I know nearly nothing about footwear design and have a question about project design and lead times.
If you are a designer for an athletic shoe company - lets not say Nike, more like a smaller brand perhaps a skate-style shoe, or cycling footwear like Pearl Izumi or Specialized where the brand probably doesn’t own an entire factory - how long is it from initial brief to product launch? Assuming rounds of prototyping, and for a cycling shoe, making a molded sole in nylon or composite.
Well, don’t forget, Nike, Adidas, none of them own factories.
I saw Peloton was looking for footwear designers, so let me know if you need a consultant . For a brand’s first time at a technical product like this I’d say 24 months unless you use an off-the-shelf plate.
MD’s estimate of 24 months is probably typically the traditional pre-COVID industry average for mid size brands making mid-range technical product.
If it’s a new brand or a brand new to footwear, I’d add +3-6 months for last development, getting a factory or material partner up to spec, figuring out things like testing and sizing standards, development procedures, etc.
For something more technical/advanced or needing additional weartesting or a specialized component such as carbon fiber plate or supercritical foam I’d add additional time…up to +12mo.
I’ve also done a complete new performance collection from last development and design/development to new tooling within 12mo. from brief to market as a special RUSH project.
All that being said, in today’s supply chain with production and shipping delays I’d also budget another +3mo. to be safe.
Its true, supply chain is blocked up and not looking like it is getting better anytime soon. I’ve got clients with stuff product at ports on both sides of the pacific. There just isn’t really anything we can do about it.
There are deep relationships that go back in some cases, but things can change and move and have. Just in my career footwear has moved from Korea to Taiwan, to China to Vietnam.
Foxconn is massive. I’ve worked on product that was made at Foxconn, we didn’t get the apple team (though they were very good). While apple has dedicated facilities I think (I don’t know) that is due to the scale of the business they do with FC and how much negotiating power they have. To my knowledge there is no ownership stake, they are a contract manufacturer… correct me if I’m wrong please, I could be way off.
Since we’re on the topic of cycling shoes and major brands, it’s interesting to me that Nike completely jumped out of the cycling game once Lance tarnished the sport. (they do make some indoor fitness cycling shoes now, but…) Their road shoes were super light, but man were they narrow!
Also cool to see the Adidas sub-brand Five Ten MTB shoes.
Picked some up for my son to use for NICA racing (his first year) and was pretty surprised at how nice they were. I expected them to be thin canvas Vans-type skate shoes, but they’re well built and durable. And at $100-$150, they’re pretty accessible for most folks new to the sport, especially now that the trend is to have flat shoes with super grippy shin-destroying flat pedals instead of clipless systems.
Giro footwear designer here. On our normal schedule we typically brief 18 months out from release, though it is not unusual to either start projects early or push them to 24-ish months if they involve new outsole tooling or upper materials/construction methods. That said, we have certainly done a few quick-turn projects that have gone from brief to shelf in less than a year, and COVID has generally blown up timelines over the past year and a half.
Thank you Jeff, RK, and MD for the very informative details. I’m not looking to design or develop footwear, but have a new set of colleagues at PTON who do work in that category and rather than display my ignorance, thought I’d ask this forum. Much appreciated.
Just in my career footwear has moved from Korea to Taiwan, to China to Vietnam
…which suggests to me that the balance of footwear development and manufacturing remains primarily a human labor-intensive process, and constant search for quality, cost, and ability to scale.
something more technical/advanced or needing additional weartesting or a specialized component such as carbon fiber plate
I know that the lion’s share of the prototype development (post-paper models) happens in coordination with the factories, but would technical/advanced/composite plates for bike shoes be done more in-house before sharing with the factories? Since they would seem to involve more traditional domestic ID workstreams like CAD and 3D printing. Or does the whole tech pack go together for concurrent design and engineering? Again just wondering how it all works. Must be real difficult to start something new, as a start-up.
The subject of 5.10 in mtb forums like Pinkbike brings out strong opinions for and against. The Stealth sole rubber is widely considered to be the qualitative benchmark for stickiness. (You can’t doubt all these rider’s perceptions for a second, at risk of merciless flaming.) Riders also qualify ‘stiffness’ as desirable despite some interesting science that debunks the supposed superior value of stiffness or even clipless shoe/pedal interfaces. Availability went to sh*t post-Adidas but lately they have some interesting new models. For 3 years I rode the Adidas Trailcross, which used the Stealth rubber for pretty good grip, and had the bonus of not looking like a skate shoe. People also decry the quality or durability of 5.10 esp the Freeriders but they get used pretty hard, so advanced wear is maybe not surprising.
Hope Adidas keeps developing the brand, there’s a lot of room for innovation esp in the flat pedal category (IMHO). Pearl Izumi is doing some interesting new stuff with BOA on flats. I recently switched to Shimano flat pedal shoes and really like them; only use clipless for road/cx.
I can see the science debunking stiffness = increased performance. But if the shoe is not stiff enough, like you average Vans/Chuck Taylor/Superga, my feet get sore from riding and I stop riding. So I guess technically it does affect performance, or more accurately, the lack there of.
Last pair of shoes I bought specifically for flat pedals were Quoc Pham. Cycleur de Luxe before them. Something before them and about 15 years ago, some Giros. I did not know I was a trend setter. I was going to get some mid-tops from a boutique company called HNBShoe, but they stopped selling them. I think I am do for something new.
Outside of Lance they were never really much in it. When I first started at Nike I sat next to Bill Cass who designed all of the Lance product and is an avid on road and off-road cyclist. He used to ride with Lance during research! I got to work on the street version of one of his last shoes which was really fun. The Zoom Girona.
If I remember right the last was based on a vapor soccer shoe last which is crazy tight. I used an indoor soccer last and a full length internal zoom airbag for the street version.
Well… All footwear tooling involves CAD and 3D printing or CNCing for all of the molded components which may include an outsole, midsole, molded sock liner, molded shank, heel counter and toe bumper and maybe other elements! And all of those parts are unique to every half size and need left and rights! It is a lot to sign off on as a designer.
Usually all of that CAD is done at the factory because they do it all day everyday and it needs to be right for their specific tolerances. The materials all expand differently. Typically I’ll send over a tech pack with a bunch of sections. They will send back CAD. I’ll section it in fusion and do some redlines. Then they will resend for another check and then 3D print small components and mill the outsole/midsole. Check that and then open a soft tool in one size to prototype and wear test. Adjust if needed before grading to all of the sizes.
But sometimes we do a little CAD and prototyping up front stateside depending. You just can’t really test it for anything other than for unless it is in the real materials.
It is a very collaborative process and it teaches you to be clear in your documentation and to understand it will take 3-5 samples at least to get it right. I’ve been working on a project for 2 years and I can’t even remember how many rounds we have done, but it is something with very specific performance specs.
Yeah that does sound like a lot. Reminds me a little of designing CF bike frames and what aspects of sizing could be parametric-driven, and what needed a human eye and touch. Bodies (and products) don’t always scale proportionally.