I still remember when I first started my career in the shoe business and the excitement of being around shoes and sneakers all the time and wanting to soak up as much information as I could about the shoe development process.
It wasn’t until I made my first trip to China in 2006 I realized how many moving parts there are to this machine we call the shoe business. Over the last year I’ve really gotten into the sport of Formula 1, which started by me just wanting to be supportive of a driver freind of mine who has supported my shoe brand. You’re probably wondering what F1 has to do with the shoe business…tbh I didn’t really know why I liked Formula 1 so much until I started writing this blog post.
However, much like a Formula 1 team, which consists of many moving parts, I can draw a-lot of parallels to the shoe business. I’m not going to compare building an F1 car to building a shoe, but building a sneaker from the ground up is a very complicated process. When I say building from “the ground up” I don’t mean what sneaker customizers do when they deconstruct a shoe and build it back again, although I’m sure that’s not easy, what I’m referring to is much different. I’m speaking in regards to building a collection and developing a line plan on how to build and deliver that collection into the market.
Sourcing materials with multiple suppliers, building custom moulds, creating new Last shapes, pattern corrections, and more…all while keeping track of every component and where it’s coming from. Not to mention keeping track of the cost and all of the components and constantly negotiating with suppliers so you stay within your target FOB (freight on board – basically it’s a fancy acronym for your cost per pair).
There is a lot more to building shoes than what you can see with your eyes, it’s all the invisible stuff we don’t see that really makes the difference when building a great shoe.
In a formula 1 garage much like a shoe factory you can find a lot of people, and my first thought is “what the hell does everyone do?”. You have your engineers, mechanics, technicians, and there is even a job for someone to use a vacuum like thing to just keep the car exhaust out of the garage. It’s very fascinating to me, and it’s a reminder why I love the process of building footwear so much.
It’s impossible to cover the entire process in one post so I want to focus on one area which happens to be one of my favorites parts of the process…The Pullover.
The term pullover means exactly that…when building your first prototype following the patterns completion you typically stitch scrap materials together to form your first prototype, then you take that prototype and “pull it over” your last so you get a quick look at what your shoe could possibly look like. Looking at a pullover requires a lot of imagination because it’s a very rough sample. It’s up to you to use that imagination to fill in the gaps and really see the shoe’s potenital. Like all designers doing this for the first time it took a while for me to understand the power of the pullover and how to use it as a tool within my own creation process.
If you look at what’s going on in the shoe biz right now and what’s trending – from the Nike x Off-White collection to everyone else who’s knocking off that look – all of these collections have pullover DNA. The objective of a pullover is to be a super fast transition from your 2D concept to just something in 3D and everything from partially stitched patterns, to inside out materials, or unfinished linings are just a few examples of what pullover DNA looks like.
For me, a pullover is a canvas and it represents the moment when you transition from a 2D sketch or rendering into your first 3D form. In my mind, when you make your first pullover your 2D is no larger relevant and at that moment it’s now up to you to turn that pullover into a work of art.
Pullovers can be rough on designers as well. They can keep you up at night, and damn near drive you to drink. All designers have that one shoe within a collection they created that they always look for first when that shipment of pullovers come in. I’ve worked on many shoes that looked amazing in 2D and once we made the first pullover it looked like a disaster. At that moment you have to decide if it’s worth putting the time into making it as special as you know it can be or should you just scrap it for now. It’s a tough spot to be in especially if you have 10+ styles or more that also need your attention and look closer to being commercial shoes verses the one you really love. It’s a tough spot to be in, but I realized after 15 years in this biz you can’t save them all.
People don’t realize that going from 2D to 3D is a big transition and if your proportions are off (which is typically the case for the less experienced) you will loose a lot of your details and surface area once you transition to the real thing.
A pullover is a fresh start and gives you an opportunity to correct mistakes, try new things and discover new ones. It’s a beautiful process because it’s unpredictable and regardless of how much experience you may or may not have you can never predict when you’re going to create a masterpiece.
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