Shoe Designer

By TACP Staff on February 12, 2022

Shoe designers are responsible for creating the layouts, models, and depictions of what will eventually emerge as footwear. In addition to having an artistic flair for style, the shoe designer must also be conscious of structural integrity, comfort, and material efficiency. Typically the designer works as part of a team responsible for concept creation, design research, comprehensive design rendering and assessing new technologies in materials and textile processing.

What Is Shoe Design?

Footwear has been a necessity for humans for centuries. It protects our feet from dirt and cold as well as sharp sticks and stones. The first shoes were basically nothing more than bags that were secured over the feet. Typically, these bags were made from very thick durable material, such as animal hide.

Over time, the type of shoes a person wore began to become something of a status symbol. Royalty and other higher class individuals, for instance, could afford to have several pairs of fitted and attractive shoes made. These were often made from luxurious materials, and adorned with items like gems and ribbons.

Mere peasants, although their shoes were a few steps up from simple bags tied to the feet, did not have such luxuries as ornamental shoes. Generally, commoners only owned one pair of sturdy, comfortable, and practical pair of shoes. If they were lucky, these extra shoes would only be replaced when the previous pair was outgrown or riddled with holes.

It wasn’t until shoes were being mass produced and became more commonplace that they started being viewed as fashion accessories. Today, shoes play an important role in fashion. Women, for instance, are often stereotyped as being shoe addicts, and in some cases, this image isn’t far off. Many women do lust after trendy and unusual shoes, to the point that they may have several pairs spilling out of their closets. One extreme example of a shoe enthusiast was Imelda Marcos, wife of the exiled Philippine president, Ferdinand Marcos. Some reports have estimated that she owned anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 pairs of shoes.

What Does a Shoe Designer Do?

Shoe designers develop several different types of footwear. Many shoe designers will specialize in designing certain types of footwear, such as boots, athletic shoes, dress shoes, or sandals. A few shoe designers may also design footwear specifically for women, men, or children.

Like other professionals in the fashion industry, shoe designers must be aware of current fashion trends. Although some shoe designs, such as black pumps, are considered to be classic, fads come and go, and designers must be able to adapt to the fickle mentality of consumers.

In order to come up with a particular design, a shoe designer will sometimes work alone, but he may also work with a small team, trading concepts and ideas. If a shoe designer is creating a new shoe for a client or employer, he must also be open to outside ideas and specifications. Some things that a shoe designer may consider when coming up with a new shoe design include aesthetics, comfort, support, safety, practicality, and durability.

The next step in the show design process involves creating a visual plan. During the initial planning stages, a shoe designer will usually make several quick sketches of his design. After he has perfected his idea, he will then start making more detailed designs. These detailed designs are sometimes created with traditional art supplies, such as pencils and markers. With the advancement of modern technology, however, the use of computer design software for shoe design is becoming more and more commonplace.

Once a design has been completed, a shoe designer will then need to have a pattern made. Some designers are perfectly capable and comfortable performing this task themselves. Others, however, may enlist the help of a patternmaker. Once the pattern has been completed, a prototype of the shoe needs to be made. If the prototype is acceptable to the designer, or approved by the employer or client, the shoes will then be mass produced and marketed to the public.

Shoe Designer Education & Training Requirements

Aspiring individuals looking to become a shoe designer should be very creative and have a broad imagination. They should also be interested in and willing to keep abreast of current fashion trends and fads. Drawing and computer skills are also good skills to have. In order to start their shoe design careers, most individuals should earn either a two or four year degree from a traditional university, or a degree from an art and design school. Design degrees – such as product design, fashion design, or accessory design – are excellent degrees to have when starting a shoe design career.

Some fashion or design schools may even offer degree programs specifically geared toward those interested in shoe design careers. Accessory design schools are a great way to get a head start in the industry.

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Shoe Designer Salary & Job Outlook


Fashion designers, in general, made roughly $72,720 in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More specifically, however, fashion designers who worked for footwear manufacturers made an average salary of $71,200 in that same year. Working in the fashion industry can often lead to a very rewarding and lucrative career for the right type of individual. As mentioned above, however, this is a very competitive industry, and generally, only the most talented and driven professionals are able to get a taste of this success.

Job Outlook

In some cases, shoe designers may choose to design, create, market, and sell their own shoe designs. Typically, however, only the most talented and driven shoe designers can build a successful career doing this, since the fashion industry is constantly changing and extremely competitive. Many fashion design and accessory design firms hire shoe designers as well. Shoe companies and large retail stores also hire shoe designers to create new comfortable and unusual shoe designs.

Shoe Designer FAQ

The fashion industry is competitive and the most skilled designers will stand out. Many will attend a fashion school to understand the process and stay on top of trends. The ability to communicate, present, and work on a team are also very important. A shoe designer should have an artistic eye for what will look good on the runway.

The best shoe designers can draw to bring their ideas to life. Many will then design or alter patterns with drafting tools. Designers may also develop patterns directly on paper or use computer software to manipulate patterns. No formal education is necessary to become a shoe designer, but an art or fashion education can help advance your career. Many have formal training in footwear design, working directly in design studios or with shoe manufacturers. 

The average salary for a shoe designer is $47,302 per year according to ZipRecruiter. Like many art careers, salary is largely dependent on the city you live in and whether you’re a freelance shoe designer or work directly for a company like Nike or Adidas. Average salaries at Adidas are around $76,000 per year for footwear designers whereas Nike’s average salary for its designers is $67,000. Other brands like Prada, Louis Vuitton, and Ralph Lauren can pay anywhere from $55,000 to $65,000.

A degree in either Industrial or Product Design or an Arts degree can help you understand the process and help you build your creative skillset. Gaining an appreciation for the process can be extremely impactful and help you fine-tune your storytelling and design skills.

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