Blazing Wonders, BW Shoes, offers exquisitely looking hand welted shoes at an impressive price tag, starting at €500, where the ambition is to offer shoes that look like way more expensive bespoke shoes to a larger group of customers. Here’s a substantial review of a pair from them.
Brand: Blazing Wonders Shoes
Model: MTM Punched cap toe balmoral oxfords
Leather: Charles F. Stead Janus reverse calf suede
Colour: Dark brown
Last: Classic round toe
Size: UK11 (modified)
Sole: Leather sole with rubber topy and metal toe taps
Price: ~€600 (regular MTO starts at €500. These are a review pair from BW Shoes)
Blazing Wonders Shoes, or BW Shoes, is the own brand of the Shanghai based Jiazhuo Shoes Factory. It was started already ten years ago in 2012, is run by Helen Wu, and is fully specialised in hand welted men’s shoes. Today the factory employ about 15 persons and produce around 300 pairs a month. Despite being around for a number of years it’s a brand that only recently started to become known to people. This since they’ve mainly been an OEM manufacturer, and there’s several quite well-known brands that are made here, though I can’t disclose any of them here. But if you’ve been interested in hand welted Chinese dress shoes and kept an eye on things in that area in recent years, you’ve surely come across a few of them.
The development of high-end welted footwear in China is rather interesting, where a lot has happened the past decade or so. China has moved away from being a low cost production country for shoes, this production has moved to other Asian countries where labour is cheaper. This has meant that we now see a lot of new Chinese independent shoemakers making welted shoes, raised in a shoe industry that in parts have moved on, and now thanks to social media they can reach customers themselves, they get companies from Europe and the US who have them make shoes for their brands, and so on (if you want to learn more on this topic, listen to this episode of the Shoegazing Podcast with Robin Chang). BW Shoes is a good example of this development.
BW Shoes started an Instagram account a few of years ago, and it’s through this and e-mail they handle most of the orders coming in from direct customers. One order by contacting Helen Wu through Instagram DM or the contact options shared on their profile there, she’s good at English so communication is no problem. Basically everything you see on their IG is available to order. Blazing Wonders offers only hand welted shoes, standard is with machine stitched front part of the sole and hand stitched slim bevelled waists. You can choose fully hand stitched soles as well though, and a number of other details are available to spec.
They have leathers from all the famous tanneries, like Annonay, Charles F. Stead, Haas, Weinheimer, Bonaudo and so on, and you can choose oak bark tanned JR soles. It’s all Made to Order, and delivery time is 1-2 months, a bit more if a new pattern needs to be developed. Prices are starting at €500 (3,500 CNY) for hand welted, half hand stitched soles, boots €70 more (all prices listed are excluding shipping and potential tax/customs). For fully hand stitched outsoles shoes start at about €720, boots again €70 more. Then for some leathers, metal toe taps, shoe trees etc there’s some added costs.
As always, I have troubles fitting into standard lasts, so in my case the shoes are Made to Measure. To have lasts modified costs €70, and to have fitting shoes adds another €70. I sent my feet measurements and tracings, photos of my feet, info on sizes of other shoes I wear and so on, and got a pair of fitting shoes sent. There were some work to be done on the lasts for the final pair, which I explained in video, photos and text. After BW received this, it took another two months or so for the final pair to arrive.
General info about the shoes
The model is a version of a punched cap toe balmoral oxford that I had seen on Blazing Wonders’ Instagram. It’s made on a a last with a classic round toe, built with a single leather sole which has a rubber topy and metal toe taps added. My intention is to wear them during rain and more harsh weather, actually would have wanted full rubber top pieces for the heels as well but forgot to specify this. They are made in a dark brown shade of Janus reverse calf suede from the famous British tannery Charles F. Stead. The shoes are delivered in a black box with an embossed floral pattern, and with golden fabric shoe bags.
Construction and materials
All Blazing Wonders’ shoes are lasted by hand, and hand welted. These have their basic construction where the sole stitch of the waist is stitched by hand, while the forepart of the sole stitching is done by machine. This is to be able to achieve a more elegant, sleek looking waist while still keeping cost down by doing main part with machine.
The shoes do not have a blind welt waist, even if I often see this type of waist described as such. Here the welt and the stitching isn’t hidden by the outsole, the welt runs fully visible along the edge and you also see the stitching when you look closer. Since they cut it close (in the case here, it’s easier to make tight looking on suede since the fibres are compressed under the plastic cover, and when this is removed it expands again) and round things off, it mimics a blind welt quite well, but it’s a different and simpler technique.
The transition between the machine-made sole stitch and the more sparse handmade one at the waist isn’t super clean when you look close, but from distance you don’t notice it at all. The heel is cut nice and close, with a very slight taper. From what it looks like they build one layer of heel lifts on the shoe so the nicely rounded, bevelled waist can continue in under the heel in a good way, the rest is a pre-built heel block.
The finishing is excellent for shoes at this price point, even if you can’t compare it to shoes from good bespoke makers, Acme, Stefano Bemer’s Tradizione or similar. What BW is after is shoes that when seen worn on the feet looks just like these absolute top-end shoes, while they take a number of shortcuts to keep price down, these are mainly visible first when you look up-close.
The suede from Charles F. Stead is of excellent quality, and the real leather heel stiffener continues a bit further forward than leather board or celastic ones do on your standard welted shoes, which gives a good support. Toe stiffeners I believe are made of celastic (plastic impregnated fabric), which is reasonable for this type of shoes.
Since these are Made to Measure with modified lasts, and I don’t know how much they’ve changed things from the standard lasts, I can’t give too much fit guidance on how BW Shoes fit in general. Base last size is a UK11, my regular size, so can say that heel to ball length is in accordance with what one consider “true to size”. For me they’ve added on the width of the last, and given space for my pinky toes. This has given the last a rather asymmetric, slightly “bananaesque” shape, I would probably have preferred that one made the toe a bit more elongated instead, but given it’s only MTM not bespoke it’s fully understandable that they went this route. And of course a good fit is most important.
I’ve worn them around ten times, and they broke in rather easily. Fit is overall good, only two more significant things to fix fro potential follow-up pairs, which is some excess space behind the inner ball, a common issue for me, and then topline of the heel digs into my achilles tendon a bit. It’s nice to have the proper arch support one can get with hand welted shoes and proper heel stiffeners.
Without a doubt you’ll get a lot of shoes for your money buying from Blazing Wonders. Solid construction where clever shortcuts makes it possible to achieve a real high-end look at a much lower price. As long as one don’t expect miracles, of which there essentially isn’t any in the shoe world of today, going the route with this Chinese maker is a really good choice.