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.
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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.
KEEP IT SIMPLE:
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!