of people are wary of ordering boots online from Indonesia. The sizing question is stressful enough when getting a pair of boots hand made, and getting them made in Indonesia — where shipping costs are a nightmare — can up the anxiety.

I didn’t really have an issue with Santalum, though. I just told them what size I was in all of my other boots and they made them for me without a problem.

The size is OK, but they are a bit narrow, which is something I’ve heard other people say about Santalum. When I first got them I was pretty concerned, but the pull up did stretch after a few days. I still need to wear them with pretty thin socks, though, so if you’re any wider than a D width I think you might have issues with this number 7 last.

Otherwise they’re comfy shoes. The crepe sole has great shock absorption, I had no break in, and the arch support is pretty decent — it’s a little far back in the shoe but overall I think they’re pretty comfy for the price.

santalum side view

Santalum Price

Handmade, hand cut, Norwegian welted boots: $200, depending on the exchange rate.

But the shipping is about $50 to $70. (The Pacific Ocean ain’t small.) Between ordering and the boots arriving it should take about two months.

As far as the buying process goes I found them pretty responsive. I had some issues with Sagara, who would often go days and days and days without replying to emails, but Santalum was great and I didn’t have any big communication difficulties as far as the language barrier goes.

The biggest downside in the ordering process is that Santalum sometimes has a website and sometimes they don’t, but usually they sell on a third party website called More By Morello and it can be tough to get a really good feel for which products are available and which aren’t. Right now, for instance there are just 3 boots available on More By Morello, and every other time I go there the selection changes.

The truth is there are a ton of boots you can order, but you just have to email them to find out what your options are.

santalum steps featured

Santalum Boots: Are They Worth It?

Pros

  • Super cheap
  • Nice, rich leather
  • Soft crepe sole
  • Good shock absorption
  • No break in
  • Norwegian welt is very cool

Cons

  • They need a better website
  • Not the mot versatile boot
  • Leather creased relatively quickly and had some loose grain
  • Narrow fit

santalum akimbo

There’s nothing quite like wearing a pair of boots that were hand made just for you, and Santalum gives you that feeling for cheap. The Mile 85 boots are a great conversation starter — well, among people who are loony about boots like me, anyway — and I love how interesting and rare this Norwegian welt is. These boots aren’t absolutely perfect, but they’re so cheap, interesting, and cool looking that I think it’s worth rolling the dice. 

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Nick

By day: Manhattan-based journalist with reporting experience on four continents, published in Vice, Men's Health, Popular Science, and a bunch of other places.By night: ravenous consumer of anything and everything related to high end men's boots.Stridewise is where I nurture a maniacal obsession with footwear and share my findings. Say hey: [email protected]

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