Footwear Designer

The Job and What's Involved

Footwear designers create designs for shoes and other footwear.

The extensive footwear market includes:

  • High street fashion shoes, boots and sandals.
  • Catwalk and high-end couture footwear.
  • Sportswear such as football boots and training shoes.
  • Specialist, bespoke (one-off) and orthopaedic footwear.

A footwear designer will usually specialise in one of these markets. The nature of their duties will depend on the market level and target customers. Additional specialist skills are needed to work in the bespoke and orthopaedic footwear markets.

Footwear designers working in high-end, couture companies will usually create their own labels, producing one-off shoes and exclusive ranges. Typical duties involve:

  • Liasing with fashion designers to interpret catwalk styles and trends.
  • Drawing designs by hand or using computer aided design (CAD) programme's.
  • Experimenting with colours and fabrics to ensure the design complements an entire fashion 'look'.
  • Presenting design ideas, usually by creating a model of a shoe and its key features.
  • Briefing production teams who will create each range.

Shoes for the High Street fashion market are mass-manufactured. Footwear designers working in this area would typically be involved in the following:

  • Liasing with fashion, clothing and accessory design teams, retail buyers and sales teams to anticipate future trends and collections.
  • Researching ideas, attending fashion shows and events
    adapting existing footwear collections.
  • Creating mood boards to experiment with shapes, colours and fabrics.
  • Producing small samples to present to colleagues and clients.
  • Sourcing and buying fabrics and trims.
  • Checking the quality and approving samples of manufactured items.
  • Overseeing testing, including colour dips and footwear durability.
  • Creating patterns and prototypes using pattern cutting and construction skills.
  • Communicating with overseas suppliers and supervising production.

Designers in this area need to be able to design their collections within a specific budget. They need to consider the cost of manufacture, materials and labour, measuring these against how much a customer is willing to pay. Footwear designers are often required to assist with the production process and fix any technical problems that arise.

Footwear designers may work freelance or as part of a design team. Self-employed designers also need excellent business and marketing skills.

Footwear designers usually work from 9.00am to 5.00pm from Monday to Friday. Longer hours may be required when responding to large orders or preparing for trade shows. Part-time work is more common for those who are self-employed.
Most designers work in a studio or small workshop. Designers may be required to travel to visit trade shows or suppliers, both within the UK and overseas.

Starting salaries for new footwear designers may be around £15,000 a year. With more experience, earnings may rise to between £18,000 and £22,000 a year.

Senior footwear designers could potentially earn up to £50,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Footwear designers work for fashion houses, footwear brands supplying High Street stores, catalogue companies and specialist manufacturers of leisure and sportswear.

Companies are usually small in size and there are less than 1,000 footwear and leather apparel designers in paid employment in the UK.

Getting into footwear design is highly competitive and jobs with the major fashion houses are highly sought after. It is quite common for designers who are getting established in the high-end market to do freelance work and design collections for High Street retailers.

Work experience is a good way of getting experience and establishing industry contacts.

Jobs may be advertised in trade publications such as Drapers or Footwear Today, on the British Footwear Association website and, occasionally, in the national press.

Education and Training

Most employers look for candidates with a relevant degree, foundation degree or HND in fashion, art and design or a related subject. Some degree courses in fashion have footwear options. Those wanting to design specialist sports footwear may study product design.

It is also possible to study for specialist footwear degrees; the following are available:

  • Degree or foundation degree in Cordwainers footwear at the London College of Fashion (part of the University of the Arts London).
  • Degree in footwear design or foundation degree in footwear at De Montfort University.
  • Degree in fashion (footwear and accessories) at the University of Northampton.

The qualifications for a degree are usually at least two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C), although other qualifications may be accepted. An art foundation course may be useful for entry and in some cases expected. The Diploma in creative and media may also be useful for entry.

A portfolio of art and design work is usually required. Five GCSE's (A*-C) and one A level are usually required for entry to foundation degrees. It is important to check individual universities and art colleges for specific entry requirements, as they can vary widely.

The London College of Fashion offers a wide range of courses and qualifications. These range from an introduction to footwear design to a Masters degree in fashion footwear.

Those working in the bespoke or orthopaedic industry will need a range of specialist skills and knowledge. There is a greater emphasis on the craft and making aspects of footwear design in these types of roles. There are no specific courses to teach these skills so training is provided on the job. A basic knowledge of footwear and practical hand skills would also be useful.

As well as academic qualifications, employers usually expect applicants to provide a portfolio of work.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most employers expect new designers to have mastered basic footwear design skills at college but many start in junior positions to gain experience from colleagues. Some employers may support new designers on external courses.

The Chartered Society of Designers offers a membership scheme for professional designers. The Society also runs training courses and workshops.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is important to maintain and update skills. Reading trade literature and attending regular fashion shows enables footwear designers to keep ahead of the latest fashion trends.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Footwear designers need:

  • A creative eye.
  • A flair for colour, texture and patterns.
  • Knowledge of foot anatomy.
  • Good drawing and CAD skills.
  • Basic knowledge of pattern cutting.
  • Excellent communication skills.
  • The ability to critique their work and accept comments from other designers, buyers and sales people.
  • The ability to take precise measurements.
  • Knowledge of the footwear market and future trends.
  • An understanding of the different textiles, dyes and production processes.
  • Good budgeting and organisation skills.
  • The ability to work well alone, as well as in a team.

Your Long Term Prospects

Those working in a junior position may be able to progress into more senior or head roles with experience. In the retail environment, this may mean taking on wider responsibility for fashion and accessory design. There may also be opportunities for those in this area to move into retail buying, sales, marketing or manufacturing. These roles may offer designers the opportunity to work abroad.

Some highly experienced designers with a strong industry reputation may become freelance and work for different fashion houses. A few may set up their own design label, although competition is very high in this area.

Get Further Information

British Footwear Association (BFA),
3 Burystead Place, Wellingborough,
Northamptonshire NN8 1AH
Tel: 01933 229005
Website: www.britfoot.com

Chartered Society of Designers (CSD),
1 Cedar Court, Royal Oak Yard,
Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3GA
Tel: 020 7357 8088
Website: www.csd.org.uk

London College of Fashion,
20 John Princes' Street, London W1G 0BJ
For full-time courses and part-time degree enquiries
Tel: 020 7514 7344
Short course enquiries: Tel: 020 7514 7566
Website: www.fashion.arts.ac.uk

Skillfast-UK, Richmond House,
Lawnswood Business Park, Leeds LS16 6RD
Tel: 0113 239 9600
Website: www.skillfast-uk.org

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