The Hawthorne from Soft Star Shoes is their latest flagship chukka for casual wear. It was just released about a week ago and is now available on Soft Star’s site!
The Hawthorne has beautiful leather throughout, excellent workmanship, and a durable Vibram Geo sole (that can be re-soled) that is great for casual minimalist shoe enthusiasts.
Soft Star sent me a pair of the Hawthorne Chukkas to test and review, and now that I’ve put some miles in them, I’m ready to share what I think!
Overview of the Soft Star Shoes Hawthrone Chukka
Here’s what Soft Star Shoes’ elves have to say about the Hawthorne Chukka:
The Hawthorne is the latest addition to our casual line of barefoot-inspired adult footwear. This chukka-style shoe features tanned bullhide leather with a unique wax finish for a classic and comfortable design.
Weight — 8.18 oz (mens size 9)
Total Stack Height — 12mm (8mm Geo sole with 4mm leather midsole.)
Barefoot scale — Good for all wearers. Minimalists and mainstream users alike!
Ideal Uses — Light trails, walking around town,
Great Soft Star bullhide leather
Cool in summer, warm in fall
Wax finish gives some water-resistance
Can be easily resoled with its Vibram Geo sole
Leather midsole provides too much rigidity
Could have been sewn differently to provide even more toe space
Leather midsole is pretty stiff on bare feet
Using the same sole platform as Soft Star’s Rogue and North Star, the Hawthorne features an 8mm Vibram Geo sole that is best suited for casual wear. Different from the two aforementioned shoes, the Hawthorne adds an additional 4mm layer of stiff, durable leather midsole for repairability and longevity. The sole itself is quite soft and is dotted with hexagons and circles for traction, but they are roughly fingernail deep, so they are not exactly the perfect thing for snowy winters or mud. Walking around town, some light trails, and office use would be the forte of this sole.
For comparison, it is—more or less—the same density as Vibram morflex, but with better traction bits; by contrast, morflex is essentially a smooth/bald sole that is a solid road sole.
Between your foot and the geo sole a 4mm leather midsole, which adds durability, ease of repair, and some rigidity to the shoe.
Personally, I found the geo sole and leather midsole combo to be too thick for my tastes. I like my casual shoes with lots of flexibility and connectivity. In fact, one of my favorite casual shoes is the previously reviewed Soft Star RunAmoc Dash with the Bullhide leather sole. I found that shoe to be a minimalist’s dream with its incredible flexibility, ground feel, and looks.
The Hawthorne is a much more substantial shoe than the Bullhide RunAmoc. I would classify it as a laced-up Rogue (previously reviewed on birthdayshoes though importantly the Rogue lacks the 4mm leather midsole). The combination of 8mm Vibram sole + 4mm leather midsole gives quite a bit of protection, stiffness, and diminishes the ground feel of the shoe when compared to other chukkas in the minimalist category. On the plus side, these are going to be warmer as late fall/winter sets in because the sole puts more distance between the wearer and the ground.
The leather midsole and VIbram Geo sole are layered and you can see the leather layer from every angle; a very nice touch.
From a repair point of view, individuals that are more DIY or budget-minded will enjoy the fact that the shoe is easily resoleable by your local cobbler or by yourself. The leather midsole provides the main platform for the construction of the shoe, while the 8mm Vibram Geo sole can be removed and replaced as it wears. Since the geo sole is not exactly the densest sole in the vibram lineup, it will wear faster than, say, Vibram Cherry, Newflex, or Gumlite.
Personally, the shoe would be much more minimalist-minded if it were constructed with a denser, thinner platform of Vibram Cherry or Newflex around 4-6mm, rather than the more substantial 8mm of Vibram Geo and I would ditch the leather midsole altogether. This is because the 4mm leather midsole is quite rigid, taking away flexibility from the already somewhat stiff 8mm geo sole.
BUT, these are the tastes of a minimalist die hard who ran his first marathon (and will always run his marathons) in running sandals and has feet wide enough to land a small plane on.
For non-monsters, this sole is great for everyday wear for everyday folks. The Hawthorne gives a relatively good amount of flexibility, but lots of protection and familiarity to a standard shoe. It’s definitely not a BOOT, but a stylish and somewhat lightweight chukka that you can enjoy for three seasons—four if you have good socks or blood circulation (or live in more temperate climes than the Northeast!).
In walking around with the 12mm stack height, the ground beneath me was able to convey some information to my feet—small rocks on the sidewalk, the road dimples on a crosswalk, etc. , but I would not be able to feel more minute details, such as the texture of a back porch, office flooring or fallen leaves. I’m a proprioception junkie, after all.
Fit and Materials
Overall, the shoe is beautiful, the materials are great, but be careful if you have especially wide feet. The sizing is true to size and there shouldn’t be a need to size up or down. Soft Star provides a very accurate sizing tool on their website.
For comparison, I brought out the Vivobarefoot Gobi in purple suede for comparison photos. Take a look:
Both shoes are stylish chukkas for everyday wear and the Gobi is perhaps the most comparable to the Hawthorne. Both shoes are comfortable and good-looking,. The Hawthorne is thicker and likely to be more durable but the Gobi has a wider toebox overall and is the more comfortable of the two shoes, at least for my feet.
The seams around the perimeter of the Hawthorne are sewn “fanned-out”, rather than “curved in”, like the Gobi. While this may be a stylistic choice, it does limit the amount of interior volume that the shoe can provide. Had the outside of the shoe been sewn in an overlap-fashion, there would be an extra—critical—millimeter or two for your toes.
Overall, the toebox is adequate. It’s just wide enough for my feet and the leather stretch a bit vertically over time. However, the vertical height is overall a bit cramped for me. In contrast, the Bullhide sole of the RunAmoc Dash is able to stretch a bit more and give even more splaying room because its sole is far more flexible than the Hawthorne.
I love Soft Star’s leather. It is soft, supple, has a great grain/texture, and has proven to be pretty durable for everyday use. I wouldn’t recommend rock climbing with this leather (though I have with the RunAmocs!).
The leather molds itself to your unique foot shape in very little time. Much like with the Bullhide RunAmoc Dash, I initially felt that the shoes might have been a little too narrow for my feet, but in less than a day, they have stretched a bit and molded pretty well to my feet. However, because the platform is a bit stiff, they will never mold to my feet like the RunAmoc’s have—those are truly are in a class of their own.
Like all of Soft Star’s work, the stitching and craftsmanship is downright beautiful. You can tell that a lot of care and time went into making each of their shoes and the Hawthorne continues this trend of excellence. Every stich is fold is expertly done, there are zero poor seams, and that should speak to the durability of their shoes for future wear. My old Bullhide RunAmoc Dash are over a year old and the leather sole began to separate only in the last couple of weeks after being worn ALL THE TIME. A little bit of shoe goo is all I need to make it good as new again. I expect the Hawthorne to hold up even better thanks to its more durable—yet thick—sole and it is easier to repair than almost any shoe I have because of the readily available vibram sole (any cobbler should have it) and the leather midsole as a tough platform.
Speaking of the midsole, it’s stiff both in terms of sole flexibility and the footbed. While you can wear the shoe sockless, your feet will be meeting something tough with every step. I have tough feet and a soft walk, so it’s not an issue for me, but if you are a heavy stepper or someone that is not used to minimalist wear, you may find your landings a bit jarring on the foot, while the sole is soft.
The laces are of a high quality fabric and while I wish they were a bit thicker, these should be pretty durable for the long haul. Compared to the Vivobarefoot Gobi, which has more fragile laces, these should last much longer.
Performance and Summary
For everyday, casual wear, the Hawthorne does its job well. It’s comfortable and easy to wear with a rustic, yet quirky look. My issues were, as stated above, that I wish the sole was thinner, but this is a more general-purpose chukka for a wider audience. With that in mind, there is a lot to like with the Hawthorne. It may not be the minimalist leather chukka, but it does a lot of things right for its intended purpose and audience.
Thanks to its thicker sole, you can take on slightly deeper puddles than your typical barefoot boot (though wet stuff may eventually soak through the bottom). While I do wish that the sole was thinner and the footbed was thinner, it’s an excellent choice for minimalist-interested individuals looking for something that has eccentric looks and a zero drop sole.
Bottom line: if the Hawthorne sounds like the minimalist shoe you’re after, it retails for $190 and you can find it over at Soft Star here!
For the best that Soft Star has to offer, definitely check out the amazing Bullhide RunAmoc Dash (here is a side-by-side comparison photo) reviewed here.
For a thinner-soled chukka, go for Soft Star’s own Roo and Rogue, which use the same Geo sole, but lack the stiffer leather midsole.
Also, consider the Vivobarefoot Gobi. Note: the Gobi 2 is the currently available Gobi model — reviewed here.
For an excellent waterproof barefoot boot, try the Feelmax Kuuva 3 (reviewed here).
UPDATE: Finally, if you’re wondering about how the Hawthorne compares to the Vivo Barefoot Porto, wonder no further! Full comparison can be found here.