Friday 27 May 2022

I want to start a sustainable footwear brand - how do I find a sustainable shoe factory? Part 1.

Photo: Dubs Universe Kids sustainable sneaker brand is the newest sustainable brand we have worked on. 

If you ask many folks in the shoe trade for a sustainable shoe factory their answer could be ????

There are factories that make sustainable footwear,  but they make other footwear too.  There are factories that get inspected regularly to make sure that they treat their employees well and don’t have any harmful processes.  But that's down to you, the customer of the factory to set it up.  When you employ a factory, you ask the questions, you conduct the inspections (or pay someone to do so), you do the research in order to create the tech pack in a way that the footwear is made in a sustainable way.

If you tell me that you want to create sustainable footwear, then I want to know, 'what do you mean by that, can you clarify?' Because it's a broad subject and I need to know your focus in order to guide you. 

The United States Environmental Protection Agency says - 

Sustainable manufacturing is the creation of manufactured products through economically-sound processes that minimize negative environmental impacts while conserving energy and natural resources.

So, thinking about your sustainable footwear brand, what aspects will you focus on ? Here's some I can think of. 

Worker rights and a living wage - I can’t think of any sustainable brand that doesn’t care about their workers. Our working relationships with our factories and agents can feel like extended family. We want to make sure they are recognised for their efforts and can afford to pay their bills and live comfortably.

Carbon Footprint - whether it’s the distance from your factory to your marketplace and the air or shipping miles involved, or the carbon footprint of the materials you use, or the carbon footprint of your manufacturer, reducing the impact of footwear production is something we all want to do.

Recycled materials  - this is a popular request that we receive - on face value this is a great idea, but some recycled materials don’t perform as well as virgin materials. Durability is part of sustainability so we make a decision based on the performance of the material. We don't release new products without testing them!

Circularity  - Whether your shoes are made of recycled materials or not, the unfortunate truth is that your shoes will be incinerated at the end of their life - shoes cannot normally be disassembled into component parts for recycling. innovations in this area include: shoes that can be composted, shoes that can be disassembled, shoes that are designed to be refurbished and donated and shoes that can be repaired. While we’re on the subject of circularity, leather was the first circular material that man developed, because it uses leftover waste from hunting and eating animals. 

Preventing Pollution - Manufacturing processes can cause pollution, read through these horrifying statistics:-  
There are new processes that use less water, for instance waterless dying, in Italy there is a vegetable tanning consortium and the tanneries involved in that pledge to purify all water used in the processes, new technologies such as flyknit and additive manufacture have less waste material at the end of the process. 

Designing for Zero Waste - some brands actively design for zero waste, for instance knitted uppers are not cut out, so there are no offcuts left over, other designers work on pattern engineering in order to cut out waste, or have processes to recycle leftover parts. 3D design means that there is less prototyping needed and therefore less unwanted samples leftover. 

Vegan - Doesn’t always mean sustainable, there are many petrochemical materials that are vegan and not so great for the planet, BUT there are new materials developed that are not only vegan but are made from plant based materials. 

So, what is your focus? What do you feel most strongly about, we want to hear! 

Thursday 15 June 2017

I'm new to footwear Part Two - Researching. How can I help you, the designer to research for a new shoe project?

If you are new to footwear product development and you haven't employed any design help before, it can be tricky to know what information a designer might need.

So I thought I'd share the research stage, what it involves and how to help your designer.
If you can present me with some of your own research, it gives me a basis for my own research. Perhaps start a secret pinterest folder? What to put in there? If the product category exists, when you begin, you could put in photos of rival companies product. This helps me in two ways. I can see not only the aesthetics of the product, I can also look at the price and see where a product is made. This can help us formulate our own brief and also help us when we speak to manufacturers. We can critique it thoroughly. Below, a screenshot from my own pinterest account which can be found here:

The board below is a development ideas board developed with help from a client.  When you collect ideas for your pinterest board, look at the materials you want to use, logos you like, brands that you identify with,  colours you love and don't forget to talk about the NOPES, what you don't want to see, that's important too. We can then meet either in person or online and discuss our shared research. 
This discussion about the direction we wish to take will form the basis for the ideation sketches stage of the project. 
And don't forget to include any inspiration at all you think might help me to help you. Especially for creative design, if I'm creating a brand for you, then I want to inject your personality and your taste into it. For instance, a client told me how much they loved the architect Frank Gehry. I researched both his architecture then his jewellery.  From this I developed the mood board for the collection and the resulting research inspired me to create the theme for the collection. Here is the board.

And don't be ashamed to send me your own design scribbles. it's my job to work your ideas into something that can be made, this is my skill, please don't discount your own ideas because you aren't a fantastic artist. I still want to see your ideas.  I have worked with professional designers who aren't fantastic artists either, but they still managed to create shoes that sold millions of pairs. I am interested in your ideas and how we can make them into shoes that people want to buy. That is all! 

Monday 2 January 2017

I'm new to footwear. How do I help you, the shoe designer to help me, the newbie? (Part one - USP)

I'm blogging on this subject as it's 02 January 2017 and for us freelance consultants, this is always a peak week for enquiries from potential new footwear businesses.

We all make new years resolutions and mine happens to be to do more sketching and transform the list of blog post ideas into actual posts. So here is the first one!

Many of the enquiries we receive from newbies are quite vague and throw up more questions than answers. But the most common one is when we don't know what your USP (unique selling point) is and perhaps you aren't sure either. Well, we can sometimes help you to find it!
We work with a lot of existing fashion companies to develop product for them (as the photo above) , they are generally clear of what they want and will come to us with lots of ideas.

What we like to see is a clear vision of what your brand or collection should be.
Do you have a unique selling point for your brand? What is different about it that we cannot get from somebody else? The photo above is from a brochure for Saira, a brand which we helped to launch. The USP of Saira is their use of exclusive, limited edition fabrics that you will not see anywhere else.
Why is this important for a new business? If your brand has its own USP, then it will mean that buyers are more likely to select yours rather than someone elses existing brand.
Your USP does not  necessarily have to be a crazy invention, for instance Homeys who we worked with (pictured above) has the ethos, 'finally cool slippers!' Your USP could be selling a shoe at a different price point, making it in a certain way or making it out of unusual materials. 

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.