Styling vs Concepting in the footwear industry

I have become very interested in the sport industry, and it is where I would like my career to go for my final two co-ops and when I graduate next year. My interest lies more in hard goods, but most of the sports co-ops out there are footwear jobs. I am more than willing to take a footwear position to get my foot in the door of the sports industry (no pun intended), but I am curious about the nature of footwear work. It seems like there are two types of footwear design positions:

Styling - “Make next year’s version of this shoe with this tech look sweet.”
Concepting - “Make a shoe that does this, fills this market, etc…and it needs to look sweet.”

How does it break down? Do most footwear designers get to do both? Do you start as a stylist and “graduate” to concepts?

Uuuuhmm, well, the way I started out was as a design assistant. I would be set projects where I had to design a concept from scratch but it wouldn’t get to market. It takes a few years to develp your craft to the point that you start getting ‘winners’ (uk trade term for best seller).
I would be helping the designer, I spent alot of time working on trends and storyboards (I started in athletic footwear BTW - at Pentland group) it was a real mixture - sometimes I’d be key in working for a pitch for a new footwear license (I worked on a pitch when I was just two weeks into the job). Other times unusual (colouring up an existing swimming goggles range for the following season), or downright insulting (when the lazy design manager asked me to snopake the crocs on some tennis shoe renderings because he couldn’t be bothered to do it himself - I refused!). I think it depends on the company, but I reckon with most places the first two or three years are more about training you than you actually getting sales. I spent alot of time sitting in sales meetings and going on training courses ( I learnt illustrator 1, I think!)

A lot of it is what you make it. At the end of the day, you working with many of the same ingredients as everyone else (rubber, foam, TPUs, TPRs, Leathers, Meshes, Synthetics…), but you can put those ingredients together in an innovative way. Like Iron Chefs.

Hello Jefferey.

I would say its a mix and from that point of view it seems the same in most industries. There are old standards that need continual updating so seasonal refreshes and that kind of things were there are limitations around current tools or whatever. And then there are new products that find new opportunities and stuff.

But like Yo said ,and I can think of one guy in particular at new balance, Its what you make of it. He approached every project no matter how mundane with an intention to innovate and he always comes up with at least some clever detail or something. And then guess who does get all the new latest and greatest projects.

The guy on his hustle.

So get back to work. Slacker.

Additionally how bout those emails from Tom aye ya ya.

the best thing (i find) about the footwear industry is that it is really a mix of influences. Sure, trend and color are a part of it as it is a season, fashiion-related product. there always needs to be something new to sell in, that is different from last season to keep people buying.

in performance footwear, this can also be the influence of new tech and performance stories.

what makes it interesting overall, is the business sense that is also a part of all, perhaps underlying everything. for good or bad, this sometimes comes down to price points, margins, minimums, tooling, etc.

given this, there is almost always a “make a shoe that does this, fills this market, etc.” type of mandate… i’d guess that perhaps from Nike Kitchen or the odd Advanced Concepts designer, there are few working designers just making stuff for the sake of making stuff…

the trick, is finding the happy balance in all these factors.

the way i look at it, there is always an opportunity for innovation. it’s just that it is not often this opportunity is spelled out in the design brief coming from sales/marketing. what i try to do on every product is incorporate at least 3 elements of “old” (ie. status quo, expected pattern parts, colors, etc.) and 3 elements of new (ie. new materials, design, construction, details, etc.). in this way, there is a good balance between different and commercial which helps sales tell the story and avoid those situations where it is all “new” and scary for sales/marketing people. from my own experience, those products that are all new very rarely succeed unless there is huge marketing $$ behind them.

i’ve done this on everything from price point ($5.00 FOB) runners to high performance technical products (+$40 FOB).

this balance i think is the key to success. it’s easy to “innovate” and “be different” however, given (for the most part) the need for commercial goals to be met by any product, it’s often difficult to make something new that is at the same time accepted. what is important to realize, considering all this that the footwear business is still a business. the latest, greatest, newest thing may be all good, but if the brand can’t capitalize on it, it’s all for nought.

anyhow, long rant, and perhaps i didn’t exactly answer the OP’s question, but i think the differences in approaches and streams are perhaps not as separate as you might think.

just my 0.02$ worth.