I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in the footwear design industry for a few years now, and throughout my time there have been certain scenarios or things that people have said about footwear design that have continued to crop up that either make me cringe slightly, chuckle to myself, or irked the shit out of me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m generally a very positive person, glass half-way-full type of guy, but some of these things need to be aired out, and so here they are; these are the ‘Top 5 misconceptions about footwear designers’ (imo) –
Let me start by saying I adore the swoosh. They have some of the most talented designers in the industry and often the most innovative products. They have, and continue to, alter the footwear industry as we know it…that being said, that in no way means I would give up everything I have created and head over to Oregon at the drop of a hat if they called.
To be honest a lot of what I’ve been seeing from up coming designers (I’ll include myself in this list), is that they generally have a desire to blaze their own paths and create their own brands or identities, rather then fit into an already established brand, way of thinking and set design language. Footwear designers are starting to understand how truly valuable they are, and that it really is possible to do things your own way, which I think can really only be a good thing. Independent design is something our industry needs to stay fresh and evolve with truly different and innovative product.
Nike will of course always have an allure, if for nothing else but the rich brand history and the juice you get for being associated with such a prestigious brand, but don’t for one second make the mistake and think that it’s a path every footwear designer wants to take.
Yeah that’s right, I don’t know what the release date of the Hyper Gamma Ray Toro colourway is, and I have absolutely zero desire to stand outside and wait in line at a store to buy them. I don’t know the names of every different colourway of the latest Nike/Adidas/New Balance, etc…released this year, but what I can probably do is tell you the name of the person that actually designed the shoe to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, I love shoes. However, the things I obsess about are slightly different (I imagine anyway) then the average ‘sneakerhead’. I obsess about the design elements of the shoe, the functionality, the story behind the design, the development process used to create them, things like that.
No offense to ‘sneakerheads’, I have some design friends that are for sure ‘sneakerheads’, but we’re not all built that way, and it definitely isn’t a prerequisite to being a great shoe designer.
This ones actually been bothering me for years. Firstly I’ll say I personally know some amazingly talented shoe customizers, they really are incredible artists, but even they will be the first to tell you that are not, in-fact, shoe designers. Air brushing a pair of Air Force 1’s, or selecting colours for your collaboration shoes, does not a shoe designer make.
This isn’t to say there isn’t a blurred line here. Some shoe customizers have recently brought their game up a whole new level, becoming more shoe makers than just customizers, and there for sure is an element of design in that.
I can’t tell you how many emails I get (almost daily) from people that know pretty much nothing about footwear design & development, but they have ‘the dopest design ever’ and want me to make their design a reality via sample, but don’t have the funds to do anything else past that point.
Firstly, my factories a going to literally skin me alive if I just continue to make one-off samples for them and don’t place any orders. That makes me look bad, and thats not good because this development game really is based on reputation and relationships most of time.
Secondly, If your design really is that great, do your research, reach out respectfully and ask for advice, I’ll be more then happy to help point you in the right direction. I’m never one to stomp on someones dreams. But please know what you’re getting yourself into before ignorantly emailing a footwear designer and expecting them to put their reputation on the line for your idea that you had while you were sleeping last night after watching an episode of Game Of Thrones (I just watched that last night, love that shit).
You might be wondering how I get around those types emails these days? Well, I generally reply straight away with a quote for how much my design fee’s will cost, pre & post development and an MOQ of a few hundred pairs (which is actually a fair number)… I won’t tell you what the number is, but if you think there’s anything less than three or four zero’s in it, think again… that generally scares off the non-serious folk pretty damn quick.
Honestly most of what I’ve learned has been post university, in my ‘pro’ life. I actually spent a year just working on my sketching and rendering skills after university because I wasn’t happy with where I was. But aside from just skills, understanding how the footwear industry moves is really only something you can learn when you’re actually in it. I’m constantly learning new things, and thats just from a design perspective, I won’t even get started on the development side of footwear.
I think it all comes with the footwear design industry being so incredibly competitive, and being a seriously tricky industry to crack into. There are for sure more pro athletes then there are pro footwear designers, and thats because, like sports, there are a lot of skills and intangibles that are involved in able to be a success in them. But even with those skills, one thing you need over all of them, is the desire to get better, to grow, to learn. That’s why the education doesn’t stop after university, that’s why the education never really stops.
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