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Justin, "The Shoe Snob"

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How To Become A Shoe Designer: Part 1

The shoe that gave me inspiration in 2006 after seeing it in a Robb Report article - Gaziano & Girling
(update: this post is in regards to those that wish to become their own shoe designer, i.e. with their own label, NOT working for someone else)

I remember when I decided that I wanted to become a shoe designer and have a shoe brand that either had my name or a name that I created associated with it. I remember thinking, ‘how the heck am I going to get there?’  All I had known prior to that, was learning how to start a company while at University (as part of the degree) and a bit of time in the retail shoe world, neither of which would give me the real tools to start my own shoe line, only theoretical knowledge to help me once I did actually have a company. Therefore, I went straight to Google and typed in what you see as the title to this post: ‘How to become a shoe designer. ‘ I read hours and hours of articles and things of that nature that gave it’s best attempt at explaining how to do this, but none of it really clicked for me and made me think, ‘okay that is how you do it.’ I therefore decided to create my own 5 year plan, deciding that I would learn everything that I could, and that the pieces of the puzzle would just fall together as I went along. As na├»ve as that was, it has seemed to magically occur for me that way, but has also made me realize that if I had a better plan of action from the get go, it might have been a smoother ride. Therefore I will share my experiences with all of you with the hope that I might be that shred of light (and/or guidance) for those of you aspiring to follow in the shoe designers footsteps. 

Gaziano & Girling Astair MTO - Courtesy of Leffot

First and foremost, you don’t need a design degree to become a shoe designer. Like anything that you may aspire to be or have, passion, common sense knowledge, perseverance and a burning desire to succeed will be the most important traits that you need to get to where you want to go. It’s all I had….. The most important thing in the beginning is for you to have a plan, a plan that you can execute one step at a time. Write it down, memorize it and start figuring out how to accomplish the first step. You will notice that as you go along, each step will become slightly easier as your knowledge and networks within the industry will grow. Make sure this plan has a timeline, one that you stick to as best as you can. Obviously things will change and you have to be able to update that plan and roll with the changes, but that is the beauty of the journey and is what will make you stronger and more likely to succeed. Therefore, along with your plan, write a contingency plan or be able to rearrange your original plan to skip a step and go back to it at a further date.

My all-time favorite brogue - Edward Green 'Brummell'

For me there are three parts of the shoe industry that you need to tackle (knowledge-wise) before you even consider starting your shoe line: The Retail, The Creative and The Manufacturing. You don’t need to become an expert per se’ in all of these fields but at least be able to understand the basic fundamentals in which they all work. However, the more that you can learn about each field, the more likely you are to succeed. You should not be in a rush to start your shoe line. No one ever succeeds if they rush into something without being fully prepared for every little detail that might just smack them in the face. While my shoe line is about to finally be completed, it will have been 6 ½ years in the making since I decided to do it and looking back at it, I would not have done it any other way, as far as trying to create it earlier as I believe that I would have been severely underprepared. And to be honest, I am continuing to learn each day that I go along. It is a learning process that will never end, but the more that you are able to absorb, the better off you will be. Knowledge is your friend!

Corthay Wilfred

Next week I will divulge my knowledge of the retail side of things. Until then, if you are an aspiring shoemaker/designer do me a favour and write out your plan, consisting of your goals and the milestones that you want to accomplish. This is your first step and is the most important so don’t overlook it!

Riccardo Bestetti

(pictures for people who don't want to be a shoe designer, and just come to look at shoes -- these are all models that have inspired me)


  1. You have become a great young man and have learned about life through your dreams and aspirations. What a great thing to do for others, to share your knowledge is a wonderful gift to give. I am so very proud of you for everything you have accomplished and will accomplish and for the wisdom you have acquired. Congratulations Justin, keep learning and sharing.

  2. hye martin..very good job! actually i dont even have any design qualification.. but as you said, we dont need to have the degree to become a designer..I am a 27 lady that really interested in design footwear for women..but i dont really know how to exactly start my step to let my dream become reality...

  3. Hye Justin...really great job...great is really inspire me to become more brave to achieve my dream. I always wonder how am I going to be a footwear for women since I don't have any qualification or major in design..really hope that your blog will be give me inspire to become a designer...

  4. Justin,

    Whatever you can do,
    or dream you can,
    begin it.
    Boldness has genius,
    and magic in it

    (Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe 1749 - 1832)

    Very best regards,

  5. Hi Justin and Mya,

    I would say that your right that you don't need a degree to get into the shoe world but I will say it does help a great deal. I have a degree in Industrial design and often this opens many doors when I was trying to land my first shoe job. HR departments at shoe companies target Industrial designers specifically for footwear design so having that background can often be a way to get noticed. I was lucky enough to do internships at shoe companies as an undergrad and from there was often contacted after I graduated by HR of companies or talent agencies due to my experience and degree. Now that I'm in the shoe industry I can tell you that having some kind of artistic degree helps but I do know folks that have degrees in other fields and by simply being passionate, were able to become a shoe designer.

    Some tips for people wanting to become shoe designers:

    1. Go to local design events. They are chuck full of shoe designers and by making that connection with someone it may be the way to get your foot in the door.
    2. Know Adobe Illustrator and how to draw shoes. Illustrator is an industry standard at this point and is often one of the first things companies look for when hiring. Strong hand drawing skills is also a skill that is often talked about when interviewing for a job as a shoe designer.
    3. Create a strong physical and online portfolio of footwear work. There are plenty of sites on there such as that allow you to upload work for free and are a fantastic resource to see other shoe designers work.
    4. Reach out to a footwear designer. This isn't the easiest thing to do but if you do a little digging in drawing/design blogs you can find them. Places like Coreflot or linkedin is another way to find local footwear designers. Pick their brains and ask them if they would like to get a cup of coffee sometime. I think you might be surprised by how willing they are to talk to you or help you.

    I wish you all the best of luck in your journey and I hope I helped anyone that might be interested in becoming a shoe designer.

    best regards

    ps. I love your blog, keeps me inspired and motivated

  6. Loxy - Thanks for your kind words ma

    Mya - keep looking for the updates to this post e.g. part 2, 3 etc and then you will have a good idea of where to start...

    Snapper - Thanks as always Snapper! It was a pleasure to finally meet you the other week.

    Jason - Thank you very much for you comments and yes, for becoming a shoe designer for another company, you are completely right. My post, as I should have stated clearly, was more meant for those looking to become their own shoe designer, as in starting their own company, not going to work for another. But your points are definitely valid for that other route, and for those that read the blog and want to do that, I appreciate you pointing them in the right direction! Thanks too for your kind words about the blog. Glad that you enjoy it!




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