The Golden Glossary of Shoe Design

Had a flash of brilliance for a hot new footwear collection? You’re off to a great start. However, tackling the footwear business is often a step into unchartered territory, and this is a journey that needs a map – not to mention a dictionary.

First of all: the footwear industry is a great business. Growing relatively fast, already achieved a great volume, so what could be possibly wrong, right? Without trying to discourage anyone, let me list a few milestones on this imaginary map and in the same time teach you the language of this land.

Most importantly: you HAVE to have the right product. The one you believe in, even if nobody else does. It doesn’t have to be the most unique thing, but a great design and cool story are essential. If you don’t happen to be a designer – moreover a footwear designer, you’ll probably need some assistant to communicate this idea. What you will need is a tech spec and some accompanying (and cool!) illustrations. This is necessary to choose your lasts, create your patterns and make sure you receive what you ordered. If you don’t have the time and money for 5-6 expensive prototypes (and trust me: you likely won’t), make sure your manufacturer understands you from the beginning.

You need details. Aside from the technical requirements, it’s necessary to create a product that has character and is recognizable. Add some hardware, a label, a cool accent color, some fancy stitches – something to differentiate your design.

Going back to the travel analogy, you’ll need to learn some of the language to get by. There are several different shoe technologies. You can’t just ask for a “shoe” when you’re speaking to a manufacturer- it’s like asking for “food” in a restaurant. When we talk about technology, we mean how we attach the sole to the rest of the shoe. It’s simple, when you’re equipped with a guide to the vocabulary of shoe construction:

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Cemented: This is the simplest method of shoe construction. It’s a great choice for a high heel or a ballet flat, but not the best option for a men’s shoe. It features a narrow sole edge, and isn’t particularly strong.

Blake: This can be an alternative to the cemented technique, as it has exactly the same look, but the sole is sewn to the upper. It’s made with a relatively cheap machine, so most workshops can do it easily. You’ll also end up with a visible stitch on the bottom. Pretty cool, isn’t it?

Goodyear: Now we start the serious business. The Goodyear is a great welt, with intricate stitches at the top. It’s strong, and can be part of an elegant design. It can also be used for boots, and you’re not limited to one sole – double soles are an option, too. It’s a great choice for dress shoes as well. Goodyear welts come in different shapes, so make sure you don’t stop at the first one you see – there are more where that came from!

Stitchdown: The Stitchdown is similar to the Goodyear, but with no welt, just the upper turned out. A common example of this is chukka or desert boots. With shoes like these, stitchdown construction is the best – and typically only – option.

If your budget doesn’t allow for real sole stitches you can still use fake welts, which looks similar, although will not be as sturdy.

Certainly, there are many more constructions. These are the most common ones, and are reflective of most options that shoemakers and manufacturers would be well-versed in. If you’re planning on designing a luxury shoe, traditional workshops will work with even more construction techniques.

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You’ll also need to consider materials. You’ll need to talk to an expert, trust your maker and definitely don’t just try something for the sake of pulling together a prototype. Consider it as a raw material for a food. Everything depends on your choice. At this point, it’s really worth your while to do your research, whether that’s by reading up or consulting a materials expert. Don’t forget – you are responsible for your product. Putting an allergen leather in your product as a lining, for example, would be a very bad choice.

After addressing these steps, be sure to test your prototypes. This isn’t the time to rely on your friend’s assurances – you really need objective feedback on the behavior and performance of your shoe.

Ready to hit the ground running?

If you’re ready to take your shoes to the next level, you’ll need a factory you trust. To get started, search hundreds of footwear factories on Maker’s Row. Plus, for 48 hours only, you can get access to our Small Batch Manufacturing List plus our extended Marketplace for only $15 (normally $35) – perfect for burgeoning shoe designers looking for manufacturers that give you individualized attention. To get full access to the list, use sign up code SMALLBATCH123 to subscribe to our Basic Plan.

Cover image courtesy of Modern Vice.

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