Jobs in The Shoe Trades: Working for a Shoe Brand

Can you get a job in the shoe world?

Do you want a job at a shoe factory?  Probably not in a shoe factory.  More likely you want a job at a shoe company or shoe brand that designs, markets and sell shoes!  You want to work for a brand like Nike, Adidas, Puma, Vans or DC shoes.  You want to be a sneaker designer not a sneaker sewer!

So, what kinds of jobs can you get at a shoe company and what do you need to know?

There are many shoe making jobs which do not require sitting in front of a sewing machine in Asia. I’m going to list a few of the common jobs you would find in a typical shoe development office at Nike or Vans.

Shoe Designers:
Someone has to draw the shoes. Depending on who you ask, this is the easiest part or the hardest. The shoe designer has to draw what people want on their feet.

To be a shoe designer, art school would be a great help. There are many great design schools with ID, merchandising and fashion design.   A degree in Industrial or Product design is a great place to start. But that said, if you can draw shoes like a bandit who needs higher education?   The designers draw the shoes, then works with the developers to make the prototypes just right. Picking color trends and knowing what is cool are critical skills.

Shoe Design Manager:
A successful shoe designer with best sellers in his or her portfolio will soon be asked to lead a team of designers.  If you are a great shoe designer and have a talent for organization and leadership, you to can be a design manager.  The footwear design manager is responsible for the training and guidance of younger designers and may also work to allocate projects, arrange inspiration trips and work to motivate your team.  The Shoe Design Manager must also work closely with sales and marketing departments to review design briefs and schedules.

Shoe Developers:
Not a designer but critical to getting the shoes made. It’s the developers job to take a nice drawing and make it into a real shoe you can wear on your feet. The developer is the guy that writes the technical specifications, checks the blue prints, and communicates with the shoe factory.
The developers job is to get the shoe made and keep the free thinking designers from making a beautiful shoe that is cruel to wear. Developers are the shoe prototype engineers and schedule keepers. To be a developer you may start as a designer, an intern or assistant. Be ready to travel!
Landing a job as an assistant shoe developer is a great way to get started.  You don’t need any experience to started so if you are willing to learn, travel and work late calling Asia this is an awesome jumping off point!

Footwear Development Manager:
With a few years of experience as a shoe developer you may be asked to take on more responsibilities.  The Development manager will be responsible for allocating projects to developers, selecting factories for projects, schedule development operations, solve technical shoemaking problems, Design tooling, manage advanced technical projects, source new materials and handle price negotiations.

Advanced Technology Developer/Design:
Shoe designers and developers with talent for technical details and a special imagination may join a team working on advanced technology projects.  These projects may not be on any production schedule but will allow the shoe company to create new and unique designs.  The  Advanced Technology team will do patent research, visit new suppliers and trouble shoot new production processes.

Footwear CAD Technician:
The shoe design department will need some Computer Aided Design support.  All the tooling will need to be modeled to make molds.  The shoe designers usually do not create the 3D CAD models, but instead will provide 2D and or hand drawings to the Footwear CAD Technician.  Depending on the focus of your company you may have CAD Technicians in your office or rely on your factory partners to create the CAD models.

Footwear Product Managers / Product Line Managers:
The Product Manager or “PM” is the person that sets designers and developers in motion. It’s the PM’s job to figure out what shoes to make. The PM will tell the designer what kind of shoe to make. PM’s responsibility is to work with the sales team and customers to find out what they need. The PM is also tasked with looking forward. What will people need next year? What color shoes will be trending? Experience in retail or sales is a big help. Shoes Designers and developers are often promoted to this position.  A marketing degree will help.

SMU Product manager / SMU Developer
The SMU (Special Make Up) or MTO (Made To Order) manager works with salesmen and big customers to make special production runs.  Most often the SMO or MTO is a new color or logo treatment, Not a new shoe design.  If the orders big of course the SMU Product manager will pull in a designer to help make a new shoe.  SMU projects are a great way for designers and developers to get started on as product managers.

Sample Coordinator:
A busy development office will have hundreds of shoes coming and going. The Sample Coordinator is the traffic cop that tracks where the shoes are. Are the samples still in China? When is the factory going to ship them? Does Fed-Ex need more paperwork to manage the import?  Did the new sample get to the designer for study?  When is the SMU customer going to see their samples.  The sample coordinator position is a great entry level position for learning the operations of shoe development.

Sales Representative and Sub Rep:
Selling shoes is great way to get involved. The sales force is exposed to many aspects of the shoe trade. An active sales rep can help shape the product line. On the front line selling the shoes, the salesmen know first hand what customers are looking for. A salesmen can get promoted into a Product Line Manager position.

Working at a shoe store:
Believe it or not, working in a shoe store is a great place to start for a high school or college student. Learn about shoes, meet the local sales reps and sit in with the buyers when they review the new shoe lines.

Footwear Retail Buyer:
Working you way up in shoe retailer you could move from selling shoes on the retail floor to buyer that fills the store.  The retail buyer is responsible for making sure the store has the right assortment of the right shoes at the right price and right time!   The footwear buyer for a sporting goods store will plan to have sandals and water shoes in summer, Boots in winter and fresh deliveries of shoes for the start of Baseball in the spring and Football in the fall.  The buyer must study sales figures, have a eye for trends and skills to negotiate discounts.  Buyers start out as assistants responsible for small categories then move up if the shoes sell through fast with no closeout sales.

Footwear Import Duty Classification Specialist:
Any firm that imports shoes will need someone to help the development team and designers with product HTS duty classification.  Without a classification specialist on hand,  a shoe design could be 37.5% duty instead of 9% or 0% duty. The Classification Specialist works with the development team so they understand the rules to avoid high duty classes if possible.

Footwear QC Inspector:
A proper footwear inspection program will have QC Inspectors reviewing the shoe making process from the beginning to end.  While 90% of the inspections should be done in the factory, Inbound QC is done when the shoes arrive. This QC inspection will insure there has been no damage during shipping and catch any problems that may have slipped through in the factory. Usually a trusted warehouse worker is given some basic training, then works with the development staff if there are any questions.  These inbound inspectors quickly learn what a makes a quality shoe and will develop a knowledge of shoe construction.  From this position it’s just a small step to become an assistant developer.

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