So, what makes YOU think you know how to design shoes?

I thought that subject heading might catch a few eyes.

You all know that I’m not a shoe designer, and I don’t even buy that many shoes or boots in a year. But my wife is a shoe-horse. Casuals and dress (for work), but in particular she is an aerobic-shoe “expert-user” having been hopping and leaping around the house and various gyms since early on in the “Dancer-cize” era; circa 1980. I can’t even begin to guess how much she’s spent on shoes in the last 20 years, but I’m guessing it would easily pay for the new BMW S1000RR that I’ve been lusting after.

This past weekend she was furiously banging around the house trying to dig up an old pair of “usable” workout shoes because she could not find anything new that was worth buying (in her expert-user opinion). “They don’t know how these shoes are worn, I can’t lace them up tight enough, they don’t know how fast they break down (she’s all of 125 pound soaking wet, and will blow out a pair of shoes in 2-3 months), and they can’t seem to figure out how to design them so they stay on my feet … Dear.” I’m not sure what she meant by the “Dear” comment (like I’m supposed to do something about it? Or possibly that I was being notified that I was not the target of her diatribe)

So I thought I’d ask you guys … aside from the material/process aspects of the field, and the “design mechanics” of documentation (sketching/rendering/CAD), what does qualify you do design shoes? Do you have any training in human anatomy, myology, or orthopedics? Do you work closely with podiatrists for example, or observe athletes during the course of their activities? It isn’t all just “fashion sense”, is it?

You know me, this is not at all intended as a flamer, I’m just curious … Maybe if I can explain it to Sweetness she’ll get off my case and I can get back to the serious business of lusting after that motorcycle… .

I’ll bite :slight_smile:

Footwear design encompasses a lot of different aspects, certainly including but not limited to fashion. There are performance aspects, material consideration for wear, durability, costs, usability, biomechanics, etc. No, i’m not a trained kinesiologist, or any other sort of expert in any of these fields, any more than most IDers are not ergonomics experts, material scientists, psychologists, etc.

It’s important to note however that there are also different considerations for different types of footwear and different brands approach it differently. Some brands are more functional-oriented, others are just cheap and try to look the part.

Likewise, not all people are the same in how they wear footwear, so fit, durability and experiences may vary. Some people walk funny, have higher or lower arches or feet, etc. (not saying your wife is a mutant or anything :slight_smile: ), so no two pairs of shoes will wear the same on two different people.

Like I’m sure any designers gets, we footwear designers always “feedback and recommendations” from people. “You know what someone needs to design …?” " I got a great idea…"… I smile a nod a lot.

In my own experience, not working for the larger brands that have biomechanics labs and PhD’s on site, I’ve developed functional footwear through a variety of techniques. Speaking with athletes and observing them, looking at competitive samples, checking wear and fit on stuff I’ve designed after a few months, making educated guesses based on basic principles of physics/science, and even hacking up some “experiments” for proof of concepts (getting guys to run across a sheet of foamcore in soccer boots to try to check out applied pressure to studs).

Hope this helps you get your bike.


I’m not a footwear guy either, but I have purchased shoes before. My wife used to run semi-competitively and when she’d be looking for new shoes, most running stores would watch her run and look at her old shoes to see how she ran and base their recommendations on that. Maybe your wife should try that, Lew?


that was one of the best posts on core, like - ever. ROFL
Sorry, I am no shoe designer, either.

But I am a shoe user also. My girl and I, we both love shoes. And she is in the process
of getting her first taylor made ones, because the average quality of the prefab ones
has gone into the tank.

I am just wondering why nobody uses the possibilites of rapid prototyping for the
mass tayloring of shoes ? ? ?


I do a lot of observation and immersion as well as having spent a lot of time in research labs… fact is no two feet are a like. It is difficult to hit a wide cross section of people and do so in a way that is aesthetically acceptable. I shoe could be made from a scan of your foot that would fit like a glove (with out the 5 fingers thing) but you would not wear it because it will look like a lumpy potato… because that is what your foot actually looks like with a layer of material over it, but people’s mental image of a shoe is sleek, fast, sexy, or at least stylized.

There is a company in the UK using foot scans a RP processes to make football boots (soccer cleats).

That sounds interesting, if there is a sport where that could catch on I’d think soccer would be near the top of the list. What’s the name of that UK company?

Don’t know that company, but Loughborough University is heavily involved with that. I think they developed soles for Beckham. They were also involved in developing those fancy world cup balls. Reason I mention it is that we got to see the testing facility where the was a robotic foot with a shoe on was kicking a ball into a goal 24/7, I’m sure the RP shoes projects were intertwined somehow.

When I was doing my major project there, one of the University’s proposals was RP shoes for DoD (department of defence).

If you are interested in more info, get in touch with Ian Campbell at the Design dept.

I think you may be talking about Prior 2 Lever (P2L). It was originally a school project of some sort. More concept than anything. Don’t know if they actually did/do make anything. I haven’t heard anything about it since the original concept project which was like 4-5 years ago. Website still dated “coming 2006”.

While not to get too OT, aside from maybe a few components or the last, there isn’t that much you could make with RP. The main construction and upper still is made using age old techniques of stitching and lasting in most cases, which is the labor intensive (expensive) part.

I guess you could maybe RP some sort of foamy crocs thing, but as Yo said, it may fit, but would probably be pretty ugly.


I have a degree in footwear design and I can pattern cut and grade and specify lasts. :sunglasses: When I designed athletic footwear I spent alot of time in the biomechanics lab and with pro athletes. Hell, I even learnt to box when I worked for Pony! :laughing:

But seriously speak to some of the old skool Clarks designers, they were all taught how to do fittings (not sure if this is the case anymore, it might be).

One point of note is that different brands will have different standards of fitting. They use thier own last makers (that’s come with their, unique set of standards and measurements) and they all have different ways of doing things. Anyone who has experience of pattern cutting will understand that it’s not an exact art at all (this is the main reason computers have not really taken this role over). Ask five pattern cutters to cut a design and you will get five sets of patterns.

If your wife can’t keep the shoes on then she sounds like she’s a really narrow fit. She can also improve the fit by lacing the shoes up in a different way. Tell her to read this site Ian's Shoelace Site – Shoe Lacing Methods I too have problems with pumps and low tops, they gape, I have low arches and narrow feet, I wear orthotics to correct this.

Some brands I cannot wear - their fit standards just don’t match up with the shape of my own feet. For instance I cannot wear Chucks. They always rub me on the joint.

Your partner might want to try a different brand, or get a podiatrist to analyse her - she might require orthotics. My podiatrist produces a list of shoes and recommends different styles and brands for different people.

The other thing with custom fittings is that feet change shape as you move around - shoes have to take this all into consideration. One ‘invention’ that comes up almost on weekly basis is an adjustable heel for women - one that goes from flat pump to stiletto.

One company did actually bring this to market and lasted about a year before it tanked. I’m of the opinion that it will never work, a foot is a totally different shape when you wear flat shoes to when you are in high heels. You cannot cut an upper pattern and create an insole board that will accommodate both shapes without it looking weird. You end up with an ugly compromise that doesn’t really fit.

I really admire shoemakers who handmake custom fitted shoes and make their own lasts, that really is a dark art.

I really admire shoemakers who handmake custom fitted shoes and make their own lasts, that really is a dark art.

Just thinking about “craft” and “business” lately… the days of the local cobbler are long gone, and it leads me to wonder how a man ever made a living making shoes on an individual basis. Of course for hundreds of years they lived above their shops, didn’t have a car, insurance, electric utility bills, etc. But they still had materials to pay for, food, etc. I suppose it would all come down to how fast could he fabricate an acceptable product for his customers. A farmer would have a much different requirement (and level of expectation) than say the land owner who owned his plot.

I needed a pair of sturdy boots to work in and had pair of 10" White’s Smoke Jumpers custom cut for me; they cost $475. The shop owner took a bunch of measurements and entered all the data on a work sheet. White’s has been making this particular boot for years so I don’t think they were actually “custom made”, rather just modified from an existing pattern.

Anyone have any idea what a pair of custom made dress shoes for, as an example, a gentleman might cost today?

Probably the same, right? $500 or so?

I know there are custom cycling shoes out there (Rocket 7) that run around 650-700 a pair, but they use exotic materials like carbon fiber.

Depends what you mean by “custom”. There’s custom and there’s bespoke. Like suits, two different things. I’d have to guess a good pair of really custom (not even bespoke shoes would be at least $900+. Good quality hand made off the shelf shoes are $500.


Bespoke… ? New term to me R. Meaning?

I suppose by “custom” I meant, you walk in the door, the gentleman takes the appropriate measurements, discusses the “style” preferred, and starts whacking leather from the ground up (so to speak). $1,000 range?

I know someone in London who is inexpensive. (Under $400), but most shoemakers you can double that at least.

There are a few of these Cordwainers College trained shoe makers around in London. Many of them immigrants, they were given cheap or free courses by the government. Most are not in business anymore, the shoe trade in London has really shrunk, but there are still a handful of shoe factories and some workshops with individual shoe makers.

You can also get lasts made to measure to fit you from Springline. I occasionally get enquiries from people who complain they can’t get shoes to fit from anywhere at all. I always suggest they get their feet measured, have bespoke lasts made and then take these to a shoemaker.

As an aside here, Lew. How have you managed to avoid “Bespoke” with all the hipster crap that floats around these days?

Personally I despise it just as much as “curate”.

Ok, back to shoes.

In German “bespoke” and “custom made” are both translated as : “massgeschneidert” = “taylored to fit”
So which of the two represents the higher grade of individualisation?
That aside, from what all of you posted above, I do get the strong impression that the mass customization
of shoes has not taken off due to limitations in capitalization and marketing power, not because of un-
conquerable limits in production techniques.
What a shame, that I can’t start another venture on a whim. Days are too short these days. We are going to
get some lasts made. My Granddad used to have his in the cellar near the bookshelves.


How have you managed to avoid “Bespoke” with all the hipster crap that floats around these days?

Personally I despise it just as much as “curate”.

mmm, I don’t get out much???

Curate is another enigma NURB. I know what the “classic” definition of a “curator” is so they must curate, to some extent, to be a curator … I’ll assume ( :open_mouth: ) that it means to take care of something… I think… . maybe. Or not…

Use it in a sentence… the shoe thing can wait. :wink:

I am proud to have curated this collection of bespoke axes. [neither of which is true, but both are completely pretentious…]

glad I axed… … :wink: