How to Become a Shoe Designer

By TACP Staff on July 25, 2019

If you have an artistic eye for fashion and accessories, a passion for design and self-expression, and a great work ethic, then a career in the fast-paced and exciting world of shoe design may be for you.

1. Learn the Basics of Shoe Design

The shoe design industry is interesting, highly creative, and demanding. Because the industry is also highly competitive, it is important that those entering this career path have a thorough knowledge of the fashion industry.

Shoe designers or footwear designers specialize in creating footwear. While shoes are a practical accessory, they can also be seen as original and innovative works of art. A shoe designer must use their knowledge of various fashion trends, different types of materials and design techniques to conceptualize and develop their own footwear designs.

Because the shoe design career path is multifaceted, designers are required to also have a thorough understanding of the fashion industry. They must know how to draw, how to design their pieces, how to cut and sew fabric, and how to utilize certain design programs and other software on the computer in order to develop their designs digitally.

Creating close contacts within the industry via internships or other programs may also help shoe designers become successful. Additionally, a degree from a fashion design school is not necessary to become a successful shoe designer, but it can be beneficial when applying for internships and securing employment in the industry.  In fact, most employers prefer designers who have a thorough knowledge of footwear design from a reputable school.

Training programs through colleges and universities, fashion institutes, or vocational schools focus specifically on shoe design, while other programs may focus on both shoe design and accessories design. Topics covered often include computer-aided design (CAD), footwear marketing strategies, collection development, and applied footwear design, drawing, pattern drafting and other related courses.  And, although getting an education is important, work experience is vital.  Therefore, participating in internships and apprenticeships through retailers and manufacturers while in school or after completing your education can help earn the respect and attention of prospective employers.

2. Develop Industry Specific Skills

Master the Fundamentals of Design to Be Successful

While anyone can try their hand at shoe design, investing your time in learning more about the craft and developing your skill set is the best way to make your mark within the industry. It is important that a shoe designer has a clear understanding of colors, lines, shapes, textures, and movement, and how these concepts interact with the human body in motion.

While it is important that you have artistic ability, learning to conceptualize your vision is also necessary; how your designs will look with many different wardrobes, styles of hair, and makeup.  The shoe design process requires lots of research, ideation, and prototyping before you can present a complete collection. Before a shoe designer can begin creating their designs they must first ask themselves a few basic questions:

  • Who are you designing for?
  • What do they need?
  • Where will your designs be worn?

Once you have the answer to these questions, you can begin to execute your designs. While the design process may vary depending on your customer and your ultimate vision, this basic process is one that should be followed.

It is also very common for shoe designers to work in collaboration with other artists and designers to gain knowledge and experience. This is a great way to learn more about different design methods and gain experience by forming design concepts as a team. As a shoe designer, developing your skill set is paramount. Whether you choose to practice with a hands-on approach or via independent study or through an accredited Bachelor’s degree program is up to you.

The shoe design industry is one that is ever-changing, requiring those who enter this field to hold a certain set of skills that are adaptable. At minimum, it is important for shoe designers to understand color theory, have a basic knowledge of cutting and sewing, pattern making, and fashion sketching. Designers must also be familiar with the fashion industry, have a broad knowledge of textiles and materials used in making different kinds of shoes, and understanding of shoe engineering, illustration skills, proficiency with CAD software programs, and modeling software, strong marketing skills, knowledge of trends within the industry, and of all the differs kinds of footwear on the market today.  Designers might also decide to specialize in one type of footwear, such as leather boots, or they may decide to design many types of shoes, sandals, sneakers., etc.  They may decide to design for women, men, children, or enter the practical and growing field of orthopedic footwear design.

3. Build Your Portfolio & Pursue Professional Development

To become successful in the shoe design industry, it is important that potential designers learn to build a strong portfolio, their own personal brand, and industry connections.

Whether you chose to build your portfolio online or with physical prototypes, this is an extremely important first step in your shoe design career. With a strong portfolio, you have a greater chance of being accepted for an internship program. You also increase the chance of selling your designs. This is also a great way to start building your reputation within the industry, as insiders have a reference point when considering your designs, and how you’ve progressed overtime.

With the invention of the Internet, social media, and the 24-hour news cycle, it is more important now than ever before to build a personal brand. As such, success within the fashion industry relies heavily on your personal brand. While it is always important to keep in mind who you are designing for, it is also a good idea to have a clear brand identity in mind to separate yourself from other shoe designers. Your individuality and unique design style are what people will remember, and what will ultimately land your first job.

The fashion design industry is highly competitive and because of this, making the right connections is one of the best ways to make sure your shoe designs are seen. While it may be hard to know where to start, applying for an internship or apprenticeship, studying under designers who are already successful in the industry, and investing in continuing education are all great ways to make lasting connections in the industry. It should also be noted that New York and California employ most shoe designers, so designers who wish to have the best chance of gaining employment and becoming well-known may want to consider relocating.

Helpful Organizations & Resources for Shoe Designers

Additional Guides