I do not like outsourced production of products. Overall, I believe that it has absolutely no place in the Amekaji scene. To me, any product that is outsourced does not deserve to have the word “heritage” ascribed to it. There are some exceptions, of course. Technically, The Rite Stuff is outsourced because it’s a brand started by an American who lives in Taiwan and his products are made in Japan.
However, the reason for this outsourcing is for a desire for quality, not at all in order to save money and increase profits. Mister Freedom is an American brand owned by a French man who lives in the US. They make some of their products in the USA, but others are made in Japan. Again, this is a fair exception because there is close collaboration between Mister Freedom and Sugar Cane, the company who does their Japanese manufacturing. In this case as well, the products are well made and the reason for outsourcing is not to save money.
Grant Stone may well be another exception. When people bring up Grant Stone, there are three main topics that are usually mentioned about them.
- They look a lot like Aldens
- They seem to offer excellent value for money
- They are made in China
That last one is obviously the most controversial. I have to be honest, it’s the one that is most controversial for me as well. This is not because I am against products being made in China specifically because I am not. My review of my Flame Panda boots and my interview with Peng will prove that I do not see anything inherently wrong with a product being made in China.
With that said, I do have a problem with outsourcing and unethical production of products and that is an issue in China and many other countries. It’s a problem in the United States as well in case you didn’t know. Go read up on our abuse of prison labor. It’s quite abhorrent. Still, there is at least some truth to the reputation of China having unethical production in their factories. Therefore, I was a little skeptical of Grant Stone at first.
When I first heard of them, I thought “Oh, here we go again. Another brand trying to exploit the so-called ‘heritage’ boot market with mass appealing designs and cheap, outsourced products with some synthetic insoles to make sneaker-wearers like leather footwear more.” However, as I saw more of them, I have to admit that I started to question my initial thoughts on the brand.
The biggest reason for this is that I found out why the production is in China. It’s not as simple as basic outsourcing to save money. The founder of Grant Stone, Wyatt Gilmore, was born in the United States. However, he moved to Xiamen, China and lived there for 8 years. While there, he was working at a factory that made Goodyear-welted footwear- the very same factory that makes Grant Stone’s footwear today. His father had spent several years even before then with that same factory and Wyatt’s wife Lulu is from China and she is heavily involved with the company. In fact, this is the only place that Grant Stone boots and shoes have ever been made. When I asked Wyatt about this, he told me “I don’t think that our brand would work without our colleagues in Xiamen. To be fair, I learned this business through them, and we built Grant Stone together. Today, their quality and devotion to the products is our back-bone.”
As you can tell from this quote and from other interviews Wyatt has given, this factory is absolutely critical to Grant Stone. It’s the reason why the brand exists in the first place, and the close relationship that he has with the factory is so important to the brand that they gladly talk all about it in their marketing and on their website. There is no “ethically imported” garbage and the fact that the boots are made in China is not hidden in the tiniest corner of the FAQ section. Grant Stone is transparent about where their boots are made because they are proud of where their boots are made. They even dedicate journal entries on their website to talking about this and they show pictures of the production and factory as well.
You can of course accuse me of being biased. Grant Stone sent me this pair of shoes for me to review. Humans are all biased and I make it a point to be as transparent as possible myself in order to give everyone reading this the most amount of accurate information possible. As usual, I will still be my normal, critical self with this review and as always, you can be assured that unlike other supposed “reviewers,” I have not received any money/sponsorship and I am not using affiliate links.
One of the reasons I did not buy a pair of Grant Stones myself was because their boots are not generally my style. This is not to say that I think they are poorly designed. On the contrary, I think their boots and shoes look quite well designed. They seem to have a nice balance of a slightly more formal/refined look while still maintaining a sense of casual wearability. I have heard people say that they have some products that are very similar in appearance to Alden, who are known for striking that same balance. This is not without reason . Wyatt’s grandfather worked at Alden for over 60 years and his father worked there for over 10 years, so it’s not exactly surprising that there would be some resemblance.
Let’s get into the details of the shoes themselves. The model I have is the Country Derby in antique cognac pebble grain. They feature:
Hand-stained Pebble Grain leather tanned by Horween
Full grain leather cow lining from Milwaukee, WI
Vegetable tanned leather insole, welt and midsole
Cork filler with steel shank
Full grain leather heel counters
Micro stud rubber outsole
D and E widths available
$315 price point
In terms of appearance, I think these are quite handsome shoes. The last is not too chunky while not being too sleek or formal either. The casual look is enhanced by the 360 degree storm welt which not only makes them more water resistant, but keeps them from looking too sleek. It certainly fits well with the large brass eyelets and the pebble grain leather. They could have gone even more casual by leaving the midsole natural in color, but the mid brown color goes well with the cognac colored upper leather. There is nothing extremely striking about these shoes in a good or bad way, but I do think they are well designed.
The materials appear to be pretty solid as well. The clone of a Dainite sole seems to do its job. I’m not a fan of Dainite in the first place. It has as much grip on wet ground as Kathleen Kennedy has on what makes a good Star Wars film. With Dainite being how it is, I do not begrudge companies for making more affordable versions of it, though I wish they would pick a better sole to copy. The lining is full grain cow as mentioned and the fact that they use vegetable tanned leather for the insole, welt, and midsole is a nice touch as well.
One thing I really like about Grant Stone is that unlike other newer brands in the boot world, they don’t rely on synthetic materials in their footwear. The only synthetic material in the insole unit is a small pad underneath the heel pod. The rest is just cork, leather, and a steel shank. For some, this may seem like a downside, but this is a big positive for me. No matter what anyone says, the synthetic insole materials will collapse over time and become less comfortable while vegetable tanned leather will conform to your feet and become more comfortable over time while having more actual support for your feet as well. I am thrilled that Grant Stone went with the more traditional route here.
The leather I chose for these shoes was a bit of a compromise. Grant Stone used to offer their derbies in Saddle Tan Badalassi leather. As a huge fan of Badalassi leather, I would have wanted these. They actually still make them, but they are now on a wedge sole and I like wedge soles about as much as I like what M. Night Shyamalan did to Avatar: The Last Airbender so that was no longer an option for me. I’m not a huge fan of pebble/scotch grain leathers and this is no exception. I do love the shade that it is, but I’m not a huge fan of the way these leathers look. With that said, this Horween example seems to be a solid leather. It’s quite stiff, feels fairly robust, and as I said, has a very nice, rich cognac color which looks great.
Construction quality is what I was most impressed by with these shoes. I have been looking for boots in the sub $350 price range that actually have higher overall construction quality and finishing than Red Wing and after trying quite a few boots in that price range, I hadn’t found any yet. The other brands I tried may have done some things better than Red Wing, but they always had at least one major flaw that made me unable to recommend them as a full equal or superior alternative to Red Wing. With Grant Stone, I can say that at least in terms of aesthetic construction quality and finishing, they are superior to Red Wing. I have owned three pairs of Red Wings and have handled two pairs of Grant Stones plus this pair here that I actually own. All three Grant Stone pairs were more neatly made and well finished than all three Red Wing pairs.
Grant Stone shoes are Goodyear welted and as expected at this price point, they use gemming. The rapid stitching that attaches the welt to the midsole is decently well executed, though not stellar. It is mostly dense and decently even on both shoes. It’s not perfect by any means and it does get slightly wonky in a few places, though it’s nothing egregious at this price point. One small complaint I have is that they use a fudging wheel on this area, but the stitches don’t actually line up with the ridges. It’s not actually a constructional issue, but rather something that I personally don’t love. Wyatt admits that they just use it for aesthetic purposes and in fairness, there are other makers that do this as well.
The leather pieces are cut pretty cleanly which is nice to see. Also, the edge finishing is very nicely done, especially at this price. In fact, I would say that the finishing on the midsole and outsole punches well above the price to the level of $600 or $700 boots. The upper stitching is quite dense and mostly very neat, though not perfect. Unsurprisingly, it does get a little bit messy where the quarter meets the vamp. In fairness, it’s not horrible. In fact, the stitching here is neater than on my Nick’s and Vibergs which are both significantly more expensive.
Overall, the construction quality is quite nice, especially at this price point. It’s not perfect of course, but for $315, this is pretty nice and certainly better than anything that I have handled at this price point and in fact nicer overall in finishing than my Nicks that cost $609, my Wescos which cost $750, and my Vibergs which cost over $800. They don’t match my better finished high end boots, but for the price, I am more than satisfied. Something else worth noting is that these shoes feel heavier than I was expecting. To me, that is a sign of good quality materials in the midsole and outsole, but I haven’t worn them enough to prove it. I just feel that it was worth pointing out.
The funny thing about the Alden comparison to me is that compared to the pairs of Aldens I have handled, these are better made. At least from the perspective of what a customer can see, the Grant Stone boots that I have handled are more neatly made and have better finishing than the pairs of Aldens that I have handled. I have not handled a huge amount of either boots, so take what I say with a grain of salt.
Fit is almost shockingly standard with these shoes aside from one issue that I am having with them. I am a 10.5D on a Brannock device and these size 10D Grant Stone shoes technically seem to fit me fairly well. One half size down seems to be right on the money. They are a D width and fit as such. They are not cramping my toes or anything, but they fit fairly snug on the widest parts of my feet near the front. These do not have very much arch support, which is not surprising as shoes tend not to have a ton of that. Still, these feel fairly nice to wear overall, even from the first wear. There will be break in with any shoe or boot, but these have not been painful in any way for me. The fit is pretty standard, maybe slightly narrow from what I can feel and the comfort for me is otherwise fairly solid.
What is interesting is that despite not fitting loose, I am experiencing pretty significant heel slip with these shoes which has been a little annoying. The shoes are stiffer than you would expect in terms of both the upper leather and the sole unit so that may be contributing to the issue. Still, I was surprised to have this happen as the heel counter is quite impressively stiff, which I would have thought would have kept my heel more snugly secure in the shoes. Fit is highly subjective though so I cannot say that this will be something that happens to everyone, but it is a little bothersome for me.
Of course, this is something that could lessen over time. Unfortunately, I have not worn these shoes anywhere near as much as I would have wanted to by this point. I have been working from home for nearly a year at this point and live in one of the most highly affected areas on the planet for the virus, so I have not been going outside all that much. As I wear these shoes more, I will make sure to update this section and I apologize for not giving more information here at this time. What I can say is that these are a very standard fitting pair of shoes. In fact, they feel more standard than any other pair of shoes or boots I’ve owned. That’s not a bad thing at all, just an observation.
A big reason that I got these instead of boots is because I wanted something a little bit more formal. Compared to actual formal dress shoes, these are quite casual. Next to my engineer boots, however, they are relatively dressed up. In general, I would not wear these with jeans, though you could certainly do that if your style is more sartorial and/or preppy than mine is. For me, these are shoes to be worn with chinos and other non-denim trousers.
So far, I have been quite happy with how these have blended into my wardrobe. While I am not in love with this leather, I do love the color. It looks really nice with my Freewheelers Sunset leather jacket, Freewheelers Lot. 667 suede jacket, and would look good with my Ooe Yofukuten mustard moleskin cossack jacket as well. I’m also just really partial to golden/orange leathers, especially against mid to dark blues (such as anything indigo dyed) and so these fit well with the vast majority of what I wear. Even though I’m used to more casual and chunky footwear, these are still a very casual looking pair of leather derby shoes, so they still work with my clothing, though I like them with button up shirts more than with t shirts. They are a nice change of pace rather than a complete shock of the system.
Overall, I think these shoes are overall quite good, especially for the price. Grant Stone doesn’t make my favorite style of boots, so I decided to get something rather specific that was even more out of my comfort zone than most of their boots are. I am glad I did, though. These will certainly fill a gap in my footwear collection that I needed to close. Construction is overall very good, materials are solid, and fit is quite standard which should be helpful for anyone newer to leather footwear.
Outsourcing is something that bothers me, but Grant Stone’s manufacturing system is something that I am happy to support because it really does not seem to have any of the negative aspects of outsourcing. The only issue I can see would be if you are someone who absolutely has to have everything made in the USA in which case… why are you even reading this review in the first place? I generally favor Japanese products over USA made stuff anyway, so this isn’t the place for you. These shoes are not perfect, but I do think that they punch above their price point. If these or any of their other models are the style of footwear that you like, I think Grant Stone is a strong choice.
If you are considering any boots or shoes under $350 and you aren’t in love with the Red Wing aesthetic, I would recommend these above any others. These are better than the Thursday, Mark Albert, Red Wing, Urban Shepherd, and Beckett Simonon boots that I have owned in my opinion.To me, they are more than worth the extra $100-$150 price increase over Thursday and Beckett Simonon. Given their construction and especially their material quality, I would actually pay more than twice as much for Grant Stone as I would for Thursday and Beckett Simonon. I would say it would be worth saving up for these over those or any other more entry level boots/shoes.
On the other hand, if you are like me and you prefer engineers, lace to toe logger boots, woodsman heels, and small or one man shops that handwelt their footwear, these may not be for you unless you are like me and have a small niche to fill. As I have said before, I could be biased because I got these for free, but I have gotten a lot of products for free and still have them ambivalent or negative reviews and I have turned away further free products that I knew would be terrible. Either way, for what they are, I think Grant Stone is quite good and I am glad they exist to give another strong option to people in the sub-$400 boot market.