ROB REVIEWS @ARMSTRONGSALLNATURAL

Hello people.

How's it going folks? Hopefully all good...

So, tonight we have Rob (of Tricker's review fame) giving us the lowdown on an aftercare product that we got a sample sent over to us from the USA. Rob's given the @armstrongsallnatural aftercare kit a real run for it's money over the last couple of weeks and tonight we get to hear his thoughts.

Me and Rob sat down last Saturday, in store, to shoot the shit over a cup of Yorkshire and we mainly stayed within the lines but artistic license and all that, sometimes in life you have to go outside the lines to paint a masterpiece!

Cal @clobbercalm.cal

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1. So, first impressions of the product?

I started out with a pair of Loakes Chelsea Boots, tan leather...quite a smooth leather. You wouldn't use this product on suede or nubuck.

Cal ~ So, for a novice like me when it comes to aftercare, would you ever get a product that like this that would work across a number of different materials?

No, this is often an issue. I've seen boots like a pair of Timberlands where someone has used boot polish and with it being a thicker material it just gums up the surface. For suede, you really just need to brush it!

With the Armstrongs, I started out with the brush by brushing off the gunk as it describes. I thought that the brush was quite crude in nature but the quality of the bristles was noticeable. Not synthetics, not plastics or stiff...a nice, soft, horsehair brush. I then used the welt brush to clean out the dust from the welt, which worked really well. It's got stiff bristles and a narrow handle, looks a bit like a toothbrush so don't be mistaken for brushing your teeth with it!

I start out with the saddle soap, using a microfibre cloth BUT not one that they provided as I found these to be token gestures in the kit. They were too small to wrap around my fingers and get a real surface to work with but I just used one of my own. I get some of the soap onto my damp cloth and I start to work it into the boot, it's quite a light leather boot the Loakes so it shows every mark and indigo stain so I thought it'd be a nice challenge for the saddle soap to remove that stain. I was pleasantly surprised with the cleaner as it lifted the stain quite easily. Then I got a clean part of the cloth and removed the saddle soap residue from the boot. So, by now, we have a clean pair of boots.

Whilst letting the boots dry I read the instructions on the leather conditioner, which I used the round head brush and dabbed it into the tin to get some of the conditioner on it's DRY bristles. Small amount as you can always add more but it's difficult to remove

Cal ~ The old hairdresser adage that you can take more hair off but you can't add it on?!

Start with circular motions, always, over long streaks but work quickly because this product absorbs quickly...it grabs onto the leather per se! I could see by the fact that it was darkening the leather. Once I had an overall coating I started working with my hands to get to the hard-to-reach parts of the boot. Just to get a bit more pressure so I can help to really feed the leather and nourish it. To get back the oils and nourishments that have been lost from the boots. It's a bit like Mink Oil that you'd use on Red Wings in that it's got that dabbing quality to it and a slightly greasy texture. It did noticeably darken but I wasn't too worried about it staying dark...it just shows that it's working. Ideally after working in, leave that overnight...again, like Mink Oil.

What I liked about the leather conditioner was that it felt like it was acting as a moisturiser and helping to make the leather more supple. The Loakes that I was using to test are fairly new so the leather is still a little stiff but the conditioner still softened these up, which I was impressed by.

After leaving overnight I buffed with the brush and it looked acceptable but a little dull? I'm used to a product that brings out the shine straight away. So I got the boot shine, neutral so it didn't stain but understand they do colours which I'd quite like to try, and the first thing that hits you is the smell! You open the tin and you get hit with a zesty, orange peel scent which is really pleasant. I used the dobber again, in circles, and it darkened the leather again but I wasn't worried as the conditioner I'd used the night before had darkened the boots but they'd lightened by morning. I started to think that this was a product that I wouldn't use if I had ten minutes as the darkening wouldn't give me the best result over that timeframe.

I thought, this is more a spa treatment for your boots! A slow process that will nourish and make the product healthier.

I worked the polish to get a shine but that was after fifteen minutes BUT I think they'd have benefitted from having more time. This may be due to the natural nature of this product with it's lack of fast-breaking chemicals? So, I tried another coat and left overnight which brought out a much better lustre. What I'd say is that the polish left overnight is a must!

First practice from, with my Loakes, I was testing the waters with it and even though it did darken at first that settled and the boots ended up with a nice lustre. It also made the colours in the leather richer due to that nourishment, the boots had a well-fed, healthy glow.

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2. What was the second test, the shoes used and the results?

So, second test, I gave the product a bit more of a challenge. Whereas the Loakes were quite new & healthy, the second pair I used the Armstrongs on were my 15 year old, cracked natural leather Trickers which are also quite porous.

I followed the exact same cleaning process as before and the first thing I noticed was the indigo dye came off straight away and the saddle soap also brightened the leather somewhat.

Secondly, I got onto the conditioner and whoom(!) like a sponge the shoe soaked it right up plus went a lot darker than I anticipated BUT not worryingly dark, again. It was on the more porous points, the creases and the boogieing on the toe cap which I did anticipate slightly but I was worried. It was more a case of noticing the product working!

I left overnight and buffed it which did lighten them but they were still looking quite dark, and these being my favourite shoes I did get a tad nervous at this point because I've spent a lot of time and effort getting these shoes looking good in the first place...

...after 24hrs I put on the shine and again, first polish, a little dull. In for a penny, in for a pound, I put another layer on and second time I buffed it they came out again!

I don't have an issue with this multiple application as I think it advocates the natural element of this product, being one where the result is a more natural outcome and less one bore from chemical enhancements. So requiring a bit more patience.

This, more believable nourished leather shine was what convinced me that I liked this product. I must've shined this particular pair of shoes countless times and this time the shoe just seemed to have a bit more give in them, a bit more supple. I was really happy with the results on my Trickers but they were still dark...yet, this lifted over the next 2-3 days and it actually improved the colour on the scars and wear 👌

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3. Next pair, how'd that go?

Got a classic pair of NCB (National Coal Board) pit boots or booits as we'd say in Yorkshire. A very coarse grained leather designed for proper workwear with a steel toecap and rubber sole. These are also quite new and quite stiff so they'd be a bit of a challenge to the leather conditioner to see if it would soften up these teak-tough pit booits?!

Cleaned again with the saddle soap as it's always important to clean before adding nourishment otherwise you'd just be rubbing the dirt into the leather and it will stop the product absorbing.

Lathered these with the leather conditioner and left them overnight and when I came to them in the morning I buffed. Then, the lovely zesty boot shine which I used the dobber for firstly and then my hands as it's quite novel to be able to do this seeing as normally the traditional products, I use, have the types of chemicals in them that require the use of latex gloves. Plus, I like to get stuck in!

Over with the buffer brush after they've had a night's rest and I'm loving it. Shiny but not over shiny, a nice lustre, a sparkle but not too much. I'm really happy at this point with three under my belt and next...the Red Wings.

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Cal ~ So, with the Trickers you mentioned manipulating the leather to test the suppleness after nourishing. Now, pit booits are made to be stiff to be able to do the job they're made for so did you try the same process and what was the result?

I've treated them in the past to try and make them more supple and this product definitely contributed to this. The true test was wearing them and I went out in the car as driving seemed like a good test and I was really happy. Now, don't get my wrong, they're never going to be mistaken for chamois leather but on a subtle level I can sense that they feel nourished.

Cal ~ Is it safe to say thought that, with products like these and performing aftercare on shoes/boots that you're dealing in subtleties rather than extremes?

I don't think you get extremes or game-changers no but this close to a game-changing product for me in terms of what I may use, personally, in the future. In fact, I'm reluctant to hand it over aha!

4. How did it go with the Wings?

I, personally, think that this is where the product came into it's own. It's what it was made to do...

The saddle soap cleans them up really well and brightens the leather and the welt brush gets into the welt perfectly, all pretty standard.

The leather conditioner was like a soothing balm to the leather and did darken but strangely it made the leather tone look richer.

Again, 24 hours, buffed it and lathered on a generous helping of the boot shine. To see if you could use too much BUT the boot just kept eating...it must be tasty fodder for the leather?!

The true test again is wearing them and I did so on a hot day, walking around town. I didn't even feel like I had anything on my feet, so comfortable.

It was at this point that I started to realise the properties of this product, this is like a vitamin injection to give unhealthy leather a boost. The finished effect is that of an oiled leather glow. My whole outlook changed throughout this process as I questioned; is it about getting this superficial shine on your shoes(?) or is it about treating your shoes with the respect and care to give back good service(?).

Final pair of shoes, I'm sold on this product!

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~ Summary ~

To put a bow on this review...I came to this with a cynicism towards a product I thought might be 'style over substance' but quickly realised that it's actually 'substance over style'. No fancy packaging, wasted materials on the brushes, a more natural approach that is reflected in the slow nature of it's not-to-be-hurried processes. It takes time to do what it does but it's worth taking the time...a bit like yoga, you know that it's good for you but you have to take the time & effort to reap the benefits of doing/using it. It feels like the sort of product that when used over time will prolong the lifespan of the shoes/boots it's applied to, considerably.

It made me think about the type of products I want to use and have next to my skin. Do I want the sort of products that are used with harmful chemicals in them. It made me think about the makers and the responsibility they should have around these types of product. 

Very happy and with me being quite familiar with a whole host of brand and products, this has wobbled me to be honest. I came to it with a set of notions with what I wanted from a polish i.e quick to apply, shiny result, good patina etc and I got the last two whilst taking a little longer...but worth the wait!

Personally, I want some and want to try the coloured variants as they use naturally sourced pigments rather than artificial pigments, like what artists use to colour paints. Like the process behind it!

~ Rob 19-5-18