The footwear industry is one that is always in demand and full of ongoing innovation. With the integration of new technologies and materials, footwear designs must offer not only appealing looks, but also marketed benefits to consumers. In the United States alone, the total revenues for the footwear market netted well over $91.1 billion in 2019.
Informed by years of experience helping footwear brands manufacture high-end Made in Italy shoes, MakersValley has put together everything you need to know about starting a footwear line in 4 steps.
Which Shoe “Fits” Your Market?
Footwear designs are always evolving with new styles and technological additions. Generally, customers seek shoes that are trendy, long-lasting, and high-end, but this can vary based on your target market - one group may value comfort or another factor more than another. Before starting on your designs, we recommend building a strong understanding of your market’s style evolution.
When starting off, focus on building a unique brand identity. Christian Louboutin, a high-end footwear designer, incorporates a subtle, yet identifiable deep red color on soles that depicts luxury. Find a unique niche for your designs that your target market will find appealing. An easy way to organize ideas is through putting together a mood board or presentation with your research of materials, color palettes, and embellishments.
Understand the Footwear Industry
Every type of shoe is produced differently, depending on its style and materials, but generally a shoe last is first created to serve as a mold to provide shape. The shoe fabric is then cut, stamped, sewed, and assembled on the shoe last mold. Then, any embellishments, polish, or laces are added and sent for quality checks.
Footwear can be costly to produce, but remember that consumers seek comfortable, high-quality, and trendy shoes. It’s okay for your line to be priced high, as long as it provides these benefits.
For production, keep in mind that while it may seem appealing to manufacture in countries like Bangladesh and Cuba, where shoes cost as low as $5.00 per pair to produce, the products you’ll get back are often low-quality and not ethically produced with workers enduring harsh labor conditions for low pay. Consider fashion capital countries like Italy that are known for producing high-quality, long lasting, and affordable footwear.
Create Your Shoe Tech Pack and Designs
Footwear manufacturing differs significantly from other types of garment manufacturing, as it often requires more complexity and time to produce. With a wide variety of fabrics and materials being involved in the manufacturing process, it’s important to be very descriptive when creating your tech pack and illustrating designs.
Ask yourself about the specifics of the fabrics and materials you are considering:
How comfortable should the soles be? Is it made for daily wear, formal attire, or athleisure?
What about stretchiness, durability, and weight of the fabric?
Will there be buckles, laces, or any other embellishments inside or outside?
Here are some quick factors to think about when selecting footwear materials:
Leather: One of the most flexible and durable materials for footwear, leather’s elastic characteristics allow it to resist tearing while conforming to feet shape. While some leathers are not made cruelty-free, many manufacturers are shifting to create shoes using vegan leather. Leather is one of the most common materials for men’s dress shoes.
Textiles: With the most varieties of material types and colors, textiles are a great option for shoe designers looking for a creative edge. The most common types of textiles used for shoe manufacturing include cotton, polyester, wool, and nylon. Each type of material has its own variations in physical properties such as temperature retention, but these textiles generally offer a broad range of breathability and support for daily wear.
Synthetic Leather: Synthetic leather materials come in a wide variety of colors and textures like leather and textiles, but are relatively more inexpensive due to the material being less durable, more environmentally toxic, and shorter-lasting than many other textiles and leather. However, being made of polyester fibers, it provides a lightweight feel and high levels of breathability, but isn’t usually made for daily wear.
Rubber: Used most commonly for soles, rubber offers high levels of durability and comfort, making it ideal for athleisure shoes, such as running and tennis shoes. While most rubber soles come from polyester, which is environmentally harmful to produce, many shoe manufacturers are shifting to environmentally safe rubber, often made from bamboo.
Foam: When designing your shoes, make sure to consider what type of support it will offer. Foam is the most common material used inside shoes to provide support, regardless of the primary shoe material, including leather, textiles, synthetics, and rubber.
There are two types of footwear support foams:
Open cell foam: Made of polyurethane plastic, open cell foam has a soft composition, making it ideal for the collars and tongues of shoes. Its high ventilation helps to regulate temperature, and it is commonly seen inside many different types of shoes.
Closed cell foam: Most commonly used for midsoles, closed cell foam is much denser than open cell form. It provides strong support, but its waterproofness and elasticity can vary based on the type of closed cell foam. The most common types of closed cell foams include polyurethane, polyethylene, EVA foam, and Latex.
Be specific regarding your shoe materials in your tech pack and sending in your design illustrations to your manufacturer. The footwear industry is one of the most creative, so make sure that all your ideas are being conveyed in your prototype, which is also helpful for your manufacturer to have. If you need guidance in selecting materials, reach out to your manufacturer.
Launch and Promote Your Footwear Line
Once you have produced your footwear line, it’s time to start selling it and building your brand identity. Footwear is a unique industry, being that it’s often easier to sell in physical stores rather than solely focusing on online sales. Shoes can fit and feel differently based on the style and brand, which is why many customers prefer trying on footwear before purchasing.
When planning out your production timeline, make sure to mark milestones for different in-person opportunities to participate in, ranging from having a trade show booth to scheduling meetings with wholesale retailers. It also helps to be active on social media platforms that your target market frequently uses to establish credibility.
As your line and brand develops, continue integrating unique and recognizable features in your line to help it stand out from others. This could be anything from using a unique color palette to having technologically-designed comfort soles with a distinguishable color like Christian Louboutin.
Amulya Agrawal is a student from Missouri who is passionate about writing and creating creative content. She is currently a Content Marketing Intern for MakersValley and hopes to inspire designers with her content. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, and advocating in her community.