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!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Shoe - redo from Mark Montano

For you crafty types - customise a boring pair of ballet pumps with an applique owl design. Enjoy!

Friday, 13 April 2012

How do I find a manufacturer for my footwear project? Part Two - Where Do I Look?

One you have listed the specifics for your footwear project (see this blog post for what to do )

You then need to find a factory. As menitoned earlier, you will need a factory that makes the type of footwear that you require. By now you should have an idea on where you wish to make your shoes, this could be for reasons of price or quality.
In some cases, some kinds of footwear is known for being made in a very specific place, for instance if you require a traditional espadrille then you need to visit the area of La Rioja in Spain. Certain countries may have a certain handwriting or be known for a certain style, for instance luxury high heels from Italy, mens formal bench made footwear from England and sheepskin Uggs from Australia. Of course all of these kinds of footwear can be found in China as well!

So how would you go about this then? I often receive contact from designers who say they are struggling to attract the attention of a manufacturer and it is clear to me why. Sending an email is unlikely to get a response from most shoe factories. Face-to face dialogue is by far the best way of presenting your ideas and if you can't do this, perhaps you should sign up for a business website, such as Linked In, join some of the groups and start a debate. You could add me - here is my profile -

People don't like to do business with strangers, so don't be a stranger, start a discussion or go and meet someone face to face. And remember, people will probably be queuing up to take on your project, but be wary of this, there are many who will offer to do the work, but very few who will be able to deliver, so check each offer over very carefully.

Another good place to look for a manufacturer is a trade show. There are plenty of these, most of the countries which have shoemaking will also have a domestic trade show, the beauty of the trade show is that you will be able to compare different factories and check out their product all under one roof.

Often the websites for these trade shows will have a downloadable brochure so you can do some research in advance, perhaps if you discover enough you could set up some meetings in advance.

Before you work with a manufacturer, be sure of who you are dealing with, a footwear supplier found at random from a sourcing website may not be a good idea for your business at all.

My next posting will be about what to take when you have a discussion with a factory. It may not be what you expect!

Credits: photo from

Monday, 9 April 2012

How do I find a manufacturer for my footwear project? Part One - Specifics

This has got to be the question I am asked the most after, 'how do I get my shoe prototypes made?'
Well, it's quite tricky to find a manufacturer if you are new to the footwear trade. Many factories only work with established brands - the factories and agents that we work with tend to fall into this camp.
First of all if you require a footwear manufacturer, the first question to ask yourself is, what kind of footwear am I going to have made?
This is because shoe factories specialise only in one or two types of footwear - you cannot get high heels made in a sneaker factory. Some womens heel factories don't make long leg boots - they make only a specific type of footwear. This is because they don't have the machinery or the expertise or both.

For instance, to make high heels you would need a heel attachment machine.
A pattern cutter in a factory that makes high heeled boots will be skilled at springing a boot pattern (this is the art of cutting the pattern so that there are no creases across the front of the boot). A pattern cutter in a sneaker factory wouldn't know where to begin to cut a pattern for a high heeled boot! Occasionally you get a cross over in fashion and this becomes more apparent. Like when there was a trend for long leg boots with sneaker outsoles and styling - I can't tell you the problems I had trying to get a sneaker factory to understand how to correctly engineer the upper pattern for a high leg boot....anywayyy, you get the picture!

So, firstly you need to be specific about what you want -
Gender - mens, womens or kids?
Any special fitting issues? Width Fittings? Very large or very small sizes etc?
Construction - Heels or flat or both? If you are making sneakers, any specific construction such as board lasted or stroball? Goodyear Welted?
What about the soles? Are they moulded or not? Made from what?
Materials? Leather or synthetic? Textile?
Price? Low or High or somewhere in the middle?

Check back in the next few days for Part Two - Where do I look?

Friday, 10 February 2012

So who owns our athletes feet?

I'm a Londoner and it's our Olympic year this year and yes, we're already suffering from p.r. overload.

A big footwear related stink is kicking off over at the Olympics HQ over who owns our athletes feet.

Athletes have contracts with footwear suppliers which stipulates that they must wear that brand, but British athletes are required to wear Stella McCartney designed Adidas kit and this is the problem.

Nike sponsored athletes may step up to the podium barefoot to avoid breaching their contracts.

I spent several years of my career working with athletes and it was an eye opener. Athletes go for the big multi million dollar contracts, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will wear the shoes. Especially football players I've found can be superstitious about what goes on their feet, they might only wear one brand. That meant unpicking the logo on their favoured footwear and attaching the logo of the brand that pays them the sponsorship. Yes I have had to do that as a junior footwear designer. But shhhh! I didn't tell you that. No, it didn't really happen. I'm certainly not telling you which athletes were involved! No way!

Although I have to wonder, now in these days of HD tv, can this practise really go on anymore or are the interns simply being advised to stitch them more neatly?

Monday, 30 January 2012

ITS International Design Competition

I've just been contacted again about this International design competition. This year it's the eleventh edition.

The prizes are excellent, 5,000 euros for the accessories design prize and 10,000 euros for the YKK Award.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

A Lifelong Unrequited Love

Because I'm a footwear designer, I get asked often, what is your favourite shoe?

I've done a few phone interviews with various BBC radio stations over the years, I get the impression that people expect me to be tottering around in Manolo Blahnik or stepping out of a limo in Louboutins, but no, I'm really not that kind of girl at all, never have been. Cannot do heels, I'm an outdoorsy type, walking a minimum of five miles every day, even more active in summer, even more walking plus some wild swimming and canoeing....
I took a pedometer with me on an overseas research trip once, I clocked up 15 miles each day!

Anyway, I'm rambling on here. When I was all of 17 years old and living in Yorkshire, where I grew up, I was already an avid second hand shopper. We didn't call it vintage, then, just second hand. Needs must, who could afford the outfits in Just Seventeen? I certainly couldn't, unless I saved for months.

Every Wednesday, it was second hand day at Wakefield Market and I often went with dad. At the market, I saw the shoes of my dreams for sale on a stall, oxblood leather Doc Martens Tassel loafers *in my size* for £4! They were unworn! I was in love. I tried them. They fitted like a glove. But I had only £3 - so I ran to find dad, borrowed the required £1 and returned to find......they had sold. Gone forever. :( I've never got over it!

I have loved these shoes ever since, but still have never owned any. But they have a special place in my heart. I love you Doc Martens Tassel Loafers in Oxblood, you are ''Number One'' in my desert island shoes list. xxxx