Today I will Review Yearn Shoemaker, which is an emerging brand from China.
Specifically I will show you my first ever pair of Single Monk Straps in a lovely brown patina.
A genuinely handmade shoe for just $450 but are they really as good?
Let’s find out in today’s in-depth Review.
expectations & Disclaimers
I am always transparent when I receive items for Reviews even though this is just a hobby for me.
Yearn Shoemaker was kind enough to provide this pair in exchange for my honest thoughts.
There is no monetary compensation and in fact they were eager to hear my criticism in order to improve their products.
As you will read in the Review, there will be both praise and criticism which is vital in today’s society.
Yearn shoemaker | Brief history
With so many exciting shoe brands emerging every year, it is proving difficult to keep up with them.
Last year was the first time I ever heard about Yearn Shoemaker, a small workshop out of China making handmade shoes.
My first ever contact with Yearn was through my friend at Fu Pei (Largest Chinese Shoe Blog).
Actually, he introduced them to me as “Slim Shoes” which seems to be their name in the Chinese market.
However, for their international name and website they call themselves “Yearn Shoemaker”.
Yearn Shoemaker consists of 3 partners, so it is a small lean operation instead of a massive factory.
One of them is Tim, who I corresponded with for the past few months and was eager to assist me with everything.
Others have lived abroad and immersed themselves in the mecca of shoemaking, Northampton in the UK.
I should also mention that their English is excellent and you should not run into any language barrier.
Yearn Shoemaker | Available ranges
I am really eager to begin reviewing the actual shoes, but I figured you might have some questions regarding the shoe ranges.
To begin with, there is a small lean RTW (Ready To Wear) Collection of popular styles.
These are available for $399 or $419 which is an astonishing price if you think about the details.
All of their shoes according to the information is hand-welted, hand-lasted with a handsewn outsole.
Of course, a handmade shoe is not necessarily good (looking at you Meermin) but it definitely represents value.
Now, if you want something more special there are two more available ranges.
The regular MTO (Made To Order) Program where you can select any model on their website or social media.
You select and customize your last, sole, leather and color and all this for just a $50 upcharge.
Lastly, there is the Premium MTO Program which starts at $1000 and here they really cut no corners.
The regular MTO has a turnaround of about 35 days while the Premium MTO about 4 months.
About a month ago, they launched their first website, which is very minimalist, clean and straight to the point.
On paper at least, this is a very exciting brand with a more modern aesthetic.
Let’s see if that’s true!
Time to get serious and it’s always good to begin by laying down the specifications:
- Brand: Yearn Shoemaker
- Model: Cardiff
- Style: Reverse Split-Toe Single Monk Strap
- Leather: Crust Full Grain Calf
- Tannery: Bonaudo (Italy)
- Color: Dark Brown
- Details: Skin Stitched Apron
- Last: 202
- Construction: Hand-welted, hand-lasted, handsewn
- Sole: Closed Channel Leather
- Heel: Leather
- Shoe Trees: Lasted
- Size: UK 8 (US 9D)
- Origin: Made in China (Chengdu)
- Price: $469
A Tannery I have never tried before, a fully handmade shoe for a great price and good looks.
Hopefully the actual shoe will fit and perform as good as it sounds.
shipping & unboxing
There are a few very interesting things to think about, at least for those of you shopping from Europe.
I am not sure if the “no import taxes under $800” applies for the USA even from purchases in Asia.
But for others such as Canada or Europe, you need to be aware that there most likely will be some duties.
In Italy, I paid about 70 Euros ($80 or so) so that is maybe an additional cost you should calculate.
Shipping was super quick which is always the case for companies that use DHL Express.
However, there was a bit of a problem that I feel I need to mention and critique.
My package came in a plastic DHL Bag and inside there was only the shoe box.
As a result the actual shoe box was in tatters with ruined edges and in rough shape.
Luckily the shoes were intact, but I would really recommend using some form of cardboard box as well.
Of course, it could be that since this is a Review pair the didn’t include one.
As for the contents, there is some dark green tissue paper, a pretty thick separator and two lovely shoe bags.
The shoe bags have a light brown tint to them and a herringbone pattern with a tweed-like weave.
Be careful with the white strings because you know what happens when you pull a string too much on jogger pants!
In it’s core, this is a single monk strap.
A type of shoe that uses a piece of leather with a number of straps and buckles instead of laces over your foot.
Depending on the number of buckles, you call them single, double or…idiotic monk straps.
Monk straps are quite busy styles, so other than a cap-toe they rarely have features such as broguing.
This model in particular not only has a Norwegian apron, but also a split seam at the front.
To take things to another level, the stitching is done under the skin, for a more clean look.
In fact, it is what appealed to me in the first place when looking for a model from Yearn.
The result was pretty much what I expected with a modern look, square last and low profile.
Their handpainted brown patina was rich with a glossier finish and the stitching was very clean.
Observing I found a couple of talking points such as some nails at the heel or some strange stitching at the backseam.
Obviously, I quickly put them on to gauge the fit which was great, however you will notice later there was a small issue with squeaking.
Overall this was a satisfying first impression and attempt to make a value-oriented higher end shoe on a more affordable price.
I want to make a small parenthesis and mention that when I opened the box there was a strong, potent chemical smell.
It really overpowered my nose and was a similar experience my friend Mike Baldinger had.
After I let the shoes air a bit the smell completely disappeared.
We both found out that it is the adhesive they use for gluing the insole.
Just a heads up if you have a sensitivity to strong smells I suppose.
My advice is to take them out of the box and allow the smell to dissipate.
What is there to say about leather quality without sounding like a fake expert each time?
To begin with, the tannery is Italian and called Bonaudo.
Admittedly, I knew nothing about them but after some journalistic research I found out a bit more about Bonaudo.
Mostly a domestic leather supplier, they follow the strict environmental protocol laws with tons of options.
If I am correct, Antonio Meccariello uses some for example which is always a good shine.
There were a few things that impressed me while I was looking at this leather.
It was exceptionally supple and smooth when running my hand over the uppers.
It also had a quite glossy shine to them and the leather will create a nice patina over time.
Personally I think that lighter spots will develop in the flex points in the future with wear.
Yearn also calls this a brown patina but for this model do not expect a very extensive depth with multiple colors.
It is much more subtle and uniform though if you ask for it I am sure they can deliver.
Update: After spending some more time using the shoes, I noticed some unusual creasing at the side of my right shoe.
It could either be the result of bad clicking in that part, or a fit/last issue with my foot.
I think it is the latter, so make sure to read the fit section of the review!
Build & construction
One of the main selling points of brands such as Yearn Shoemaker is the construction and value.
It is becoming a bit more common to find handmade shoes at lower price points without compromising quality.
There are obviously cut corners but the fact remains that this is a genuinely handmade shoe for less than $500.
Welted, lasted by hand with a handsewn closed channel outsole and leather heel stack is pretty impressive.
There is no way for me to assess the insides without cutting the shoe in half obviously.
However the shoe feels solid, is rather lightweight and you can feel the structure on the sides
Minor things to improve are proper hammering of the heel nails as some are slightly protruding and I might do it myself.
Maybe the heel blocks could be sanded a bit more to be smoother I suppose.
The edge finishing on the bottom of the strap could also be more even.
Really nitpicking here, but for this price point what you seem to get is excellent.
stitching and welt
It is always very positive when I look at a pair of shoes and the stitching is good.
These days you really have to try to find terribly sewn shoes and I cannot recall the last time that happened in this blog.
Considering the (relatively) low price of today’s shoes and the handsewn apron and split, it is worth an extra look.
At first glance, you would not notice as the work is really good and consistent.
You have to really observe to see small hints of handsewing on the uppers or the skin-stitched split.
The same goes for the welt, which is tidy and well-executed.
Of course, it is not the highest density stitching in the world, but if you are interested in such things you would be looking at the Premium MTO instead.
In other words, I have no complaints regarding the stitching or welt in both shoes.
It is exactly what you should expect at this price range and possibly a little bit more.
And now it is time to flip the shoe and check out the bottom part as well as its sides.
I should begin by saying that I don’t think there is really any benefit in sewing the outsoles by hand compared to a machine.
It’s still very impressive and overall a pretty job.
The sole has a nice appealing shape with a slightly tighter waist and no fiddleback.
Look closely and there are a few minor bumps that showcase the stitching hidden under the leather.
I am really nitpicking at this point of course.
One other thing you would notice is the nails at the toe, which I observe more and more these days.
In retrospective I should have asked for metal toe tips which is a modification I always recommend.
Then you see the heel which has less nails than usual but often the exterior ones are irrelevant.
It is what’s underneath that matters more and I cannot tell you that without removing the heel stacks.
Those are also leather and stacked by hand whereas Vass for example uses fiberboard.
The edge finishing on the top layer is slightly uneven.
I should remind you once more that such things are only noticeable if you just hold the shoes and inspect them yourself.
Nobody would ever notice them in real life applications so don’t go around forums complaining.
There’s rarely something to talk about when it comes to inner lining.
I do like Yearn’s dark brown lining which comes with a branded half insole and rougher heel walls.
Trimming on the top is alright though certain points seem to have uneven width.
Lastly, you can notice the handwelted bumps at the front of the shoe.
This is something I learned to look out for after the Archibald London fiasco last year.
Yearn Shoemaker Y07 Last
If you follow the blog you know how much I love (good) squared lasts.
Soft squares for the most part are my favorites since they have a “I mean business attitude”.
When people hear about square shapes they immediately think of those ugly 90’s shoes.
The difference here is the way they pronounce and shape that square at the front.
Yearn Shoemaker has 5 Lasts that I can see and this particular one is the Y07.
It’s quite chiseled and definitely not a soft square in my eyes. More of a (blunt) square instead.
A statement piece and if deemed too bold for some people, you could opt for the slightly more conservative Y03.
I think both could be good candidates for this model due to the slim, low-cut profile they have.
There is also some excess space at the front and thanks to the split seam the toe does not look too dramatic.
It all comes to personal preference and what you are trying to make.
I am proving to be a solid UK 8 (US 9D) in most of my regular shoes.
For wider lasts (such as Paolo Scafora) I size down half while for narrow lasts (Stefano Bemer) I size up half.
After discussions with Tim from Yearn Shoemaker he advised me to go for a UK 8 on these as well.
Initially after trying them on and going outside it proved to be the right choice.
Possibly due to the wider more square toe there is better toe space for me.
The instep should sit just right for most people, even though there is just one hole in the strap.
In my case a small “roll” or “bump” formed at the instep area showing a bit of tightness.
However it was not uncomfortable by any means but my right foot has a 0.5 cm higher instep.
I could just slightly feel my small toe touching the sides but not uncomfortably or painfully.
If you asked me today for sizing advice for the Y07 Last I would recommend taking it true to size.
Essentially same size as your Carmina Rain, Crockett & Jones 348, Saint Crispin’s Classic or Allen Edmonds 65.
Personally, for the future I would possibly experiment with half a size up to accommodate my special foot.
There was also the strange creasing at the side even after just 1 wear, which I think it was because my foot was too snug inside.
Don’t forget to always consult the retailer/brand to verify!
Disclaimer: Despite the slightly tighter fitting (notably on the instep) I did not have any noticeable discomfort or blisters after 5 km of walking.
I mentioned earlier in the article that I encountered an issue with squeaking.
As soon as I tried them on and walked a few steps I could hear it.
The next step was to isolate and find out where it originated from.
Turns out that as soon as I fastened the buckle, there was friction between the strap and tongue.
As I moved my feet, this friction created a squeaking sound which was a little annoying.
I assume that this is because of the leather having a lot of wax and polish as well as being a bit stiff.
My next course of action is to simply use the shoes and see if they soften.
If not, I will apply some conditioner or talc powder instead.
I will be updating you all as soon as I have more information but I really hope it disappears.
Hopefully not because I will probably not use them.
Update: After walking a bit the squeaking dissipated and was rather inaudible in real life applications.
However due to the instep issue I have it might not be the shoe’s fault so be aware.
A couple of months ago, Yearn Shoemaker launched their international website.
That is the easiest and most direct way to purchase from them.
Luckily the website is quite responsive and easy to navigate.
There is also Arterton London (who I don’t know much about) that is also an official retailer of Yearn Internationally.
I spoke with their Instagram manager and he tries to raise brand awareness to people.
If I am missing someone let me know and I will add it!
should you buy or not?
There are many ways to look and interpret that question,
If you look at it from a value and quality perspective, the basic offering of Yearn Shoemaker is pretty good.
It is hard to get a shoe that is really handmade for such money with the added flexibility of customization and quick lead times.
Also, for people that are disappointed by the continuous decline of brands like Carmina it is a good alternative.
Not everything is perfect of course and there is room for improvement.
Yearn Shoemaker, Yeossal and other brands are doing a good job shaking the low quality association and stereotypes of Asian countries.
In the end, if you want to try something different and more custom and your budget is around the $400-$500 bracket I do recommend checking them out.
Thoughts: The squeaking might be because of the monk strap design. It is obviously a disappointment but depending on if it disappears it would affect my recommendation.
how to style single monk-Straps?
Should I just skip this paragraph?
Every time I do a Review I end up writing the same thing with different wording.
A Dark Brown Shoe, versatile enough to wear with suits or jeans of any kind.
Like, literally when you are not sure what to wear just use dark brown shoes.
They will match anything but black and dark grey colors.
Of course, if I see you wearing them with shorts or cargo pants I will not be very gentle with you.
My advice is that since they are a bit more unique in appearance, try to use them with similar clothes.
Maybe with a more interesting windowpane or patterned suit, or plaid trousers.
Or why not, just keep everything basic and simple and let the shoes be the talking point.
Did someone ask for a Video Review instead?
Well here it is!
Yearn Shoemaker is an interesting company with a lean, precise business model.
There is a ton of customization and ranges for all tastes and overall they seem to make excellent shoes.
If they iron out small issues or polish their offerings they could potentially be a serious player!
In the end, their quality, consistency and customer service will dictate their success.
For now, I do recommend checking them out in the $400-$500 budget range.
Let me know what you think about my pair or what you would consider picking up from Yearn Shoemaker!
Take care and I will see you next week!
Thank you for reading,