Three years ago, I ordered my first pair of Sagara boots. I’d been casually familiar with the brand founded by Bagus Satrio Wickasono now a decade prior, but then I saw a boot that absolutely tore my mind apart: Sagara’s Cordmaster, worn as well as boots can be worn, and looking resplendently awash in patina. I needed them.
So I reached out to Bagus and went through the process that so many others have before and since: working through sizing, and specs: upper leather choices, construction, sole setups, hardware. Every single detail. Three months later, I had my boots. The whole thing was completely worth it—and while it was my first Indonesian MTO pair, it certainly wasn’t my last.
Made-to-order, especially through Indonesian bootmakers, is an incredibly enjoyable, creative, sometimes paralyzing, almost always extended process. And for the most part, it’s been the only way to get your hands/feet on Indonesian boots.
…until now! Because Sagara just launched a ready-to-wear line at Oakland/NYC/Santa Fe boot mecca Standard & Strange, with two absolute stunner models—and more to come. It’s the first time that Indonesian boots—in all their ruggedly beautiful, truly handmade glory—are available to purchase, right now, in a US shop.
It’s a moment, to be sure. And with any luck, it will trigger many more moments like it in the future.
To mark said moment, I chatted with Bagus and S&S co-owner Neil Berrett about how the collaboration arose, what we can expect to see in the future both with Sagara and more broadly, and more.
Stitchdown: Sagara is one of the great Indonesian bootmakers, and in many ways created an entire handmade footwear industry in the country that appeals to a global customer base. But basically until now, there hasn’t been a ready-to-wear line from any Indonesian maker available to handle and try on and really get to know in a retailer in the US. I think it’s safe to say pretty momentous. How’d the whole thing come about?
Bagus: We have released a ready-to-wear collection before from time to time, although it was limited. But since the pandemic struck, we have rarely done that because we want to stabilize our business first and do things that have lesser risk.
This collaboration began when I woke up to text notifications from Neil. We’d chatted before, so I didn’t expect that he would be asking for a collab, so I didn’t open it right away. And when I read that it was like a BOOM! My heart was racing like reading a text from a girl back when we were in high school haha.
I was so excited. I’ve been admiring what Neil and the S&S crew have been doing for a long time. I love how they curate the stuff they carry and the way they communicate with their audience. I can say, I am a fan. And being able to work with them is like a dream.
We are preparing a new leather that we have never carried before, and we freshly ordered it from the tannery, so we needed time to prepare that. It took more than half a year just to prepare for this collab.
Neil: For a few years now, I’ve admired what Bagus and Sagara are doing. I’ve seen Sagara grow, iterate and improve over the years. There’s a hustle, a work ethic, a gumption—I have so much respect for it. Clients have brought their Sagara boots into the shop, and the fit and finish and construction quality is superb. You can really see the drive and passion of Bagus and his team show through in what they make when looking at their boots in person.
In the age of Instagram, everything can be photographed to look good and it’s hard to separate the bullshit from the truly special. Sagara boots are truly special.
I did a lot of research into Indonesian boot brands—there’s always a lot of legwork when bringing on a new brand. It’s got to justify space on the shelves, fit in our product line, not be too duplicative, and add something to our lineup. There’s also a long list of boring logistical needs to make sure a wholesale partnership can work for everyone involved.
I got a hold of Bagus to see if he was interested in working with us. We got on so well, so quickly. He’s whip smart, kind, and knows what he’s doing. We had a lot of conversations to discuss logistics and make sure this would be good business for both of us.
And a few months later, I was wearing our first sample pair of an S&S x Sagara collab. I love them.
Stitchdown: And, why now? Why did this feel like the right time to make something big and different like this happen?
Bagus: The timing was just right I think. We’ve been struggling to get attention from a western audience for decades, and with the help of the community (especially you, Ben) [ed note: awwwww], now we have a space to sit with other bootmakers that we adore and respect.
Bootmaking for us is not just a way to make a living, but a way of life. And we need a respectable partner that is able to distribute both of the product and spirit we have. We can’t work this alone. In the era of modern machinery, keeping the traditions alive is a challenging job, and we need someone to help us.
Neil: The current distribution model is ordering a pair that’s made to order from Indonesia, and, well, that can get complicated very quickly for some people. It’s best suited to people who know a lot about what they want and don’t want out of a pair of boots, understand their sizing, and different leathers, and are willing to wait at least a few months. Ordering remotely can feel like taking a gamble—and there are so many choices to make, so it’s a lot easier to make one or two wrong decisions and end up with a pair of boots that you’re not absolutely thrilled with.
On the philosophical side, I’ve always cheered for the underdog. Bagus has spent over a decade fine-tuning his business, but for various complex reasons Sagara’s been something of an underground brand that’s primarily known in Indonesia and various dark corners of the boot internet. But it deserves to be widely known and loved.
Stitchdown: I’ve collaborated on boots with both of you before—Bagus, I guess ours was technically a shoe but it weighs more than most of my boots. You’re both great at it. And Bagus, I legitimately consider you to be a boot design visionary, and yet you’re somehow so easy to work with and open to ideas from people I do not consider boot design visionaries (aka: myself). What’s the collaborative relationship been like so far?
Neil: My favorite way to do business is to do it with friends. It’s much more meaningful, fun and smooth. It’s not just a business relationship with Bagus. We talk about all sorts of things: life, boots, bikes, and more. Bagus has such passion and excitement for what he does and he’s always looking to improve and push things to the next level.
Bagus: Neil is wonderful to work with! We didn’t only talk about business, we talk about other things besides boots, from bikes to how I can gain weight! He is an honest and genuine guy, and I’m very happy to work with him.
Stitchdown: Bagus, other than “we’re making a bunch of boots at once,” how has manufacturing ready-to-wear been different from doing largely made-to-order for you?
Bagus: Yes, they have different approaches. From production point of view, ready-to-wear was way easier, more efficient, and more comfortable to work with. We saved a lot of time when producing the RTW. RTW & MTO surely has different value. While MTO might be total freedom like you mentioned, RTW is using leather that is not available for the MTO to give the exclusivity. And most likely, once it is gone, it is gone forever.
Stitchdown: Neil, how do you plan to introduce even the idea of “hey there are these incredible boots—made in Indonesia! A country you didn’t even realize made boots at all!” to a more general customer? Someone who’s not neck-deep in this world?
Neil: Indonesian boots are under the radar, broadly speaking, and more people need to see them, touch them and try them on. They’re impressive! We’ll get into the people behind the boots: how they came about making boots, why they’re making boots, challenges they face, what’s in store in the future. It’s an underdog story. The boots speak for themselves—that’s the easy part.
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Stitchdown: Bagus, will ready to wear lines like this have any effect on Sagara’s MTO production? How do you contend with that?
Bagus: We do have a limited production output, and it’s not easy to scale up the production of handmade products. RTW has taken a lot of the production portion, but I will try not to make our production time for MTO longer than before, or do a raffle. We will hold the promotions a little bit to balance the input and output, so the engine will not blow off!
It is tricky finding a balance with production output and supply chain hurdles. There’s a lot of things that can delay production now that are outside our control. But good things take time—and when they’re ready, they’re ready.
Stitchdown: And now the requisite “what do you think the future holds?” question. In terms of this partnership for sure, but also Indonesian boots being in stores in the US and elsewhere? So uh, what…do you think the future holds? Where do you reasonably see all of this going?
Bagus: Our production can’t handle more than one retailer, so you will only see Sagara in Standard & Strange in the States.
Neil: This is only the beginning. We’ve got a lot of ideas and plans, although I can’t reveal them quite yet. But you can most definitely expect to see more Sagara boots at S&S.
But it’s not my aim to just help further introduce Sagara to the USA market—it’s about Indonesian boots in general. There’s a deep community of extremely skilled bootmakers in Indonesia, and they deserve recognition. Made in Japan or Made in the USA has a certain cachet—sometimes accurately, sometimes not. There hasn’t been decades of marketing “Made in Indonesia,” so it doesn’t mean much to most people in the USA.
But if you pick up a pair of boots from Sagara, Benzein, or Monroe, just to name a few, you’ll know you’re holding something special, something made with true passion. That’s the most important thing here to us.