Footwear Manufacturers with an Education Focus

Shoemakers in the United States are hard to find. Brooklyn Shoe Space is a co-working and prototyping space for shoemakers in Williamsburg, NY that also offers classes and consulting services for emerging designers. Rebecca Heykes, with input from Keiko Hirosue, divulge their motivations to open up shop and become the “go-to classroom, go-to sample room, and go-to factory for footwear.”

At a glance:

  • » What They Do: Prototyping and small scale, customized shoe orders
  • » Location: Williamsburg, NY
  • » Ideal Client: Students, Beginners, and Small Businesses
  • » Minimum Order Quantity: 50-100 pieces
  • » Maker’s Row Profilehttps://makersrow.com/brooklynshoespace
  • » Fun Fact: They offer introductory shoemaking lessons!

Dual Purpose: Education and Manufacturing

The Brooklyn Shoe Space has a two-part mission. The first is to offer a fully-equipped studio space for shoemakers, encourage creativity in our community through fun and educational programming, and to widen the accessibility of shoemaking. The other part of our mission is to grow prototyping and small scale manufacturing services for shoemaking entrepreneurs.

I started BKSS through a journey to find what I love. I was previously designing and making shoes and enjoyed the latter in particular. While producing overseas, I experienced inefficiencies that are inherent to offshore manufacturing. I missed the hands-on part of the process. I started making shoes again, in Brooklyn, on my own. I also wanted to share my passion for shoemaking with others. Shoemakers in New York City know that there aren’t many places to go to make shoes. Many people who  take shoemaking courses end up making a mess in their tiny apartments when attempting to recreate the process at home. Sharing my passion for shoemaking, along with my space, equipment and tools, I organically developed a shoemaking community, which became the foundation of BKSS as it exists today.

shoemaking

We cater to smaller quantity production of 50 to 100 pieces with short lead times. We also service pre-production clients in prototyping. Our specialty is working with designers who have no footwear experience, but want to be hands-on and learn from us to build their brand. We equip them with control over the process. We are routinely inspired by our clients’ creativity and enjoy prototyping projects born from a strong vision. Our staff includes a studio manager who handles scheduling, a dedicated shoemaking team, and a technician who oversees efficient use of machines and minimizes downtime.

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On the classroom side of our business, students acquire an overview of the whole process. We have students who travel here from global locations:  Indonesia, India, Korea, Japan, Columbia, Australia, Switzerland, and across the United States. Their range of professions include housewife, underwear model, industrial designer, dentist, doctor, architect, pediatric nurse, artist, and actor-entertainer.

brooklyn_shoe_space

In Sync with Williamsburg

We operate out of the ground floor storefront of a beautiful building on a quiet street, at 224 Roebling Street, right in the heart of Williamsburg. Our factory sits along various subway lines, making it easy for clients, students, and buyers from Manhattan and the Fashion District to visit. We made a very conscious choice to stay in an area accessible to the public. Accessibility also supports our educational initiatives. An additional perk is that Williamsburg also offers a wealth of retail, food and culture. It is of course a major hub of the maker culture in Brooklyn. We enjoy being in a neighborhood with like-minded people amongst other vibrant businesses. Brooklyn, and Williamsburg in particular, has also become its own brand in a way. We are proud to identify with that brand.

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We make in Brooklyn, New York because we love to make shoes ourselves. We are the urban manufacturer. It’s about a group of friends making locally, together, who just happen to be in the United States. It’s analogous to the local butcher; we want to be your local shoemaker. We want people to know who we are, and we want to know who our customers are. It is important to us to engage with the community around us, to build real relationships.

I see our business as being part of the larger movement of manufacturing coming back to the America. Keiko and I were both frustrated by how much of the shoemaking process was being outsourced, and we are excited to take some control back. We love being able to source materials locally and responsibly, as well as empowering the local workforce, albeit on a small scale right now.

Footwear Industry Trends

There are a lot of exciting changes occurring in the industry that are specific to footwear.  I’ve seen cross-pollination between the athletic and fashion footwear industries. We receive increasing requests for sneaker-like shoes from students and clients alike, and it’s good timing because we are actually able to utilize new technologies like 3D printing to be able to make it work. In the recent past, a small startup might have had to rely on overseas factories to even begin prototyping. Another style trend we’re seeing is a crossover of menswear into womenswear. Many women in our classes are making themselves classic menswear-style shoes. We love seeing these old school classics in circulation.

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The shoe market as a whole is experiencing consumer demand for small-scale, made local, and simple products. Consumers are more interested in the “where, why, and how” their products are made. They seek to buy fewer but high-quality products, and we’re positioning ourselves to satisfy those desires.

Quirky Projects

We once tried creating a built-in mechanism that allows wearers to adjust the height of their shoe heel. We hear these types of prototyping requests at least once a month. It wasn’t very practical.  Changing heel styles at the same heel height can actually work, but changing heel height from flat to high isn’t possible. That functionality would come at the expense of healthy feet, which is not a compromise we think consumers should make.

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Right now, we’re working on a dominatrix shoes and leather goods course in time for Valentine’s Day, which will be a fun couple’s course. We’re excited about some men’s shoe prototypes as well as small-scale production for a well-loved brand that I unfortunately can’t say more about due to an NDA.

New Capabilities

We envision BKSS as the go-to classroom, go-to sample room, and go-to factory for footwear. We’ll continue to supplement our old-school factory machinery with more modern equipment while adding courses that instruct designers on how to utilize of all of this equipment. We are currently working to partner with New York City’s public high schools to encourage the future workforce’s creativity through hands-on footwear workshops.

We recently moved to a much larger storefront location. Transferring the heavy machinery was a big project for us but worth the trouble because we’ve quadrupled our square footage. We now have a full basement allocated to larger machinery and worktables upstairs in our bright and airy studio and retail spaces. Although our overhead has increased, we view it as a worthwhile investment for our students and clients.

shoemaking

We will continue to increase our sample room’s capacity in order to produce larger quantities. The term “mass customization” is a popular term, perhaps overused, but it really does apply to what we do. There are many new technologies that enable relatively small factories like us to offer more options at smaller quantities. For example, entrepreneurs can now realistically afford to prototype outsole designs.

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Now that we have a retail storefront, we’ll be growing our line of products available for direct sale to consumers. We’ll offer ready-made bags, small leather goods, made-to-order footwear from our members’ collections, and the exciting opportunity for any person to walk in and order fully bespoke shoes and other custom products. Our goal for the future is to be able to preserve the craft of shoemaking while finding ways to incorporate new technology, such as 3D modeling, 3D scanning and 3D printing into the process.

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Shoemaking 101

At a high level, shoemaking production breaks down into the following chronological steps.

  • 1. Pattern cutting: completely taping up a shoe last (the form of the foot) to translate the 3D form into two-dimensional pieces by cutting the tape away strategically
  • 2. Clicking: cutting the leather pieces from the patterns
  • 3. Skiving: shaving down the edges of each piece of leather to reduce thickness at the seams, allowing for greater comfort on the inside of the shoe
  • 4. Stitching and Closing: tacking pieces of leather together and sewing them into the shape of the upper
  • 5. Midsole making: prepping the base of what the upper pattern gets lasted to
  • 6. Lasting: stretching the upper over the last
  • 7. Prepping outsoles: cutting the outer sole from leather and preparing heel components
  • 8. Soling: attaching the outer sole and heels
  • 9. Finishing: placing sock linings, polishing, and lacing up laces
  • 10. Packaging: final wrap in tissue and prepping of dust bags and shoeboxes


Feeling Inspired?

Contact Brooklyn Shoe Space here, or search over 9,000 other factories through Maker’s Row.

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