Monday, 20 October 2014

The Importance of learning to design for production

I'm writing techs right now. Techs (as my client in the USA calls them - more likely to be called specs or specification sheets in the UK), are the instructions to the factory to make the shoe.

So I've prepared my sketch presentation. The clients customer has reviewed it and selected. The collection is ready to be teched and sent to the resource, a week or so ahead of my client who will visit to develop it, there.

So there is this sandal - I spent quite a lot of time on it, my clients customer is very specific about what they like and sent me storyboards of their inspiration to work from.

We all liked this shoe - but I teched it today and half way through my illustrator render, I realised I've designed something that looks great but is physically impossible to construct. Kind of like that building above, by the famous artist MC Escher. Look closer, like I did. Could you build that building?  I knew, once I looked closely that no one could build this shoe, and even if you could you would not be able to fasten the straps.

Anyway, I found a solution, the main concern was to not spoil the look of the design. Much swearing and head scratching later, I've done it. I now think it's possible.  I had to get a last and cut some strips of paper up and figure it out in 3D but I'm there.

Never underestimate the importance of understanding footwear construction.  It's important to create products that can be made, not illusions that remain a fantasy in an artists head.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Flopz Crowdsourcing

I worked with Flopz briefly last year, as a technical consultant, to help them refine their first prototype so they could bring it to market.

Following some refinements and adjustments, Flopz launched earlier this year. Aga and Alan, the founders, are now seeking further investment to help Flopz grow into an internationally known name. If you would like to help this unique new flip flop brand please follow this link.

You can purchase your own pair of Flopz on their website

So where the blimmin' heck have we been?

One thing I've been told about social media and websites is that it's a game of keepy uppy. Well, you may have noticed that we dropped the ball and I guess some of you are wondering what happened to that shoedesigner that lives on a boat and blogs about the footwear business.

Well, I'm alive! I'm here and I'm finally trying to catch up after a crazy 2013 and an even busier spring and summer in 2014

So how have we been?

We've had our busiest two years in business to date - we've been full to capacity since July 2013 and since then we have been concentrating on serving our existing client base. We've been doing a little bit of consulting for the British Footwear Association too. We've done the odd days consultancy here and there for fledgling footwear companies, we've been to Micam and Pure several times and to Italy to work with factories.

We've also spent spring and summer of this year helping a relative who had a bad accident to find a retirement home and help them to move in and organise their affairs.

I am finally coming up for air, so it's time to start the engine on this blog again. I've a whole list of subjects to write about, thanks to you, my readers, who email me asknig for advice and my opinion on things. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have such interesting questions to answer and then blog about, so thank you all.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

I want to go to a footwear trade show. Where are they?

A question I get asked often is, 'where to find a shoe show?'

This blog post focusses on the three main European Fairs that attract international visitors

The big show of the year for us shoe dogs is The MICAM - happening twice a year in March and September on the outskirts of Milan in Italy, this show is aimed mostly at buyers who want to buy Italian footwear and there is also a bag show on at the same time MIPEL Bag Show, which is worth a look. We shoe designers love the edited vintage section in MIPEL, where you can actually buy vintage items to help with your research (or if you are me, buy a vintage item because you absolutely love it.
MICAM has an International young designers section so if you are a noob and you need to sign up some accounts then you could apply for a booth in this section.
As well as Italian made footwear, you can find most of the big brands at MICAM, plus some of the trading companies that do own label for chain retailers have booths there.
If you are flying in from outside of Italy, then Malpensa is the nearest airport to the fairgrounds. You can reach central Milan by Metro from the fair in about 30 minutes.
Don't forget to take a look around the shoe stores in the golden triangle. Take the metro to Duomo and start from there.

GDS is the main footwear fair in Germany, held in Dusseldorf twice a year, again in March and September, usually the MICAM and GDS fairs are held about a week apart. The fairgrounds are very close to Dusseldorf airport and there is a free shuttlebus when the fair is on.  Your show pass also entitles you to free public transport in the city and it's easy to catch a train into town, which is worth doing as there are some excellent shoe stores in the city centre.  GDS has some of the same exhibitors as MICAM, but also a comfort and wellness focus. It's a better show to visit if you need comfort shoes, sneakers or young casual street fashion.

Held at the same time and on the same fairgrounds (you can use your GDS pass to enter), is Global Shoes , which is basically a China sourcing fair for low priced goods, as well as fashion, you can find flip flops, slippers and rainboots and there is a designer section where you can see the work of design consultancies should you wish to employ them to design you a range.

Finally is Expo Riva Schuh more commonly known as GARDA, in the footwear trade because it's held nearby Lake Garda in Northern Italy.  This is the main show that retailers would go to to look for factories to develop own label product for their stores.  The focus used to be mainly rainboots, slippers, beach shoes and other low end goods but it has changed over the years and even my luxury retailer customers visit this show now to buy certain things. I think one of the reasons this show is so popular now is the timing, held in January and June, it comes at the very start of the buying season, whereas MICAM and GDS are now really quite late for some buyers, coming right at the end of the buying season.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Why we don't work for free*

Or why we don't do spec work (i.e speculative work) and why you won't find us on a crowdsourcing site.

Another 'business of design' blog post - a chance for me to get on my soapbox and speak for those who feel they cannot. A subject very close to my heart that needs much more exposure than it seems to get.

Anyone who follows me on Linked In will know that I'm anti unpaid internships and am always quick to point out the legalities of this in the UK - they're not legal unless part of an educational course or for a charity - you are entitled to UK minimum wage. As Philip Green from Top Shop found out last year when the HMRC caught up with him and forced him to backpay dozens of previous interns for the time they had worked.

I'm not mad on sites such as People Per Hour either- you won't find me touting myself on there - they seem to be all about the lowest possible price, I don't think serious business people use sites like that to recruit designers, only those who think they can get the job done for $20 - these are not people who are going to last very long in the footwear trade if that is their design budget - it would buy about 2 pairs of production! :D  Some of them (hello Zintro?) employ underhand tactics  - setting up profilebots (fake profiles that are a software program - not a real person), on Linked In in order to spam their website.  Ask yourself - if this is the tactics they use to attract you to sign up to their service, do you think they really care about you?

But as well as this, I get my knickers in a twist about crowdsourcing competitions and spec work, these are all related as they demand that you do design work for free with only a slim chance of being paid if you win.

I was recently invited to participate in one such design competition on a new fashion website and I thought I'd post my response.

''I see an opportunity for you to gain a large amount of design work for free, then cherry pick only  the best,  with very few people from the crowd rewarded for their efforts. This is the reason why I'm against crowdsourcing. 

It's a modern disease and it's especially unfair in this financial climate. Add to this unpaid internships and other kinds of spec work, because it discriminates against those who aren't wealthy enough to work for nothing. It's also wasteful, effort for nothing - this is one reason our planet is in such a mess and people are so unhappy, because of waste, or surplus.  And it works both ways. If I'm not sure I'll 'win' the contest, will I put the same amount of effort as I would for Ms X who is passionate about her business and has provided me a thorough design brief and that I know I will be paid for it? Is this really the way to get quality work? 

We should treasure creative people enough to pay them for the work that they do. So they can uhm.... eat and pay their bills, you know, live and stuff, just like you. 

For instance would you dare ask five accountants to do your annual accounts for free then pick one and pay only him?  So why is it ok to treat creative people in this way?

I personally don't think it is.''

For those of you who have read this far and agree with me (or perhaps you don't), there is more information on this website.  If you're a designer and you agree, then why not join the movement?

/Rant over, I'll get off my soapbox. Thanks for listening.

*Actually I am fibbing a bit.  We do work for free but not for commercial businesses.  As well as doing talks and setting projects in state educational establishments,  I also volunteer at a local community enterprise every week, and then once a month at a Buddhist grand culture centre - Taplow Court near Maidenhead as a team leader, manning the reception, welcoming visitors and tourists and arranging tours around the house and grounds. My business partner is webmaster for these charities
It's *this* kind of working for free that creates value in your environment - give your free work to non commercial concerns  - it feels great!

Sunday, 27 January 2013

January Is Entrepreneur Month

I say this, because it's the month of the year when we get most contact from Entrepreneurs.  I've covered this kind of business in depth on my blog as many of you tell me that there is little information out there for those that started new shoe design businesses.  Even those books that claim to be about how to start a shoe business are so vague you wonder what the value of them is.

Today I received a great question from an aspring footwear designer.  A young woman who wants to start her own footwear label.  Which I answered in depth in an email but then I thought, 'this advice is too valuable  - it needs to come out of my sent box and onto my blog where others can benefit from it.

Question: Do you have any advice on becoming successful within the industry?


You need lots of money, never underestimate how expensive it will be.  Budget around £50,000 for your first two years, then you'll probably need the same again.  It may take you 3 years to show a small profit.  When Tamara Mellon launched Jimmy Choo as a ready to wear footwear brand,  it was with a loan of about £130,000. People weren't automatically wowed by what she did, she had to invest.  But she also knew all of the right people to promote her brand, she had worked at Vogue.

You need a unique selling point.  There is absolutely no point doing what Louboutin does, or Nike does, buyers will buy Louboutin and Nike, because they know the quality is good and their deliveries are on time. Why should they take the risk with something which is the same but has the added risk of being new?  They won't. Give buyers a reason to buy your shoes. It is fine to be a fan of Louboutin but if you simply copy him you won't emulate his success. 

You have to be reliable - all your deliveries on time and good quality.  The harsh truth is that you will only get one chance at this when you are a newbie. Deliver late once when your brand is not established and you've lost your chance, buyers will not risk their budget with you again. 

You have to have an excellent pr and media strategy behind you.  Because people need to know you exist in order to buy your shoes.  I have seen amazing websites and product but no one knows who these people are nor do they visit their website because the brand owner did not understand how to manage social media, or the web or have grasped properly what they should do to promote themselves.  So employ someone who understands how to do this or read as many blogs and articles and books as you can about pr, marketing and social media and learn how to do it yourself.  In a way new shoe designers are luckier than they have ever been - you can now market your ideas to the world from your bedroom if you know what to do. 

You have to have good contacts - some buying teams will simply not speak to new designers.  You need to be creative to find a way in.  If you don't have these contacts then nurture them. How? Don't ask me! 

You have to have a good business head on your shoulders. Not only creative in design but creative in the business arena.  What will you do to stand out?

You have to be able to learn to use your own initiative - no book or training course is going to tell you absolutely everything in a step-by-strep-way - I often get asked how to do things but I don't have all the answers - you do, you just need to awaken to them. 

Photo credit: Photo of Shoe Designer Christian Louboutin from  

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

How do I find a manufacturer for my footwear project? Part Three - What to discuss?

So you found a manufacturer and you are ready to discuss your project with them?  Well done for getting this far.
You may or may not have designs at this stage, if you don't have designs, then this doesn't necessarily matter.
There are three things that a factory will always want to know immediately.
How much?  As in, what do you want to pay per style.  It helps to have done your research and to be clear about this.
How many? As in how many pairs.  This is a big sticking point for many entrepreneurs.  Often I get contacted by entrepreneurs who don't realise the large amount of pre-tooling that goes into footwear production.  All of the components have to be ordered from suppliers and they are made to order to exactly fit the last (including the last itself if you wanted an exclusive last).
That's components such as heels, toe puffs and heel stiffeners, insole boards, the press knives (little pastry cutter type things used to cut out the pattern pieces).
It's really not worth tooling up for a dozen pairs, no component supplier would make tools in order to make a small order like that.  So if you want just a few dozen pairs, then you should employ a small workshop that does hand cutting, but expect to pay much, much more as they will be making more of the components by hand which requires great skill and a lot of time.
When? As in when do you want to receive delivery?  For instance it is Mid October now, there is no way you would meet delivery for this Holiday season.  You would be able to meet delivery for holiday season in 2013.   So, for a completely new brand it is wise to allow about a year, for a completely new athletic footwear brand, perhaps as long as two years.
If you can confidently answer these three questions from the factory then well done.
The next bit of fact finding should be about how the factory likes to work.  The questions you should ask should be -
When are your busy/quiet periods?  As a newbie if you can adjust your development timetable so you are not trying to get all of your samples in the middle of their busy period, then you might find it easier.  As a newbie, you will always be at the back of the queue.
If I send you designs, are you happy to work with a hand sketch or cads?  Do you want me to use your factory spec sheet or can I use my own?  Not all factories require cads, many (especially in Europe) are happy with a sketch with detail written on it.  It's best to ask, it's also fine to ask if they can provide an example of something from someone else from a previous season that they were happy to work with.
What about components?  Again, this can vary by country.  In China, I would normally send a colour cad, often (but not always) on an excel spreadsheet specsheet and the factory sources absolutely everything for me, the heel, last, materials, buckles, the lot.   But when I work in Europe I might bring my own last that I developed myself, or an agent might drive me to a last maker and a heel maker and then materials suppliers so that I can work with them. The factorys' job is to order the insole board, heel and toe stiffeners, receive the components that I've ordered and assemble the shoe.  I might even visit a fair such as Lineapelle and order samples of components and materials myself and bring them to the factory with me, together with the details of the supplier.
What are your sample charges?  What about components costs?
Some factories charge for samples, some do not.  So find out the costs and payment terms.  If you are developing your own heels or outsole moulds, ensure you have sufficient capital to pay for these - it can be as much as $1500USD for a sample outsole mould for a sneaker.  Or $500 for a new heel.   If you work with one of the fine Italian luxury footwear sample rooms then the going rate is about 500euros per pair.
Once you have had this discussion, you are then ready to work with the factory!  Good luck!