Prototyping Help

I am about to begin my thesis next semester and I feel that this is the perfect opportunity to get a grade for my passion for shoe design. I want to design a shoe around the activity of Parkour. I’m really excited, but also a bit nervous, specifically about the prototyping of my design. I have begun to collect information about manufacturing and I’ve read through the entries on First Pullover many times.

There are two concerns that jump out at me. First is cost. It seems that it will cost me a lot to have a factory create a prototype for me and I am beginning to wonder if it is worth the effort (or money) to have someone make this for me. Are there factories in the US that can do this? Is there any particular Factory in China that would be favorable? They all seem the same to me after looking through so many.

The other concern is that the level of complexity in my design is estimated to be somewhere around the level of a modern tech-running type of shoe, so a variety of materials overlays, and lots of molded details (think Nike Air Max Moto kind of thing?). How to I make sure I include all the necessary details in my plans should I decide to have someone prototype my design?

Is this something I should even be thinking about? I haven’t even begun to research or ideate yet, but our project does require a final appearance model, and I feel that while a wearable prototype would be great, it may be too time consuming and expensive of an endeavor to pursue.

I apologize if I sound exasperated, but I just feel really overwhelmed every time I think about this. Any thoughts or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

getting a prototype made in a fty in china is basically a no-go. ftys only do development (prototyping) as a means to get to production. esp. if there are molds, unique midsole/outsole, etc. No fty will entertain the thought and even if they did, you’d have to pay mold costs which would be in the 1000$'s (typical CM EVA midsole mold is $800-1000 per size, as is a RB mold, not to mention HF welds or other TPU parts).

Best bet is to do due diligence in the design, and have a good quality tech pack for your final project or even a visual model made of wood, foam ,etc. as you’ve said and appearance model is all that’s required.

a local shoe maker might be able to sew up a simple upper you could put on a painted foam or wood outsole model, but im sure they would be pretty limited in what they can make as usually they don’t do athletic shoe construction, lasting or have the needed materials at hand.

hope this helps. best of luck.


I thought so, didn’t think it was feasible to have a prototype made. Could you elaborate on what a tech pack is?

tech pack is full specs for the design. for the upper, multiple views, details, callouts, materials, construction notes, etc. For the outsole/midsole or any molded parts, 2d or other drawings that show different views, sections, etc. same as you’d have for any normal CAd except generally speaking most footwear working isn’t done in 3D cad, more often orthographic projections and sections in illustrator, sorta old school style, though for a school project i’m sure CAD would suffice.


When I studied for my footwear design degree, if we were making sneakers, we’d go down the thrift store and buy old running garments and sports bags and take them apart and use materials. Upholstery stores for foam for padded tongues or p.u. For the outsoles we made them from wax.
I think any half decent shoemaker could cut the pattern for and make a sneaker no problem. Moccassins and very high heeled shoes and boots are the most difficult patterns to cut and to make up, IME - sneakers are pretty easy, just lots of pattern pieces, not so much engineering.
What makes a sneaker look like a sneaker for me, is the materials and logo application and of course, the outsole.

If you were closer to Chicago, I teach courses at two of the schools using an introduction to pattern making and construction. You might be able to find someone in your area making shoes? You might ask around at some shoe repair shops- occasionally I hear of shoe repair shops run by guys that were formerly shoemakers, and some of them do a little of both.

Sounds like an exciting project!!! I know how much of a pain it is and a bit of a worry when you have to hit such deliverables so I would be happy to help out with some tip and tricks I have learned along the way.


  1. Acquire a last that best fits the parkour needs and attributes. (You will need this to ensure all proportions for the outsole/midsole/sock liner/upper are spot on. You cant really do anything without this really. Sketching is fine but when executing tech packs you need to have the info spot on and the last is key.)

2. If you can obtain a digital scan of the last, that would be perfect!! Then you can transfer your design from 2d into 3d. If you are not proficient in 3d software it could either be a great opportunity to learn(time permitting) OR you could seek a little help from around college. No doubt there are some 3d experts who may be able to help you out for a little cash.

3. Once you have your 3d model you can then have it rapid prototyped. A friend of mine has his done somewhere in the states where you can mail the file and then have a prototype back in 3 days or so. Its not too expensive either… probably arround 200USD per item… Perhaps your college has rapid prototype machines. The material for the prototype could be SLS or Chemical wood. SLS is probably better for you as then you can get all the side walls and thickness perfect. Chemical wood requires a heavy wedge backing to it as its super brittle and will break. All the suppliers I have used in Asia work in 3d and then supply us a 2d tech drawing for revisions. So I believe if you executed your project this way it will resemble a very true to life process. You can even have 3d files rapid prototyped directly in rubber now AND with color dams!!! believe it or not. I will ask my friend about where he has got rapid prototypes to help you out further. I know the big players in the footwear industry have this kind of technology in house.

4. Once you have your outsole/midsole/possible shank? components. I would suggest making silicone moulds of them. This is typically done when you need low volume components for a model. We used to do this when I worked at LEGO, and we have also done it once for a prototype meeting for a hummel street footwear shoe. It worked very well and you can have a near 1:1 prototype in rubber. If you plan some kind of moulded EVA midsole construction on the shoe this may be a bit of a challenge as to what material to mould the component into the silicone mould so you will need to investigate this further. Its just a low cost alternative to tooling. The silicone mold however will need to go into a vacuum chamber when moulding to remove all air bubbles from the moulded components so you will need to find the facility to do this. The benefit with this method is you can mould your components in the exact color you want OR you make and present a collection of colors!!

I know how hard it is to get things done without high budgets. But use your connections around college. Speak to people on the phone, do what ever you need to get the job done. YOu would be surprised at how people are willing to help out students!!! I got tooling made by a aluminium extrusion company worth around a 1500€ simply by calling up the MD of the company and I said I would advertise his company with my final prototype in London with around 20,000 visitors. He even drove 3 hours just to come see the prototype.

Good luck with the project!!! And I hope this helped shed another angle to your challenges.