We are often contacted by budding new shoe designers, who have a portfolio of shoe designs and are keen to sell them and want to know how.
Footwear companies do not buy unsolicited designs in this way. Why?
The nature of the footwear trade is such that footwear companies have very specific needs. When we are contacted to help a company with their shoe designs they either give us a thorough design brief, or we have discussions with them to determine their needs and we then help them to write a brief.
A footwear design can be dictated by all kinds of variables. The factory, for instance.
If I am designing a shoe that will be made in Italy, for a mid price point, it's unlikely that I would design a shoe as the attached footwear spec sheet. The hand beading would be more suited to a shoe made in an Indian or Chinese factory and because of the price, perhaps we wouldn't make the sandal in leather. When designing for a client, I have to be aware of the capabilities of the factory they are using. There is no point in designing a shoe with a stitchdown construction if the factory does not have that machine.
Price is a factor. There is no point in designing some Swarovski encrusted amazing creation if our client has a budget of $10 ex factory.
Even factors such as weather, or cultural issues can determine the styling. When we designed shoes for a client in Asia we were requested to limit the amount of yellow in our colourways as it is a Royal colour and should not be worn unless you are the King!
As a shoe designer, one has to behave almost like an actress, getting into character, in order to understand what the customer of that particular client likes to wear. It is no good for the client if I just design shoes that I like and then try to push my personal taste on them. For instance I design lots of glamorous high heels but that isn't my personal style - I wear flats! Designing for others is a skill and I have to say I do enjoy the whole process of getting into character, understanding what that customer would like to wear. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing that you got it right.
We do have customers who buy packs of designs from us. But they still dictate to us the kind of designs they'd like to see, before we put pen to paper and we do have to bear in mind where these shoes will be made.
There are companies that buy designs - to use in Footwear trend publications such as Footwear Plus. But this is a competitive area and they will want evidence that you have worked in a commercial environment and can forecast footwear trends.
So if you want to sell your work, what should you do?
Get some formal training. You need to understand footwear construction, otherwise you will make the mistake of designing shoes that cannot be manufactured easily.
Work as an employee to get some experience. Becoming a commercial designer is a difficult skill to learn, to appeal to the masses and to be able to design a shoe that looks great but isn't too costly to manufacture is a skill.
Or, you could learn to make shoes and set your own workshop up and make the shoes exactly as you please.