“Made in China” has a bad reputation in much of the world. It’s not in the cool way that Joan Jett was talking about either. Products made in China aren’t known as bad ass, rebel products that don’t play by the rules. They’re known as poorly made, cheap products made in factories that don’t play by the rules of human decency. However, is it actually true that products made in China are not ethically produced?
Well, maybe some items are made unethically. There has been documentation to prove that. However, there is also documented proof of unethical production in the United States and other parts of the world as well. Just look at our prison labor. Some brands such as Grant Stone are attempting to prove (successfully in my opinion) that products can be made well and ethically in China.
However, there is one concrete way to ensure that a product is made ethically and that is to buy from a small family workshop or one person brand. The great thing about a one person or family shop is that the quality and ethics of production are entirely up to one person or a few people who know each other very well. As long as the techniques are sound and the materials are of good quality, then the products can be great and the person making the product is treated as well as they want to treat themselves. Great boots are great boots no matter where they are made.
This is why I was so interested when I first came across Flame Panda boots on Instagram. The boots looked quite nice and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the boots were made entirely by a small family workshop in Henan Province, China. I was specifically told that Flame Panda boots are mostly made by Peng and his cousin, with the other members of the shop being his father and his aunt. Truly this is a small family business that I would be happy to support over any larger company. Many of the designs looked beautiful, the quality looked incredible, and the leathers looked great as well. It was not long before I messaged Peng directly and began the ordering process.
As of the writing of this review, there is no website and you simply order by direct messaging Peng on his Instagram account @flamepanda11. He was extremely kind and responsive and we were able to discuss the model of boots, leather, specific details, and sizing quite easily. I went with his monkey boot in natural Maryam horsebutt with a 360 degree storm welt with double row stitching in the front portion of the boots. They also have a double leather front portion of the sole that tapers down to one layer of leather, plus the full rubber sole before joining with the heel.
Peng told me that the boots would be finished in 110 days, but he actually completed them more quickly than expected. I ordered in mid-December and received them exactly 3 months later. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic was already in full swing by the time I received my boots and this means that to this point, I have not been able to wear them anywhere near as much as I would like to. Instead, I will have to do an initial review now and give an update later on when I can give these boots the wear they deserve.
Even with my restricted wear time, I still have worn them on several long walks and all day at home a few times. Of course, I have also examined them quite thoroughly as I do with all my boots so I have plenty to say already. In terms of sizing, Peng goes by traditional US boot sizing, meaning that you should normally size down by .5 from your Brannock size. I am a 10.5D on a Brannock and went with a 10 in these and they fit quite well. They are roomy, but not too loose. If you have an exceptionally wide foot, then maybe you should go true to size or ask if he can make wider sizes, but my pair of boots is not narrow by any means. Like my Lofgrens and Motor boots, they feel roomy and I can wiggle my toes around a little without the boots actually feeling too large. I have to tie these quite tightly, but with that done, they fit well and I feel confident walking long distances in these with no heel slip or any other issues.
Upon arrival and first wear, the insoles felt quite stiff and solid. With such a large amount of vegetable tanned leather, I was not surprised. With that said, they were decently comfortable on the two mile walk that I took with them on the first day with only the top portion of the boots where I tied off the laces feeling slightly uncomfortable. This discomfort disappeared after the third wear or so and it was never a real issue, just something that is pretty standard for all my lace up boots. The insole and midsole are stiff, but not uncomfortable to me. In fact, they feel quite supportive and have already started to break in and mold to my feet. I can wear these boots all day and walk several miles in them with no issues. They are not my most comfortable boots, but I would definitely call them comfortable right now and I will be able to say more on this in the future. Just be aware that these have the stiffest feeling insole leather I have yet to experience, even more than my Wescos, though these are also vastly more comfortable than my Wesco boots.
Peng goes through a lot of trouble to source some incredible materials for his boots. My pair features Maryam vegetable tanned horsebutt from Italy, but he also has quite a few other leathers to choose from such as shell cordovan from several tanneries, including Horween. He even has Chromexcel for people with the imagination of an ironing board. The leather lining in my boots is vegetable tanned calfskin from Tuscany, Italy. Customers can also pay just $30 more to have their boots lined with kangaroo skin if they would like. My boots feature Vibram soles, but he has since switched to the well regarded Dr. Sole rubber soles and he even imports his midsole leather from Tuscany, Italy. The hardware is sourced from Guangzhou, China and the metal shanks for the boots are custom molded just for his shop by a local factory out of spring steel.
The leather for the upper used on these boots is quite impressive. It is Maryam horsebutt in the “natural” color. In terms of color, it looks like what natural Chromexcel is trying to be. It has the same neutral tone without and strong red, orange, or yellow tones, but without the sickly grey tinge that natty CXL has. It is a richer color, though still less rich than many of my other leathers due to it’s natural color. The grain is very smooth at first. In fact, it was so smooth that I almost thought it was shell cordovan. In truth, there clearly is shell in this leather, but it has creased as I have walked in the boots to show that it is not only shell. Either way, this is an impressive horsebutt leather that I am excited to see age and develop more over time.
Using high quality materials is a big bonus, but one area that a lot of newer and/or smaller boot brands struggle with in my opinion is designs. A lot of them are just not quite right which is not too surprising given that some of these makers are new and/or they are more craftsmen than designers. With that said, I personally think that several Flame Panda boots are extremely well designed. The moc toes, monkey boots, lace to toe loggers, and service style boots are some of the best examples of each that I have seen with the moc toes and monkey boots being especially exceptional in design. In fact, I would go so far as to say that his moc toes and monkey boots are my favorite of each design that I have ever seen. They have substantial presence without being overly chunky or bulbous and importantly, they are well balanced and have heels that are tall enough to counteract the lasts and the heft midsoles that are used. Mine have a double leather front sole that tapers down to a single layer of leather plus the rubber full sole before joining the heel. I love this design element and it adds to the substantial look of the boot without being too chunky and bulbous thanks to the well shaped woodsman heel and boxy, but proportional toe box. It is hard to describe, but I think the pictures show just how nicely balanced this design is.
Even the construction methods are great. As mentioned above, Flame Panda boots are made with custom made steel shanks out of high quality leathers from Italy and North America and midsoles from Italy. All of the boots are also hand welted. While boots made with gemming are still durable, hand welted boots are technically stronger and while I cannot confirm this, are said to be able to withstand more resoles. I would also say that in my subjective experience, my hand welted boots are more comfortable than any of my other boots, but this may be partly or even entirely due to the quality of the leather used for the insoles and midsoles on these boots. Either way, a lot more time, effort, and craftsmanship goes into hand welted boots. Flame Panda also goes one step further by hand stitching the welt to the midsole/outsole. This is especially impressive with my boots as they are 360 degree welted and have double row stitching in the front portion. With all of that plus the welting, that is a lot of hand stitch work on these boots!
All of this so far seems pretty amazing, but this would all fall apart if the construction quality is not up to par. Thankfully, it exceeds expectations. In fact, I have to say that these are some of the very best made boots that I own. To me, the most impressive characteristic of these by far is just how clean, dense, and neat the sole stitching is. The fact that it is all done by hand makes it even more impressive. Honestly, the only boots I have that have more beautiful sole stitching are my White Kloud boots and those are the very best casual boots in the world. The fact that these are second only to those in my collection says volumes about these boots. The upper stitching is also beautifully done. It is very dense and is overall quite neat with not actual flaws or any loose threads or wonky stitches. The woodsman heels are perfectly shaped and the finishing on the edges and heel are excellent and smooth.
If I were the type to nitpick, and I am, I would point out that the upper stitching, while excellent, is not at the top of my boot collection. The SPI is less consistent than my White Kloud, Clinch, Role Club, and Motor boots. There are no real wonky stitches or loose threads or anything like that, but it’s just not quite as perfect as those boots. This is the same for the edge finishing which is amazing, but not quite as good as my Clinch boots and definitely not on the level of White Kloud. There are a couple of areas where the edges just aren’t quite perfectly smooth and even. I have to again point out that I am looking extremely closely at these boots and these differences that I am pointing out are quite minor, but they are there. I am just the type to differentiate all of my boots as much as I possibly can. Something else that I must mention is that the fact that these boots are a light color leather sewn with white stitching makes even the most minor imperfections in stitching more noticeable and the fact that I have to nitpick so much shows how great the construction on these boots boots is. Overall, these are very well made boots with no true flaws that I can see and I haven’t even mentioned the price yet.
$670. There. I mentioned the price now. These boots cost $670 with vegetable tanned, Italian horsebutt, high quality leather insoles and midsoles, a beautiful design, hand welted and hand sole stitched construction, and beautiful craftsmanship and quality that is up there with boots that cost twice as much or more. Yes, the upper stitching on my Motor boots is more impressive than these, but those boots are made with gemming and in just about every other way, the Flame Pandas are technically better. These make the Vibergs I just reviewed for around $150 more look like a joke. Personally, I feel that this is an absolute steal of a price for boots this good. Like I said, these are competing with my Clinch boots in overall quality in my view and those are now around 3 times as expensive. Horween shell cordovan would be over $1,000, but Chromexcel would cost even less than my boots.
I think it is pretty easy to tell that I absolutely love these boots. They fit well and the fact that they are monkey boots makes them easy to adjust tighter or looser if need be. The design is just beautiful, the materials, especially the leathers are top notch, the construction methods are just about as good as it gets, and the quality and finishing competes with much more expensive boots. I have been wearing these boots a lot given the circumstances and I cannot wait to get out and wear them much more. I will provide an update in the future, but as of now, I can highly recommend these boots.
Without question, I can say that boots made in China can be some of the best boots that you own because they are some of the best boots that I own. I know the label is hard for some people to get past, but you have to keep in mind that these boots are being made by a small family workshop of craftspeople, not in a large factory. To me, it is no different than a small family workshop in any other part of the world. In fact, I would argue that this one in particular is better than most given the quality of the product that I received. I am proud to say that these are made in China because I know who made them and I know that they are highly skilled and passionate about their craft. If you are interested, check the boots out on Instagram or DM @flamepanda11 if you would like to place an order.* I’ll be wearing mine some more while I try to resist ordering a pair of Peng’s moc toes in shell cordovan.
Here is a list of current available leathers from Flame Panda Boots:
Cloe horsebutt (Italy): black, natural, whisky, cigar
Cloe shell cordovan: olive, burgundy, black, natural, whisky
Horween CXL (USA): black, natural, yellow, olive
Horween horse strip: black, brown, red-brown
Horween shell: natural, blue, green, black, #8, #4, pomegranate red
Maryam horsebutt (Italy): natural, black
Tochigi (Japan): natural
Walpier Buttero Shoulder Cowhide (Italy): dark brown, natural, beeswax, burgundy, brown, black
Badalassi Carlo (Italy): light brown, dark brown, coffee, black, dark green
*As always, there are no affiliate links used and no compensation received by me for referrals unlike with most of the other boot review blogs/websites. I just want to provide the information for those that are interested.