Intriguing Meermin pre-order: Waxed Shell Cordovan boots for less than £300. What's the catch?
Updated: Dec 14, 2021
Meermin is taking pre-orders on a Waxed Shell Cordovan boot - it seems like pretty incredible value to get new shell boots for less than £300, so I wanted to do a quick dive on why they appear to be so cheap, and what the pros and cons of ordering might be.
One shell of a bargain
The pre-order page has a fairly long spiel about the material being used, which is already a bit eyebrow-raising:
"Shell Cordovan is one of the most sought-after leathers in the shoemaking industry, and that is simply because it is so good."
Well... that's quite a reductive way of putting it. Shell is sought after because:
1) It's scarce (as they go on to say later, a horsehide yields only about 4 square feet of Shell Cordovan)
2) It has a lot of distinctive properties when compared to calf leather - many appreciate the rolls it develops rather than creases and the depth of colour and patina it develops. But they aren't all good properties. It is far more prone to tearing; its scarcity makes it more likely you will get inconsistent colour matching on your shoes; and it benefits from a somewhat different care regime than calf leather does - not a lot more arduous, but certainly different.
We can give this a pass though - it might just be that the person writing the page has English as a second language, and I'm sure their English product copy is better than my Spanish.
"For this new & exclusive development we've been working exclusively with American shells—tanned by traditional vegetable tanning expert & family owned tannery, to develop this article exclusively made for Meermin."
This is where eyebrows should start to raise. They are not saying they have been working with an American tannery - you can bet the farm that if they were working with Horween cordovan they'd be singing that from the rooftops. But they are trying to form that kind of connection by talking about American shells (so American horses) processed by a family-owned tannery (which could be anywhere).
These are called "weasel words" - they are there to make implications without technically lying to the reader. Politicians love them.
"You can be sure that anything made out of this Waxy Shell Cordovan will age extremely well & will acquire its very own character through a truly aggressive patina making every pair simply unique."
It'll be interesting to see how these pairs do look when they start coming through - using the words "truly aggressive patina" certainly gives a wide leeway for how they will look, in both a good and bad way.
YOU: "My boots are completely different colours, and this one is covered in scuffs and stains"
MEERMIN: "Yes, you are lucky to have such a rich and aggressive patina."
So why is Meermin doing this at all? After all, they have established how rare and precious shell cordovan is, so of course the logical thing to do with that leather is... heavily wax and treat it until it's almost unrecognisable?
The consensus on the online discussion around this is that Meermin is working with a tannery that, for whatever reason, someone has a huge batch of low quality or badly treated shell, and the heavy waxing is a way of disguising the condition and selling on a product that would otherwise go in the bin.
And actually... I think that's fine if something like that is true. I just wish Meermin would be a bit more upfront in the marketing spiel if that's the case. That's actually a fantastic message, that we can repurpose this otherwise useless material and open it up to a wider audience, and still provide a really interesting and unusual looking boot.
And in spite of the overall negativity of the post above, they do look legitimately interesting and I have been sorely tempted to order. I've been buying and selling shoes for a while now, so something genuinely new coming along is intriguing, and I'm a real sucker for tobacco leathers. Like many people, I do baby my shell, so the idea of a "beater" pair is appealing if only for the novelty.
But I have burned by Meermin's tricky sizing and comfort levels (or lack of) before, so will probably wait and see what they look like when people start getting their orders through later in the year.