Shoe Tooling for Mass Production

What tooling do I need to start shoe production? The tooling required for production varies greatly depending on the design of the shoe. A simple moccasin style shoe requires almost no tooling, just a single cutting die, but a complicated high-tech running shoe will require dozens of different tools to make production quantities.

Here’s a basic list of the Shoe Tooling for Mass Production of a modern athletic shoe.

Shoe lasts

Development and Last Making

Lasts made of metal or plastic are required to produce shoes. One last for each shoe size and both left and right are required. A full-size grade for normal shoe production requires 14 sizes and you’ll need about 750 lasts in total to support mass production of 1500 pairs per day.  
Last Options: Shoe factories have a stock of lasts on hand. If you get lucky, you may find a last that is suitable for your shoe design without having to make a new set. You can often develop a new last by visiting the last shop or factory. They will have a library of lasts you can select from to start.

Production cutting dies

Cutting dies getting a coat of paint

Each shoe design requires its own set of cutting dies. Each shoe part needs its own cutting die. Again, if you have 14 sizes of shoes, you will need 14 sets of cutting dies. A set of cutting dies may have a dozen different pieces. The number of pieces depends on how complicated the shoe pattern is. The factory will need cutting dies for all the hidden reinforcement pieces too.

Pattern cutting die options: To save the cost of opening new cutting dies for small orders, shoe factories are investing in automatic cutting machines. These cutting machines use water, laser, or vibrating blades to cut shoe pattern shapes by computer control. The new CNC cutting machines have vacuum conveyor belts and can cut thousands of parts per hour.

Outsole tooling for shoes

how much does a shoe mold cost
Outsole tooling is like a big waffle iron

Depending on the construction of your outsole unit you may need another set of tooling. Once again, the set would include 14 sizes, left and right. A cupsole is the simplest outsole and can have the left and right outsole built into the same mold. More complicated two-part soles will require molds for the EVA parts. Plastic shanks will require injection molds, etc…

Outsole tooling options: In China, many factories have “open” molds. These sole molds are free to use by any customer. The designs may not be cutting edge but you can’t beat the price. Many of these open molds are made with removable logo plates so you can add your own logos.

Logo Tooling

Shoe Logo Tools

Aside from the major tooling requirements for lasts, outsoles, and cutting dies, a shoe design may require some welding, embossing, or rubber logo micro injection tooling. To make a size run of shoes with logos you may need two or three logo sizes depending on the design.


The cost of shoe tooling

Sneaker rubber outsole tooling being made

The tooling can add up pretty quickly! 14 midsoles, 14 outsoles, 14 sets of cutting dies, injection shanks, a dozen logo molds for uppers and you could easily have $85,000 worth of molds before you even start the production run, and that’s not including the last. Lasts may cost $3 to $7 each, and multiply that cost by 750 pieces.

A set of cutting dies may cost $3000-$5000. The factory will generally add the cutting die charge into the price of the shoe if you place a sizeable order. If you order less than 5000 pairs you will likely see a bill for lasts and cuttings dies.

The tooling expense explains why you often see the same outsoles and lasts used on several models. Many small companies use “open” molds. The open molds are outsole designs that have removable logo plates. While the designs may not be exactly what you are looking for and the last may not fit exactly as you want…They are open, available, and free to use.

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