Iron Boots have been hanging out in the back of my boot-mind for quite some time now. About a year ago my buddy got a pair of their FLT split-toe boots in waxed bullhide, and couldn’t stop raving. But the ordering process—through Japanese site Leather Port—and a lack of sizing info kept it there, hanging around with all the other boots that look fantastic, but I just didn’t know enough about.
Then, about a month ago, I got my hands on a pair of Iron Boots, their 5515 model in sand yellow roughout that you can see below. And let me tell you: I’m incredibly impressed. Even more than I thought I’d be, to be honest. And with the Chinese brand now becoming available more easily in the US through what they say will be a string of GMTOs, I feel very confident in saying that Iron Boots is very worthy of consideration, and will be selling their boots in a price slot—starting at $550—that offers a ton of value for the money.
Ok, So What’s The Story With Iron Boots?
Founded by boot lover Kaishu Zhang in 2015 in Guangzhou—China’s fifth-largest city that sits just northwest of Hong Kong—Iron Boots is a small shop in all ways, and a highly specialized one. Each of six bootmakers focus on a specific task: upper sewing, hand-lasting, stitching and polishing, or hand-bottoming. All the while, Kai handles patterning, last and construction development, and the overall vision of the brand.
That vision takes cues from an eclectic range of sources—John Lobb London, White Kloud, Eiji Murata, WWII army boots. The development that combines those influences is full throttle, with Kai revising the 5515 boots (the ones I have) five times in recent years, with five related but distinct lasts.
Kai’s goal? To create hand-welted, hand-bottomed, tight-waisted boots that are certainly distinct while still being approachable in form, and are as well-constructed as anything out there while offering a lighter weight than what you’ll see from other makers considered to be in the “indestructible” class.
Iron Boots is launching in the US with three models, with their impressive monkey boot hopefully shortly behind. Let’s give them a look…
The Iron Boots Devil Dog
What I imagine will be the brand’s signature model in the US is a perforated cap toe service boot with a single-piece continuous heel counter panel. It’s just a damn handsome, extremely well balanced pattern that offers a beautiful silhouette, especially when using Iron Boots’ double-row stitchdown construction.
Built on the brand’s OP8 last, the Devil Dogs, like all Iron Boots, are available with the brand’s proprietary studded rubber full outsole with a single heel stack and rubber toplift. I’ve found the soles on mine to acquit themselves quite well—they’re definitely grippier than Dainite, although I haven’t put enough miles on them to gauge how quickly they’ll wear.
They’ll also be orderable with Iron Boots’ .5mm Italian leather outsole that comes equipped with metal toe taps, for an additional cost.
The Iron Boots 5515
This perforated cap-toe model is the one that I have, and let’s just say it: they’re definitely polarizing. The Munson-ish last is undeniably funky, featuring a more anatomical shape than most modern boots—a hard-lined medial side that juts up to a brief point on the big toe before sweeping down—and a slight toe bump.
The 5515 was born from a vintage paratrooper boot made by Georgia Boots in 1955, although the last was worked and reworked to have a snugger heel and more appealing—if still quite unique—toe shape, a more beautifully curved heel counter, and a toe cap that’s optimized for ideal vamp creasing.
When I took mine out of the box, I was stricken with the feeling of “uhhhh…why didn’t I just get the normal ones?” And I’m someone who quite openly really enjoys boots that are kinda weird!
But when I put them on, I understood the last choice—it fits, really, really well, and is honestly one of my better fitting boots overall. And it didn’t take long for me to get my head around the shape. Within the first day of wear, I went from “what have I done” to “alright I kinda love how these are just funky enough.” They’re different! There is no denying that they’re different. And different isn’t for everyone. But for those willing to charge on in there, I think you’ll be quite happy with the fit and the look. Believe me, on-foot, they’re just the right amount of strange. And quite fun indeed.
The Iron Boots FLT
The split-toe model features a simple, well-balanced, clean-quartered pattern made slightly more aggressive by Iron Boots’ tapered OP8 last, which I get into more below. While I haven’t seen these in person, the hand-stitched toes seem to ride that fine line where they’re precise but still done with a level of real feeling. Another nice boot!
Available Iron Boots Leathers
From what I understand, through Iron Boots’ group made-to-orders, customers will be able to get any boot in any of the below leathers, although it’s also possible that they’ll be releasing specific models with specific leathers in bigger batches.
- Italian roughout from Tannery Sciarada Industria Conciaria in sand yellow, dark brown, navy, and black. This is what I have on mine, and it’s fantastic stuff—the hand is more suede-like than traditional roughout, just softer and with a much tighter nap, but feels more robust than a fine suede would. It’s like…luxuriously rugged. Or something like that.
- Maryam hand-dyed horsehide in black, burgundy, brick red, dark green, or navy
- Italian waxed bullhide in black or coffee brown
- Black Weinheimer box calf
- Hand-dyed, hand-worn Du Puy box calf in black, burgundy, brick red, dark green, or navy
Construction, Finishing, and Quality
Before I got the lowdown on Kai’s vision for the brand (above), when I first pulled my 5515 boots out of the box and put them on, I immediately could feel what Iron Boots was going for.
The boots are wonderfully put together, just an exercise in precision and skill. The upper stitching is pristine. The 270-degree flat welt blends seamlessly into the midsole, and the hand-stitching ringing said welt is tight and meticulous. The heel is snug and the bespoke-inspired waist is wonderfully tight, in the way that feels like it’s really gripping your foot but not squeezing it. It’s just a really darn well constructed boot.
And that weight, or lack thereof—it’s quite noticeable. Each boot is about a half-pound lighter than my Vibergs and White’s, and almost a full pound lighter than my Flame Pandas (which have a massive corded Dr. Sole full sole, but still). Yet they just feel like a boot that’s as well made as those others. Will they hold up over time in the same fashion? Only time will tell, but my firm suspicion is: yes.
Sizing and Fit Recommendations: OP8 Last
Again, this is the last Iron Boots deploys for their Devil Dog and FLT boots. Vaguely beloved Stitchdown Shoecast co-host Tichoblanco has a pair of the Devil Dogs, so here’s his sizing advice:
“Pretty much I’d recommend sizing the same as Alden Barrie last. I’m a 10.5 D Brannock, these are a 10, and in thin socks it fits pretty similar to Barrie, but hugs your foot better. The instep may be a little lower. It’s a slightly more refined, slightly more bespoke type fit to barrie. Bespoke Barrie is how I’d describe it.”
“I wore them this morning and I was running late, so I had to do the ol’ fast walk—which can be tough in new boots that haven’t broken in yet—and my feet didn’t move around at all, and they were super comfortable. No pinching or anything.”
“If you’re looking to do a thicker sock, you’d want to go true to size basically, or up a width down .5 from Brannock. Think dress sock fit for D width, and then work off that”
[Ed note: Iron Boots will offer E widths, and if you get in touch can potentially go up to EEEE for a custom order]
Sizing and Fit Recommendations: 5515 Last
I’m a pretty darn normal 11D Brannock, regular ol’ instep, and I took a 10.5 in mine. Iron Boots’ lasts are designed to be snug, and are definitely not a high-volume last. These fit my feet absolutely perfectly in all the right places, with my one gripe being that the lack of volume means those toe caps have definitely been noticeable in early wears when walking (although they’re definitely starting to break in and feel more comfortable each time out—I estimate at 10-12 full-day wears I won’t even notice them).
The thing about the last, and those caps, is that I personally wouldn’t really recommend these in a D width for anyone with especially wide feet. Luckily Iron Boots will offer E widths, and if you get in touch can potentially go up to EEEE for a custom order.
Let’s Talk About China
While I like to believe that the mindset of educated boot and apparel customers is shifting in terms of their feelings on China, and what kind of quality products can be made there, I still think it’s necessary to address this.
First off, in terms of quality, I find it very difficult to see how even the most discerning boot lover wouldn’t consider Iron Boots to be extremely well made. Maybe I just got lucky with mine, but I doubt it. So let’s just consider that to be as close to a fact as things get in this boot world of ours.
Now let’s talk about working conditions. I want to be clear that all of this information is from Iron Boots—I haven’t visited the workshop or anything like that. But after spending much time in conversation, I’m inclined to believe it all.
Again, Iron Boots is a 100% privately owned, six-person bootmaking operation; a small shop by any count. Guangzhou on the other hand, is a massive city—15 million people within city limits, over 45 million in the metro area—and China’s foremost trade and shipping focal point with countless shoe manufacturing businesses, which is one reason Iron Boots claims to pay very fair market wages to its workers, who exist in a city that offers the option to readily change jobs if conditions are not desirable.
China’s perceived manufacturing history continues to loom large. But the idea of incredibly cheap manufacturing being the only thing that comes out of China is simply outdated, as proven by impressively high quality footwear brands like Flame Panda, Grant Stone, and Meermin, to name a few. Iron Boots’s product is a continuation of this proof point, and and from everything I can tell, they’re operating the company in a way that is not exploitative towards workers in the least.
Base cost: $550 (with lower cost apparently for some options—we’ll see)
Italian leather sole and brass toe taps: +$50
Maryam horsehide: +$50
Weinheimer box calf: +$70
Du Puy box calf: +$100
How to Order
Keep an eye on their Instagram at ironboots_usa, where they’ll be announcing GMTOs and more, and then DM them—they don’t have a site for now, so that way is…the way.