I’ve been daydreaming about shoes lately. All kinds, to wear to all sorts of occasions, most of which no longer exist in the context of California’s quarantine — parties, bars, clubs, tailgates, to say nothing of the office and the beach.
I always have an idea of what pair I need (okay, mostly want) next; right now, it’s a mid-cut boot and a pair of sneakers. But the reality of being stuck inside so much of the time makes the prospect of dropping several hundred dollars on a pair of kicks less… well, justifiable. Stress-shopping is absolutely a form of self-care as we face the wrath of COVID-19. But for me, shelling out for shoes with nowhere to actually flex them still feels a little obscene.
Instead, I’ve turned to watching YouTube videos of the shoes I want, in the hopes that endless research can be an effective salve for cravings. And while there are literally countless content creators who focus on dissecting the look, feel and construction of popular shoes, I’ve never quite seen anyone do it so literally as Weston Kay, the soft-spoken man who runs the leather goods shop Rose Anvil and a YouTube channel of the same name.
Kay seems to have appeared out of nowhere. While he’s been uploading videos since 2018, it’s his recent shoe reviews that have taken him viral. Case in point: About six months ago, two uploads on the inner workings of Dr. Martens boots racked up more than a million views combined — a big boost over the 5,000 to 10,000 views he was averaging on other uploads. And the subscribers have exploded in 2020 in the aftermath of Kay releasing some eye-opening teardowns of some of the most beloved shoes in the game, ranging from Timberlands to rare Jordans to regular ol’ Converse high-tops.
There is a shock factor to Kay calmly taking a knife to the toe of a shoe, stabbing it in and beginning the process of sawing the whole thing in half. But his mellow demeanor and matter-of-fact narration, even when he comes across something puzzling in a shoe, is oddly soothing. Kay doesn’t really spend time opining about the aesthetic of a shoe or the culture around it. Rose Anvil doesn’t even make shoes. What he knows is leather, stitching, glue and assembly — and what each of those components look like, and cost, at their best.
Without a doubt, the channel received its biggest dose of notoriety when Kay decided to take his blade and pliers to a pair of the coveted Common Projects Achilles Low — the $400 white sneaker for minimalist hypebeasts. You either love ‘em or hate ‘em; devotees claim that the construction and quality makes them the gold standard for a sleek luxury-brand sneaker. So I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the quiet, bummed-out disappointment Kay showed as he cut up the leather of the upper and assessed it as the cheap stuff.
It doesn’t take a genius to suspect that a brand like Common Projects is in the business of marking up its above-average wares to high-end prices. But to see it analyzed, literal layer by layer, by a man who could seemingly care less about sneaker culture, feels refreshing. It doesn’t appear that Kay is trying to pivot his brand to being a Notorious Shoe Truther, but with this one video, he became the buzzing subject of a million threads on Twitter, Reddit and shoe forums.
Despite Kay’s experience as a leather expert, these “Truth About…” shoe deconstruction videos have sparked more vigorous debate than conclusions about what the hell we’re actually paying for when we buy shoes. Kay points out in the video that Common Projects is using cheaper “chrome-tanned leather” of a lower grain quality than the best vegetable-tanned, full-grain leather available on the market, despite the top-end price tag. Some Redditors claiming to be shoemakers, meanwhile, note that this is par for the course on all sneakers. It’s fair to argue, as some detractors have, that Rose Anvil’s videos fixate too much on value that comes from materials and construction — that might make sense for a work boot, but not necessarily for a streetwear item. “It’s like trying to convince a kid not to eat Taco Bell because it’s not real Mexican food. They don’t care,” as one YouTube commenter quipped.
But I like knowing that Taco Bell isn’t real Mexican food, and I also like learning what the “real” cuisine is, to beat the metaphor to death. There are plenty of other YouTubers who have deconstructed shoes, whether it’s the 6-million-subscriber channel “What’s Inside?” sawing some Yeezys in half or artisan cobblers like Trenton & Heath carefully pulling apart the sole on a Carmina Mallorca dress shoe. No one has made me grin and click the next video quite like Kay, however. The Rose Anvil channel is such a far cry from showy, personality-oriented male fashion YouTube; it’s just a dude in a shop with a cat, using his hands and curiosity to show us the inside of our favorite shoes.
I can’t wait for the day when I can go back to the mall and start trying on shoes again. Until then, I remain glued to my screen, ready to watch Kay use a blade to tear through a shoe and unveil the secrets within.