Shoe Designing

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Hello, my name is Michael, im in the 9th grade at ********************* in Greensboro, North Carolina, and i am doing an art project about shoe design. I was just wandering if u could help me out by answer the following questions:

1. What are some skills and techniques you would need to know??
2. Education-classes needed to become an interior designer??
3. Personality traits that would needed, if any??
4. Work opportunities, where could i get a job, and how??
5. What is the salary range, if known?? (maybe an average)

It would be greatly appreciated if you could answer these questions. I have done much research and there is not about these questions. Thank you very much for taking the time to read this and I hope you will be able to help me out.

Sincerely, Michael - March 6, 2001

Dear Michael,

I find it strange that a young person like you shows any interest in a profession like shoe designing. It is a real specialty. I would be shocked if there are more than one thousand professional shoe designers in the world.

Since you are also near the age in which most people decide what they want do after high school, I have answered your questions as best as I can.

First, I strongly recommend that you begin looking for a profession or job that you will be happy doing. Many people work for money, rather than enjoy doing their work. It is extremely fortunate for those who are able to do work that they enjoy and also get paid for it.

In case you actually become a shoe designer, I hope that you design lots of high heels. Do not be embarrassed. There are both men and women who have been extremely successful in designing women's high heel shoes. Some of the male superstars are Manolo Blahnik, Salvatore Ferragamo, Andre Perugia, Roger Vivier, and Stuart Weitzman. Some women are Else Anita, Sandra Choi (who is the designer for Jimmy Choo), Beth Levine, and Vivian Westwood.

Here are my answers to your questions:

1) You should be artistic and have a good sense for beauty, fashion, style, and clothing materials. Take all of the fashion or fashion-related courses (in fine arts) that you can and do well in all of them, as well in all of your classes.

Also, you should be comfortable using a PC. Much shoe designing is now done using specialized computer software programs.

2) I assume that you mean "shoe designer", rather than "interior designer". Interior designing refers to designing the insides of buildings.

There are basically three ways for an individual to become a shoe designer:

a) One is born into a family with a successful shoe business.

b) One becomes an apprentice or helper with a shoe business and works his way up and into the shoe designer role.

c) One gets a college education in fashion design and then, looks for a shoe design job position. Since shoe designing jobs are limited, one may have to get a different job with a shoe retailer/manufacturer and then, wait until a designing job opens up.

If shoe designing is what you want to do, then it is important that you advise your school Guidance Counselor. It is the guidance counselor's job to help you choose appropriate elective courses and to apply to a fashion college.

I would recommend getting Associate of Applied Science (AAS) and Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degrees in fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.) or similar college. F.I.T. is located in the New York City, the fashion capital of the world. You can check them out at

3) Shoe designers must interact with many other people in the shoe business, like those in advertising, marketing, and those who actually make shoes. So, a successful shoe designer needs excellent interpersonal skills. Also, a shoe designer who tries to build his own business will need excellent manners in order to work with business partners and customers.

4) Shoe designing jobs are limited in number, but there are plenty of fashion design jobs. You would need to locate shoe businesses, as well as clothing companies that have a shoe line.

You can job hunt through fashion magazines, fashion websites, and job websites. Another approach would be to directly contact shoe retailers/manufacturers, that can be located through websites like Shoes on the Net at

A shoe designer, who has money or can raise enough money, can also start his own business. He can design shoes, have a shoe manufacturer (in the United States, Italy, Brazil, China/Taiwan, or elsewhere) make them, and then, travel around the country finding women boutiques to sell them (as well as sell them through the Internet and magazine advertisements).

5) The salary for shoe designers varies greatly. It is similar to other fashion designer, graphic designer, and any other artistic type of job. If you design ugly shoes that do not sell, then you will probably be out of the profession very quickly.

In general, you can expect to be rewarded depending on how well your shoes sell. Also, if you end up doing low-end work in designing cheap shoes, then you will need to sell many more pairs of shoes than higher-end shoes.

If you design high-end top fashion shoes that sell well, you can make a fortune. The Spanish shoe designer Manolo Blahnik was reported in Vogue as selling over 100,000 pairs of his shoes annually in the United States alone. He designs very beautiful, high-end fashion spike heels for women that sell from $400.00 to $1500.00US a pair.

Here are some other useful websites/webpages:

a) Jobs In Fashion

b) Bureau of Labor Statistics
& Bureau of Labor Statistics - Apparel and Other Textile Products page
& Bureau of Labor Statistics - Designers page

Good luck with your art project and whatever occupation you choose.

J.J. - March 2001

Hi there. I was doing research on the Web, and your site was the only one I found that had any useful information on how to be a shoe designer. I'm grateful!

My name is XXXXXXXXXXXXX, and I work at a business library in XXXXXX, XXXXXXXX. I'm doing some research for someone who's advising someone who is trying to enter the shoe design business. She is freelancing, and has some designs. However, she is unaware/unsure as to how to approach manufacturers.

Your answer to the 9th-grader suggests (among other things) looking for a shoe design job with shoe and/or clothing companies. Are there freelancers in this field, or is that pretty tough to do? Like publishing, would a shoe manufacturer refuse to consider unsolicited designs? Do shoe designers use agents? If so, who and where might they be?

If you can spare some moments to answer any of these questions, I'd be quite grateful.

P.S. - You probably know this, but there's a Spanish film called "High Heels," a Spanish film by Almodovar. Its poster alone is worth a star for your list!

Thanks. D.C. - July 17, 2001

[ She is freelancing, and has some designs. However, she is unaware/unsure as to how to approach manufacturers.]

Most manufacturers charge to make shoes using shoe designs supplied by their customers. It is mainly the shoe retailing businesses, both wholesale and/or retail, that need to be contacted. Call or write them. Find contact information at websites like

[Are there freelancers in this field, or is that pretty tough to do?]

Yes, there are some freelancers. If the freelancer has the right friends and contacts, it may be easy. Otherwise, freelancing is pretty tough to do. now has a growing database of freelance shoe designers looking for work. It looks very similar to job wanted ads, which I believe have extremely limited success rates. In regards to job wanted ads and databases, my personal opinion is that the aggressive approach in contacting the shoe businesses directly will work better.

[ Like publishing, would a shoe manufacturer refuse to consider unsolicited designs? ]

You need to contact each shoe business to find out what their current need and policy is for shoe designs. It will likely depend on how many other shoe designers they are already working with and how many "good" designs they already have.

Note that unlike books that have copyright protection, shoe designs have little or no protection. Only shoes that incorporate new structural and/or material differences have any chance of getting a patent. Otherwise, new shoe designs can be copied as is or modified a bit by any interested party, who can then place their own label inside the shoes.

Successful high end shoe designers avoid counterfeiters only by limiting sales of their shoes to certain authorized and trustworthy upscale shops. Otherwise, if they allow their shoes to be sold by any interested party, they might have to deal with counterfeit shoes.

[ Do shoe designers use agents? If so, who and where might they be? ]

It is possible, especially with so many diverse businesses in so many different countries. However, it seems to me that many "full-time" shoe designers work for a shoe business and sometimes, own or partially own the shoe business. Think about the people behind the Newport News and Frederick's of Hollywood shoe lines, Erika Hosoiri at Brazilian Orchid, up and coming superstar Narcisco Rodriguez at Loewe, and Sandra Choi at Jimmy Choo.

You can also try to contact the Ars Arpel Group in Milan, Italy regarding all of your questions. Ars Arpel publishes one of the better shoe industry magazines and also has a footwear school. Visit

Furthermore, check out the website about World Shoe Association Shows in Las Vegas for designer shoe retailers at

[ P.S. - You probably know this, but there's a Spanish film called "High Heels," a Spanish film by Almodovar. Its poster alone is worth a star for your list! ]

I saw this movie the day it opened, but did not see any high heels (worth seeing) in the movie.


The Ars Arpel School in Milan, Italy offers various basic and advanced courses in Footwear and the use of CAD-CAM for designing footwear/leather goods. They have international students and supposedly, you can follow along even if you do not speak Italian or English. Most of the courses last from one week to 3 months.

Ars Arpel also publishes several magazines for the leather trade, including Ars Sutoria for footwear and Shoe Collection. You can get current contact information at

J.J. - Added September 1, 2003

I came across your site while trying to find information on shoe designing. Your reply to the 9th grade student was the most informative I have found.

I have decided to take on the daunting task of starting a shoe line. The simple yet unfilled market of stylish shoes for wide feet. I have a degree in graphic design and have been trying to decide how to go about this. At first a degree in industrial design seemed to be the way to go but I am rethinking that approach. My main concern is how do you get prototypes manufactured? Can you help me?


A. N. - August 4, 2001

Dear Allison,

Most fashion high heel shoes that are available in brick-and-mortar stores or by mail order are currently offered only in women's medium (or B) width. However, there are dozens of specialty shoe businesses already offering "stylish" women's shoes in wide widths, but mostly with low and mid-heels. The few fashion high heels offered are usually only 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 inches high.

Also, in regards to high heels with wide widths, most club wear high heels are offered only in women's medium width. As for fetish stuff, there are several fetish high heel businesses already offering all widths on "Made to Order" or "Custom Made" terms.

You should verify all of this yourself. Try to research and find out about your competition before investing any money. If you think that you can do a better job, it would make sense to give it a try.

If I were to try myself to start a fashion high heel shoe business with wide widths at this time, I would aim at:

a) offering both women's wide (or C) width and extra-wide (or D) width,
b) offering these wide and extra-wide widths with higher high heels, like 4, 4 1/2, 5 and 5 1/2 inch heels without platforms,
c) offering high quality shoes made with genuine leather, and
d) having the shoes (especially the best-selling styles and sizes) readily available in stock, not "Made to order".

You will also need good advertising and marketing plans. Most businesses live and die according to them.

There are many shoe manufacturers all around the world. Use websites like Shoeinfonet and Shoeworld to get contact information. You should try to contact as many of them as you can to find those offering you the best quality, prices, service, etc..

You also need to deal with each individual manufacturer to determine the amount of detail needed from you to manufacture your prototypes. Those manufacturers with little experience may need complete details from you, while those with more experience manufacturing similar types of shoe designs may need less details.

If you want 4+ inch heels, you should deal with manufacturers having lots of "high heel" experience. The heel itself is one of the most difficult parts to make or get. Not every manufacturer can make a good 4+ inch wood/metal heel along with the proper shank curve.

I would aim for quality rather than price, at least initially. In this regard, I suggest contacting companies like Brazilian Orchid (Brazil), Leatherworks (England), Little Shoe Box (England), Italian Shoes (Italy), and other medium-sized shoe retailers who manufacture their own shoes. All four companies that I mentioned also work with genuine leather. So, they should be able to manufacture some high quality high heel shoes with your label for you.

If you establish a successful business or as time goes by, you could also try to locate additional manufacturers aiming for price. At that time, you will probably also be contacted by other shoe manufacturers seeking your business.

J.J. - August 26, 2001


Hi there! I came across your website while i was searching for classes on shoe design and manufacturing. I am fortunate enough ( as you have mentioned :-) to be born into a family-owned shoe business here in the Philippines, however i majored in advertising and did not have an inkling for the business until last year. And i'm 28! I am handling the direct selling end of our business, however i know (being the "beginner" that i am) that i still have a lot to learn. I've checked out FIT, but i am looking for schools that can offer short courses since i am working full time and have to travel from Manila. Hope you can help me out and thanks!

K. - 30 Jan 2002

Dear Kristine,

Gaza Bowen offers some one week shoemaking courses in Santa Cruz, California. California is a lot closer to Manila in the Philippines than F.I.T. in New York City.

Her advanced course involves making a pair of high heel sandals. Click here to find more information at her website

There are some other approaches that you can consider. There are inexpensive text books available that can supply you with the same knowledge:

Introduction to Modern Footwear Technology (about $25.00 US)
Tips for Shoe Production Volume I: Design (by A. Wilhelm, Shoe Trades Pub Co, June 1991; about $35.00 US)

Also, you can try to volunteer your time in exchange for some training with a shoe designer/maker in Manila. There seems to be quite a few of them in Marikina.

J.J. - February 11, 2002

ROLE MODEL <<<<< Added February 24, 2002

If you are interested in becoming a "High Heel Fashion Wear" designer, Edmundo Castillo may serve as a good role model. Click here to find more information about him


C. - 14 Jul 2002

Dear Cindy,

The only CAD (Computer Aided Design) software for shoe designing that I am aware of is for professional designers (like those who work for large shoe companies) and expensive. If you are still interested, you can find information about such PC software at these web sites:

USM International LTD.
USM International LTD. (United Kingdom) offers a free 3 month trial.

DELCAM (Canada)

J.J. - July 21, 2002

Hi there.

I came across your website whilst researching high heels and why women wear them for my dissertation. I read your page on becoming a footwear designer, and i was surprised to not hear you mention Cordwainers College at the London College of Fashion. I am in my final year of doing a Bacholar of Arts Degree in Design, Marketing and Product Development in Footwear (basically shoe design). Cordwainers College is one of the most well known footwear college in the world, with designers such as Patrick Cox, Emma Hope and Jimmy Choo graduating from there. Many students from abroad come to England to study there and from my own experience it is well worth doing. I think it deserves a mention!

Y.H. - 31 Oct 2002

Thank you for the information about Cordwainers at the London College of Fashion .

J.J. - November 3, 2002

Subject: making a go of shoe designing

jj, hi. I was a freelance shoe designer for over 15 yrs. in los angeles california, i ended up opening my own stores and did quite well. Your advice to the seekers is good advice, very solid. Alas, i had partner problems and shuttered the business and went elsewhere for my fulfillment. I only did womens fashion shoes. Sometimes, however the idea of producing a small line still excites me. haha

Old shoe dog, Nick XXXXXXXX, 2 to Tango, 1982-96 Melrose Ave. Ca

17 Nov 2002

Nick, Thank you for feedback.

J.J. - November 17, 2002


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