How to become a shoe designer (plus skills and duties)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 18 July 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're passionate about fashion, design and footwear you might enjoy a career as a shoe designer. This is a creative job that's demanding but also highly rewarding. If you're interested in pursuing this career, it can be helpful to understand the first steps to take. In this article, we explain how to become a shoe designer, including the skills these professionals require.

What is a shoe designer?

A shoe designer is a professional who specialises in creating designs for shoes. Shoe design is a discipline within fashion design. Designers have a say in every aspect of creating a new design. This includes developing a design, choosing fabric and materials and overseeing the production of the shoes. Footwear designers undertake continuous research into footwear and fashion trends and seek inspiration from a range of different sources. As a shoe designer, you might specialise in designing a specific type of shoe. Some designers also specialise in creating footwear for specific demographics, such as men, women or children.

Related: 13 essential fashion designer skills

How to become a shoe designer

If you're wondering how to become a shoe designer, it's worth being aware that the process can take a long time. Generally, shoe designers study at the undergraduate level before they begin working. Some might also gain postgraduate qualifications. These are the steps to follow if you want to work as a footwear designer:

1. Develop your drawing skills

Developing your drawing and design skills is an important first step for a budding shoe designer. When you apply to university you typically submit a design portfolio, so being able to visually communicate your ideas is important. Studying art in school and practising drawing as much as possible in your own time is a useful way to improve. Drawing shoes and developing original designs is vital but it's also helpful to draw as many different things as possible. This helps you to advance your skills more rapidly.

2. Attend university

Attending university is usually essential if you want to be a shoe designer. There are courses in shoe design that can help you to move into this career. Universities and art and fashion schools offer these courses. It's worth understanding that this is an unusual subject choice and it might be necessary to relocate to attend an appropriate course. In some cases, it's worth researching university courses abroad. An undergraduate degree is vital but some students study at the postgraduate level too. This might be an option if you already have an undergraduate degree in another fashion or art-related subject.

Related: A guide to courses in fashion designing (plus requirements)

3. Learn languages

Learning languages can help you to make progress in a fashion career. French and Italian are particularly useful to learn, especially if you're interested in working internationally. There are many different approaches to take when learning a new language. These include classes and private tutoring, online courses that you study at your own pace and language exchange groups. Language skills can also help you to more easily understand the international marketplace.

4. Develop your graduate collection

When you graduate from a shoe design course you typically present a graduate collection. This is a way to communicate your identity as a designer and to show off your creative skills. Final-year university students work towards creating a graduate collection and usually get significant support from staff whilst they do this. Industry professionals are likely to view graduate collections, especially if you're attending a prestigious university or art school. This means an effective collection might help you to find a job.

4. Gain professional experience

Gaining professional experience is vital and you might be able to do this through internships whilst you're studying. Once you finish your course, gain professional experience through either paid work as a junior designer or assistant or through internships. This type of experience gives you an essential understanding of how the fashion industry works and helps you to build professional connections. These relationships might benefit you in the future.

5. Get an insight into factories

Gaining an insight into factories and how they work is necessary for shoe designers. This helps you to understand the practical aspects of creating and manufacturing a shoe, which can impact your design work. Shoe designers are frequently involved with the factory team and the manufacturing process so gaining familiarity with this part of the industry can be beneficial. Understanding factories also helps you to collaborate more effectively with factory staff.

Related: How to write an email asking for an internship (with tips)

6. Keep developing your ideas

It's important to keep developing your ideas, even after you finish studying and begin developing your career. It's advisable for shoe designers to actively seek out new inspirations and stay aware of changing trends to inform their work. Continually developing your design ideas also helps you to find your unique identity as a designer. This helps you appeal to the right customers. It's sensible for designers to keep practising drawing, research and developing new concepts.

7. Know your customer

When you have a clear idea of the type of designs you want to make and what your niche is as a designer, the next step is to work out who your customer is. It's worth thinking about what type of people are likely to wear your shoes. Identifying your target customer helps you to develop your work to appeal to them. It also makes it easier to research new trends and ideas because you focus on a specific group. It's a good idea to understand what these customers want in addition to where they buy footwear from.

8. Build relationships

As you progress in your career, building positive relationships is vital. This helps you to gain new opportunities and increases your success. Building relationships with other professionals is essential but it's also useful to develop ongoing relationships with clients. Making your collection requires relationships with suppliers and manufacturers, and previous work experience is usually the only way to meet these contacts and develop connections with them.

9. Build your own business

Once you've got the right relationships, experience and ideas for a collection, start to develop your own business and brand. Often it's necessary to do this in your own time whilst in paid employment. You might also require an assistant, and many shoe designers who are early in their careers rely on friends, partners or family members to help. Building up your business also means marketing yourself and making sales.

Skills for shoe designers to develop

Being a shoe designer is creative work and some skills are particularly useful for these professionals to cultivate. When you know which skills are most useful, you can develop your skill set to increase your chances of success. It's possible to improve some skills through gaining work and practical experience, but the skills that are necessary to develop are likely to depend on the capabilities you already have. These are the skills that are particularly important for footwear designers:

Drawing

Drawing skills are vital for any type of designer, so make sure you work on enhancing your drawing skills. Do this by studying art and design and drawing in as many different styles as possible. This includes trying different materials and techniques and experimenting with drawing different subject matters. Keeping a sketchbook and drawing materials with you at all times helps you to keep drawing regularly.

Related: A guide to illustration careers (with salaries and duties)

Creative thinking

Design work requires creative thinking skills, which help you to think of new and original ideas. This skill makes your designs stand out from other shoe designs. Creative thinking also helps you to solve problems, for example identifying solutions to issues with a design or manufacturing processes. Having these skills also helps you to find inspiration from a wide variety of different sources, which impacts your final designs.

Related: Best practices to boost your creative thinking skills

Research

Research skills are important because design often involves researching different ideas to inform your work. These skills help you to research effectively and use a variety of resources. Fashion is constantly changing and research skills also help you to identify upcoming trends and capitalise on them. These skills also help you to understand the fashion industry more widely.

Interpersonal skills

Designers may create designs on their own but developing a collection means collaborating with many different professionals, and interpersonal skills help you to do this successfully. These skills help you to develop positive working relationships and make connections within the industry. Early in your career, you might interact directly with some of your customers. Interpersonal skills help you to make a positive impression on them, which helps you retain their business.

Related: Interpersonal skills: definitions and examples

Self-motivation

A career as a shoe designer requires self-motivation skills. It's the designer's responsibility to research and develop their ideas and turn their designs into real footwear. Completing this work requires you to motivate yourself and persevere as you're developing your career. As your career progresses, self-motivation encourages you to keep creating new ideas.

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