3 Biggest Mistakes New Shoe Designers Make

shoe designers
Shoe designers need to be both creative and practical about sourcing and manufacturing.
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The shoe business is obviously FN’s favorite space to play in — and with good reason. From pumps and strappy heels to loafers, ankle booties and espadrilles, the footwear industry presents endless possibilities.

But for emerging and aspiring shoe designers, the path to pump-and-platform superstardom can also be rife with unforeseen hurdles.

Here, everyone’s favorite shoe confidante, Footwear News, breaks down three mistakes new shoe designers make.

Not Being Practical

For some who aspire to enter the glamorous fashion industry, career ambitions can be filled with sky-high standards and “got-to-have-it-right-now” timing expectations.

However, the $62 billion-dollar footwear industry is just as complicated as it is exciting. According to Matt Priest, president of the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America (FDRA), many up-and-comers are ill-equipped to navigate the challenges of the global footwear production space.

We’ve had designers say ‘I want to have made-in-the-U.S.A.-only product, and I want to have it at this price point’ — and they can’t find a facility in the country to do it,” explained Priest. “Or we’ll hear, ‘I want to do a small run of products,’ and they go to a factory and find it’s hard to engage with that factory on a small-run order. Another common one is, ‘I want to source only ethical, vegan materials, but I want to do it cost-effectively.’”

New designers, explained Priest, often have distorted ideas about working in the industry — and when they learn the realities, it can be daunting.

“[Aspiring] designers often have preconceived expectations in terms of what kind of product they [want to create] and what kind of factory [to use], and to align all of that behind their vision for their company is very difficult to do,” Priest said.

Not Having A Target Customer

A common criticism of new designers is that they create product that’s “all over the place.”

While a designer may have a vision for a gorgeous collection of shoes, experts say newbies often fail to adequately define their target customer first.

Knowing and understanding the customer is the first step to creating product he/she might want to purchase. Then, marketing and other promotional activities could also be tailored to attract the core customer.

If a new designer does not have the budget to hire a marketing exec or a research-and-design team, there’s lots of free data and research available about consumer spending habits, what motivates a purchase and tips on how to appeal to a certain demographic.

Being Confused By The Competition

Another common pitfall for emerging designers is failing to have a clear context for their competition. Experts say some newcomers are too distracted by the competition, while others are not paying enough attention to them. Balance is key.

Competition is part of every industry, but insiders have said the competitive nature of the footwear biz is heating up because of a number of trends.

“With the advent of social media and blogging as promotional channels, there are so many ways to get your designs out there, and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s making the industry even more competitive,” Priest told FN in June.

CL King & Associates analyst Steven Marotta said that while competition in the footwear market can be stiff, unique opportunities do exist.

The shoe industry is highly fragmented,” said Marotta. “It’s not dominated by one or two players, so even with the competition, there’s room to carve out your own space.”

Still, far too many designers become so preoccupied with becoming the next Christian Louboutin or Manolo Blahnik — who, quite frankly, do not constitute a new designer’s competition — that they forget to forge their own lane.

Conversely, focusing too heavily on outdoing the competition can dampen creativity.