The amount of good quality shoe care brands available are more than in a long time, and a lot of them are more accessible than ever with the growing e-commerce. Here’s a summary of all the brands you need to know off and info on where you can purchase them.
When the Japanese do something, they often do it properly. Also the case when it comes to shoe care products, where Boot Black from Matsudo, Tokyo, is one of the most progressive shoe care companies today. The premium brand of the main Japanese player in this industry, Columbus. They have a large development department and have an impressive range of products part of the Boot Black range, from regular shoe cream and wax polish to sole edge crayons (to cover minor marks) and an oil-based polish that allows for a high shine all over the shoe. Their products often smell quite strong, but are easy to work with and gives excellent results. Has a growing retailer base around the world, in Europe you can for example find them at The Shoe Snob, and in the US Leffot is one of the retailers.
Here’s a review of some Boot Black products.
The brand Brift-H was started by the first world champion in shoe shining, Yuya Hasegawa from Japan, with the same name as their shoe shine bars. Small range of creams, waxes, brushes etc. The products are relatively loose in consistency, similar to Collonil below, but are nice and easy to work with. Has its own webshop that ship worldwide.
Here it’s important to know that today’s Burgol is not the original products. Hesitated a bit about if to include this at all, but think it’s good to be open about the story here. To summarise, the original Swiss Burgol had the rights to the company name basically stolen by their German agent (read more in this article), who now produce Burgol products in France and not the same standard as was, although still quite good. The original Swiss company has now rebranded to Siegol (see below). The new Burgol is mainly found in Germany nowadays, but also sells internationally.
Collonil is one of the largest producers of quality shoe care in Europe. Has several different ranges, where the standard series is stable with good products without silicones, and where most things are available. They also have a top range with only natural ingredients called 1909, it’s really good and at an affordably price tag in general. The cream contains a lot of pigment and is rather soft in consistency, and the wax is relatively easy to work with. Their own webshop sells their entire range and ships worldwide.
Columbus is the company behind Boot Black, but they also have a bunch of slightly simpler products under their own name. The biggest shoe care company in Japan, and literally has everything you can think of and more. Can mainly be found in their home market, but also in some other places in Asia.
French shoe care manufacturer Famaco has been around since 1931, and mainly makes products for shoe brands, stores and others who want to have their own logo on stuff, so it’s a mix what is made. Under their own brand they gather mainly their best products with an exclusive touch. They have lots of shades especially of their shoe cream, more than 100 different colours (!), and it’s definitely nice and easy to use. The main online retailer is Monsieur Chaussure.
Kiwi is a player aimed more at the common man than shoe enthusiasts, and so the focus is on cheap, easy-to-use products which unfortunately means some synthetic chemicals in many cases. It gets clean quickly, shiny quickly and so on at a low price, but is in some cases questionable for the leather. Their wax polish Parade Gloss is one of their finer products, which is clearly easy to get up a nice shine with. One of the reasons, however, is that it contains silicone (on some markets, that is, it actually varies), which can clog the pores in the leather and limit its ability to breathe and thus age well, at least if overused. Should be rather easily accessible in most areas of the world.
La Cordonnerie Anglais
An old French company, which since many years are part of the French Avel family, La Cordonnerie Anglais’ products are made in the same factories as its sibling Saphir. Has the basic stuff like cream, wax, leather cleaners and more, but is also big on other parts like brushes, cases, aprons and so on. Available from for example Valmour.
Founded about a decade ago under the name GlenKaren by the couple Glen and Karen Tippets in Oregon, USA, now taken over by enthusiast Andy Vaughn and renamed to Pure Polish. Karen had disliked the strong scent of turpentine (a type of solvent used in the vast majority of shoe care products. Contrary to popular belief, turpentine isn’t a synthetic substance, but an oil extracted from pine trees, it smells strong though), and that’s where the idea for the Pure Polish shoe care range was born. It’s made with all-organic products and instead of turpentine they smell of orange, a much more pleasant scent according to most. The products can be a bit hard and slightly demanding to work with, but the results are excellent, not least the wax gives a good shine quickly and their water-repellent cream works rather well.
Saphir is the biggest shoe care brand for those who are more into shoes, and sold in lots of places: shoe stores, cobblers, online stores and so on. As mentioned above part of the large player Avel. Saphir has two ranges, with the standard range using synthetic dyes with lots of colours, and lots of different types of products part of it. The top range Medaille d’Or has excellent shoe cream and wax polishes using only organic pigments, and their sprays has no silicones or other synthetic substances. Very wide range of products, available at retailers worldwide.
Read more about Saphir in this report from a visit to their factory.
Shoeboy’s is a German brand that despite being around for a long time never really established itself wider, outside its home country. However, they also have a wide range of most within shoe care and accessories, except that they seem to lack a wax polish. Available from some cobblers and others, but then usually only a few individual products, the whole range is most easily found on Ebay.
Siegol from Switzerland (previously Burgol, read more above) makes really nice products. Both cream and wax are thick and long lasting. Some manufacturers who use crust leather (leather that is only dyed on the surface) recommend Siegol (and also Collonil 1909 or Saphir’s standard range) over many other brands, as their cream contains less wax which tends to gather in light streaks in the creases of crust leather shoes. Can be bought from their own store, and some selected retailers.
Another of the big names in shoe care is the Spanish brand Tarrago. Has lots of different ranges with everything from creams and waxes to protective sprays with so-called nanotechnology and leather dyes. Has a good reputation and is very popular in some countries. Sold in various places on most markets.
The Shoe Snob
Started by the blogger and shoe entrepreneur Justin FitzPatrick, now with new ownership, The Shoe Snob has the more basic products in its range. They’re made by Avel and are very reminiscent of La Cordonnerie Anglais’ products, with the wax in particular being nice and easy to work with. Buy from The Shoe Snob’s own online shop.
Turms is a fairly small company based in the Italian shoe district Marche. Used to be big on wooden lasts for various shoe manufacturers, but nowadays the focus is on shoe care and shoe accessories. Not a huge range of products, but what they have is really good and nicely packaged. A favourite is a leather soap that includes a natural sponge from the Adriatic Sea off the coast of Marche as the finishing touch. Nowadays they have a good online shop of their own.
Now please note that this is just a selection of shoe care producers. There are, of course, many more, but I cannot include them all, for example brands focusing on specialised sneaker care I have left out, and those who are only big in one market. If there are any that you like very much that are not on the list, please write about them in the comments section, where you are also welcome to share your experiences of those on the list.
Read Shoegazing’s complete shoe care guide here.
Here you can read about why there’s no problems to mix between shoe care brands.
I wonder if all silicon is really as bad as people think. According to the disclosures in the Bickmore website, they use silicon PMX-200 fluid in Bick 4 and it is still a great product that if anything has minimal water resistance rather than the warnings of impermeable leather we hear all the time. Possibly another common misconception?
I’m curious as to why Woly doesn’t get much mention here on the internet. They’re my go to before I switched entirely to Saphir MDO. They have a comprehensive range of shoe care products from creams to conditioner, waxes, dubbin, sprays etc. I could easily find Woly at cobblers & department stores, and they’re cheap as well. I think that they’re great products with natural ingredients (correct me if I’m wrong). Their creams & waxes are also fairly easy to get a shine with, and their leather balm has a good consistency. Best of all their products smells much better than most products I’ve used (Like a nice hand cream).
I had a learning curve when I started switching to Saphir products. But it definitely produces stunning results once I got the hang of it and it was more rewarding. Though their so called liquid gold Renovateur is quite aggressive in pulling out colour and is a bit sticky although gets better with buffing.
PurePolish cleaner & conditioner is like the extra strength version of Renovateur; which I don’t think is good thing. It pulls out even more (too much) colour and is just a sticky mess even, with small amounts. The paste/ wax polish is also very gritty somehow. Not sure if it’s just my batch, but I’ve not had much luck with PurePolish so far & I can’t see myself using them for my nicer shoes. I’ve since switched to Bick 4 for as my go to cleaner/conditioner and it’s just no fuss.
Patrick Li: I did not know Bick 4 used PMX 200, that’s sad to hear. Silicone (note, not silicon) is always a synthetic polymer based substance, and for me I will always avoid synthetic substances on a natural material like leather, in the same way as I avoid body products with silicone for my skin. There are natural waxes and oils that do the same thing as these synthetic ingredients, it’s just since it’s easy and cheap to use silicones that it’s done. Potential harm to the leather is discussed, but I’ve talked to enough experts within the field to understand that depending on amount and what it’s mixed with, it can “clog the pores” and hinder the materials “breathability”, while the natural waxes and oils that one can choose instead of silicone don’t have the same properties.
Greg T: AFAIK, Woly has petroleum based ingredients like napthta and synthetic substances like silicones etc in a number of their products (some waxes, waterproofing sprays etc), in a similar way as other cheaper shoe care brands, like Wolys sister brand/owner Bama, Boston and Kiwi for that matter. It’s hard exactly where to draw the line, I include Kiwi here since it’s the biggest one also at cobblers etc and used a lot also among “shoe interested”, while Woly and Boston are a bit behind on this regard, in general.
As I understand it, the nice smell some of these cheaper brands has is mainly due to the use of naphta as solvent, and its petroleum smell can more easily be covered with perfumes, while turpentine (oil from pine trees, as mentioned in the article), has a stronger smell which one can’t cover the same way with perfumes. Now, there are definitely problems with turpentine as well, not least it’s flammability, there are other also natural solvents that don’t have this issue, used by for example Pure Polish, although those also comes with other challenges.
Totally understandable. For me and the US more casual circles I am in, nobody has really noticed any problems with Bick 4. Personally, I haven’t found anything as inexpensive that darkens as little as it. I can definitely see the appeal of all-natural products however. Something worth noting is that in my experience wax based creams offer much more water resistance than even repeated coats of Bick 4, so I am still a bit skeptical about the impermeability.
Fantastic article Jesper, really, really informative, thank you!
One question for you please – the standard colours are widely available but where do we source the more unusual Saphir colours like purple, Parisain Brown please?
Patrick Li: Yeah, it is inexpensive, apparently partly for a reason 😉 It’s a different thing from creating a water repellent surface, as shoe cream and wax polishes can do, vs the way that silicone can “clog the pores”.
Anonymouse: Thanks a lot! I think many larger retailers of the brand, like Valmour or us at Skolyx in Europe, or Kirby Allison in the US, should have most colours.
I like to use Connery saddle soap. it does a good job at removing waxes & polishes to start again., It’s kind of new on the market
What about Lincoln and Kelly’s wax shoe polishes? Both have been around for nearly one hundred years??
Don: Okay cool, haven’t tried that. My new favourite cleaner is actually Tarrago WASC sneakers cleaner, it’s super effective (for all shoes) and very easy to use.
Leo Montgomery: I paste the reply I did to the same question from you in the shoe FB-group:
“You can see my reply above to Michael [on Mr Mowbray, a Japanese brand], I’ve not included brands that are basically only sold on one market (like only US or only Japan). But sure, both those are big ones, so could perhaps be included.”
Excellent article as ever, thanks for all the information. What I would be really interested in is input on different shades of colours, particularly browns. I am having great difficulty finding a cream a shade or two darker than Saphir Cognac, which I use a lot. I have found Boar Brown the best for dark brown, and Collonil Burgundy (and Saphir Burgundy and Mahogany) for redder shoes, but Saphir Hazel, Chocolate, and Medium Brown are all too cold. I am not too bothered about wax, since I have found many to be OK for finishing toe caps (though I was pleased to find Cheaney’s Espresso for the very dark cold brown). But does a warm slightly lighter than medium brown cream exist?
Hey Jesper, I just wanted to say thank you for including Pure Polish in this list. As a small maker, it’s an honor to get representation among this amazing group of competition. I’ll keep listening and improving our products with the feedback you and the rest of the community provides. So again, thank you!
Mike Sweetmore: Thank you! Personally I don’t care that much about really matching nor the cream or the wax exactly to the shoe, but if you do of course there should be creams available in the colour you wish. I’ve done this guide at Skolyx for Saphir Medaille d’Or colours: https://www.skolyx.se/en/content/46-guide-colors-saphir-medaille-d-or
Saphir has lots of more shades in their Beaute de Cuir series, Boot Black has lots of cream colours, and most of all probably has Famaco, as mentioned in the article over 100 colours.
Andy Vaughn: Cheers! Good to hear.
Very informative. I really was unaware how many shoe care brands there are out there. I would avoid any products with silicone in tbh, but would be willing to try other brands rather thank sticking religiously to the French one beginning with ‘S’.
Great to see you Jesper (albeit briefly) at the Trunk Show on Saturday. Sorry I couldn’t take you up on the very kind offer of joining you for a drink – I had a coach to catch!.. next time?
Anthony: Cheers, and yes, great to meet you in person this weekend!