A rough draft of my collection – certain things will be changed…

If you make it to the point in which you are ready to have your collection made but just need someone to actually create the designs, physically, then you are nearly there. Nearly there in the sense that you have overcome many of the hurdles to becoming a shoe designer, BUT, this will be the biggest, hardest and longest one of all. Don’t let me discourage you with that statement though, as it will also be the most rewarding because after all it is with the manufacturing that you will then actually create your line, turn your sketches/patterns into actual real life products and have something that has your brand/name in it. But also due to this you will need to be absolutely sure of your choice as choosing a factory is like choosing a life partner. It’s a HUGE commitment that will set the tone for how your shoes/brand will be perceived by the public, not something easily reversible should it all go wrong. Therefore, I will do my best to tell you how I believe that one should go about finding the right manufacturer for their brand.

MICAM — Shoe Fair in Milan
First and foremost, you need to look at your designs and your last shapes (or at least think about what last shape that you are going to want to use) and ask yourself what style they match i.e. what country’s design/cons  ethos do they most correlate to? For example, if you are intending to create classic shoes with heavy soles and round lasts, you may want to get your shoes made in Hungary or England, as they tend to be good at making these styles. Or if you want long, pointed lasts with lightweight soles and thin leathers, best to think about Italy or say Portugal (where many French shoemakers get their shoes made). Once you have this decided, it will be easier for you to make a decision (or at least rule out the unnecessary’s for when the time comes).  Another reason for this, is that I have been told that some fussy factories will not make shoes that they don’t like, or should I say, that they don’t find represent well their capabilities and/or reputation. And lastly because certain countries only do certain constructions, say England, whose factories only really make goodyear welted shoes. That being if you wanted blake stitched shoes, you would not be wise to go ask them to make them for you, as it would be waste of time and effort. 
Crockett & Jones
Laszlo Vass
The next stage would be to go to a shoe fair/trade show (like MICAM, picture above) where factories will come to present their product to designers/journalists/retail buyers etc. At these trade shows, you will be able to see factories from all over the world and more importantly their shoe making capabilities. At that point, you can network with a few, talk to them, suss them out and see who you like best based on price, quality, capabilities (finishing/designing etc.) and most importantly how amicable they seem. Remember that these will be the people that create a product with your name on it. They have power over you if you lie in bed with them, and you therefore need to make sure that you will be able to get on with them…..And to not lay all your eggs in one basket, you may want to find 3 that you like, ask them to make a sample for you, see which one turns out best and then pick that one, so long as it meets all of the other criteria. Once you locked down a factory, expect to pay a few thousand for your samples (as they will undoubtedly need to remake them a few times) and then you will be well on your way to launching your own line!
Paolo Scafora
Marc Guyot
This is pretty much as far as I have come to on my own journey within the shoe industry, so I will leave it at this for now. Maybe in a year, once I have released my line and gone through the next stages, I will update this post to continue on helping where I can. I hope that this post has given those of you who are looking to start your own shoe line, the inspiration to go and do so, or at least to start preparing!
Best of luck to all!
Justin, “The Shoe Snob”

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