How to Make Shoes. Part One.




so you want to know how to make shoes?
Part One describes in a rough-and-ready way how I learned to design & develop my first collection of shoes.

Part Two will be a photo essay on shoe production in China.

Step 1: Coming Up With Your Design & Making a Prototype

This is not the conventional way to design shoes, but I, like many of the people on this website I suspect, like to see things 3-dimensionally, and not just on paper. So when I went to design my first collection of shoes, I started out by making some mock-up prototypes.

I did this by choosing shoes that I liked the overall shape of, and then using vinyl (seen here in yellow), leather & sculpey to transform the shoe into my own.

since I wanted to create a collection of racecar shoes, I spent a lot of time looking at rare sportscar magazines. The shoe pictured here is inspired by the Lamborghini Gallardo. I did another one inspired by a Bugatti which we'll come out with next season!

Colin, Andrew & Dan S. were very helpful in mocking up the first rounds of electronics to get my led headlights & brakelights up and running.

Black sculpey works great for playing with the look of your outsole. It really looks like rubber and its easy to mold.

Your outsole is very important at this stage, since the next step is making the technical drawings for it...

Step 2: Don't Be Intimidated by Making Technical Drawings. (well, Maybe Just a Little Bit)

When my big Chinese factory asked me for my technical drawings, I realized I couldn't just send them my cute mock-up of a shoe. They obviously weren't used to getting sculpey shoe mock-ups from their Converse account. Luckily a few shoe contacts stepped in to help me so I got a one-day crash course in technical drawings...

the key is to make detailed instructions so the CAD guys can make an accurate blueprint. Your drawings need to be as accurate as possible, and you need to call out as many measurements as you can possibly think of, in millimeters. They will then trace these in CAD, so any imperfections will also get traced.

attached you can see what I came up with. My factory laughed at me for these, but they didn't know it was my first time doing a technical drawing. And anyway, it got the blueprints made...

designing your own outsoles is a really expensive and labor-intensive process. NOT EVERYONE HAS TO DO THIS! It is eminently possible to source pre-made outsoles and lasts and just design your own uppers. Because I was working with the biggest shoe factory in the world, I didn't realize this, but don't be fooled, its much easier and cheaper just to find existing outsoles!!

Step 3: Getting Your Last

I'm sure you've seen Keen shoes. They're big and wide and comfy and funny looking. Martin Keen, who started it apparently started out with a block of wood and whittled his own last, with that crazy wide toe area.

The last is the form inside the shoe that determines its shape, and is very important in making your shoe comfortable or not.

I worked with a famous old company called Jones & Vining who have been making lasts for all the big shoe companies since the 1930's. Bob Albert, who has done countless lasts with Stride Rite & other kids companies helped me develop our cute, super lasts.

Once you have a last, start Fit Testing asap; get a pullover from your factory to do this, so you are 100% sure that these shoes will be super comfortable, safe, etc.

You need your last before you can really make your outsole design, because the bottom of the last has to fit together perfectly with the shape of the outsole.

Just to reiterate though, you DONT need to make a new last to make shoes!! Get your factory to give you a selection of available lasts & outsoles!!

Step 4: Design the Upper

This part is fun, and you can do it however you like: by cutting up scraps of material, by drawing a picture, or using a program like illustrator or photoshop to play with different colors/ designs.

The final product, however, needs to be put together in a "tech pack" that shows each component of the upper and what it is made of. At this stage, you might want to collaborate with a developer, who can advise on what materials will hold up under wear, and whether you need to add/change things for structural reasons on the shoe.

Attached are some parts of a tech pack that I made.

Step 5: Your First Pullover

The first mock-up shoe that your factory will send you is called a "pullover" (meaning the materials are pulled over the last. typically, the sole is not attached yet and its made in white materials, for you to look at the overall pattern and make corrections and changes.

there are a lot of ways of sending corrections; either you can cover the pullover with white masking tape, and re-draw the lines where you would like them to be, or you can do the same in illustrator over a photo of the first mock-up shoe.

There are usually no more than 3 rounds of revision, thus 3 pullovers. By the 3rd set, your shoe should be close to perfect. If you keep making more and more changes, your factory will get sick of you! On the other hand, if they're not getting it right, don't be afraid to be a perfectionist.

Step 6: Go Visit Your Factory. for a Week or a Month.

by now its pretty much time for you to go work 1 on 1 with the sample room in your factory. This is really helpful if you're opening your own outsole molds, so you can approve the blueprint in person, and look (or start chiseling away yourself!) at the wooden mold they do before opening up the final metal molds. You can make adjustments right up to the very end to keep your mold as light as possible, coring out the interior etc.

Its also useful to be there for approving the materials you've ordered, and just workiing one on one with everyone to make your shoes perfect. If you're a designer, go with a developer, so you have a really successful team. I worked with Jenny Cheng & Yvonne Lin, who both had years of experience doing children's shoe development with Stride Rite, and they were lifesavers! We pretty much worked from 8am to 10 or 11 most nights in the factory, and ordered food in. But we got a lot done!

Step 7: Your Shoe Collection Is Done!

Hopefully by the time you leave China you should be able to see something close to your final shoe collection. This is very exciting!!! Now you have sales samples so you can go back to the states, or wherever, and start your marketing campaign....

Once you're ready to place an order with your factory, you'll get to face a whole new round: the challenges of commercialization and production!

Part Two of this instructable will cover Shoe Production in China.

Step 8: Finding a Factory?

I've recieved a lot of requests from people wanting to be put in touch with factories. The way I found a factory was by going to shoe trade fairs and meeting with people. The BEST show to go to is the WSA (world shoe association) in Las Vegas-- takes place 2x a year, in August and February, and I believe there is a whole huge section of shoe factories represented there.

I highly recommend doing this because then you can make contact & "interview" a bunch of different options and see who might be interested in making prototypes for you.

I get a lot of requests for people wanting to be put in touch with the factory I am using-- sadly, unless you are ready to go into large scale production, I'm not currently able to connect people, because I've already called in a bunch of favors with my factory by getting them to do such a small production with me!!!

However, don't be discouraged! There are lots of factories who are very willing to help you out, and who are looking for new talent and opportunity, especially once they see that you are committed to a project and have the ability to market it in the US or elsewhere.

best of luck!



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    31 Discussions

    May I ask.
    How much did it cost?
    How many shoes were made?
    How many different models?

    Wolf Seril

    9 years ago on Introduction

    I think this 'ible might be better titled "how to design shoes" or "how to get shoes made". Most people on this site are looking for things they can do themselves. Otherwise, great job. Those shoes are B.A.

    1 reply
    jennaWolf Seril

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    thats a good point about the title... i know the post is rather beyond the scope of a diy project, but whatevah, it sort of started out that way and snowballed!!!


    9 years ago on Introduction

    this might be the best instructables I have seen and will ever see. thank you for a very helpful and informative instructables. should make a category just for post like this, cant wait to see part 2!

    1 reply

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    thanks! wow thats a very high compliment, im flattered :) i really have to get around to posting part two... (so darn busy, oy vey!)


    9 years ago on Introduction

    cudo"s on the design and process. What type of lateral torsion control do you have with the implementation of the higher heel cup? Can the software help with those numbers? How firm is the last? Was that a consideration in production as far as cost or was it not a dynamic option?

    Hi, your instructable was a help for designing the shoes. You should make another that teaches you how to go about actually building them. Thnx.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Nice Instructable, But couldn't you have had them made in the USA???


    10 years ago on Introduction

    I don't know if it quite meets the expectations I have from an instructable if the last step is: Fly to a factory and have them make it. I think your steps are informative and appreciate your effort, but have you considered making a prototype yourself? Or perhaps (just throwing this out there knowing full well it is just plain crazy...) having it made domesticly? Shoe repair shops are still around to help produce the sole and attach it to your upper which could be made by a seamstress. Orthotic and prosthetic labs can be a treasure trove of experiance and materials...


    10 years ago on Introduction

    iam going to make myself a nice pair of converse but not converse like them but more support that would be a dream come true for me :P ..............................good instructable


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Jenna, Thanks for your inspiration!!!!! I'm so grateful to have found your instructable.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Wow Jenna, Thanks for what u have accomplised and shared with us. I've been so in the dark about this topic. I'm a student studying CAD and i'm an new entrepreneur. I'm into graphic arts, photography,and music production. To add on to my business i would like to produce my own clothing and shoeline. I've realized that i may have to bite the bullet and take a trip to China, but i do have concerns. thank you for the post this has motivated and empowered me to continue in my quest.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Jenna, This is much more than creating a shoe, its building a business. It's fantastic....taking the Instructables web site to the next logical and ultimate step. Need to set up a web site that focuses just on this - designing a product, manufacturing, marketing & setting up the organization (not just the employees) to create a successful business. Looking forward to part 2....or even updates on your progress. Good Luck!

    1 reply

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    thanks for this nice comment! great idea about an instructables-for-entrepreneurs. what is your field?