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Job Description: Footwear Designer.

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Footwear designers come up with creative and practical ideas for shoes and other footwear.

Job Description, salaries and benefits

Footwear designers come up with creative and practical designs for shoes and other footwear. The footwear market ranges from catwalk and High Street fashion shoes, to sports footwear such as football boots and training shoes.

The work may involve:

  • working with other designers on styles and trends
  • making rough design drawings by hand or using a computer
  • researching ideas at fashion shows and events
  • making sample shoes to present their ideas
  • conducting quality checks and overseeing production.

Footwear designers normally work Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Longer hours are likely when preparing samples for buyers or shows. Most designers work in a studio or small workshop. Travelling is often required, both in the UK and abroad.

Salaries may range from around £12,000 to £60,000 a year.

Footwear designers need:

  • a creative eye and a flair for colour, texture and patterns
  • knowledge of foot anatomy
  • good drawing ability and CAD skills
  • excellent communication skills
  • an interest in fashion, design and textiles.

Footwear designers work for fashion houses, footwear brands supplying High Street stores, catalogue companies and specialist manufacturers of leisure and sportswear. There are less than 1,000 footwear and leather apparel designers in paid employment in the UK. Getting into footwear design is fiercely competitive and jobs with the major fashion houses are highly sought after.

Most footwear designers start their career after gaining a degree or an HND in fashion, art and design or a related subject. Some fashion degree courses have footwear design options. People who want to design sports and casual footwear may study product design. It is also possible to study for specialist footwear degrees.

Most employers expect new designers to have mastered basic footwear design skills at college. Many start in a junior design position to gain experience, working alongside skilled designers. They may do further study and go on training courses. Continuing Professional Development is important to maintain and update skills.

A junior footwear designer may be able to progress to senior or head designer. In the retail environment, this increasingly means taking on wider responsibilities for fashion and accessories design. There may be further opportunities in retail buying, sales and marketing, and in footwear manufacturing. Some highly experienced designers may become freelance and work for different fashion houses.

 

What is the work like?

The extensive footwear market includes:

  • High Street fashion shoes, boots and sandals
  • catwalk and high-end couture footwear
  • sportswear such as football boots and training shoes
  • specialist and custom footwear.

Designers usually specialise in one aspect of the footwear market. The exact nature of their duties depends on the employer or private clients that they work for.

In high-end couture, footwear designers usually work on their own fashion labels, teaming up with other designers to develop and produce one-off shoes or exclusive ranges. This typically involves:

  • liaising with high-end fashion designers to interpret catwalk styles and trends
  • making rough design drawings by hand or using computer-aided design (CAD) programs
  • experimenting with colours and fabrics to make footwear that complements an entire fashion 'look'
  • presenting design ideas, usually by creating a model of a shoe and its key features
  • sourcing and briefing production teams who will create each range.

The process in the mass market, although still design-orientated, generally involves communicating with overseas suppliers and supervising the production of number of footwear ranges. The work may involve:

  • liaising with fashion clothing and accessory design teams, retail buyers and sales teams to anticipate a total look for future collections
  • researching ideas, and attending fashion shows and events
  • adapting existing footwear collections
  • creating mood boards to experiment with shapes, colours and fabrics
  • producing small samples to present to colleagues and clients
  • sourcing, selecting and buying fabrics and trims
  • checking the quality and approving samples of manufactured items
  • overseeing testing, including textile colour dips and footwear durability.

Budget control is an important element of every footwear designer's job. They look at factors such as how much a range will cost to manufacture and how much people will be prepared to pay. During the production phase they may advise and sort out any technical design problems. Some also design complementary products such as handbags and other accessories.

Footwear designers may work freelance or as part of a small design team. Self-employed designers may spend a considerable amount of time maintaining business records, and marketing and promoting designs to manufacturers and fashion houses.

Starting salaries may range from £12,000 to £14,000 a year.

 

Hours and environment

Footwear designers normally work Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Longer hours are likely when preparing samples for buyers or fashion show collections. Part-time work is more likely for self-employed footwear designers.

Most design work takes place in a design studio or small fashion workshop, usually connected to the wider design business.

Designers may travel regularly to visit national and international suppliers or attend fashion shows.

 

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Starting salaries for new footwear designers may be £12,000 to £14,000 a year.
  • With experience, earnings may rise to around £22,000 a year.
  • Senior footwear designers could potentially earn up to £60,000.

Income for self-employed footwear designers varies widely depending on the volume of work they take on. Fees are usually negotiated for each project. Agents may charge a commission.

 

Skills and personal qualities

Footwear designers need:

  • a creative eye
  • a flair for colour, texture and patterns
  • knowledge of foot anatomy
  • good drawing ability and CAD skills
  • excellent communication skills
  • the ability to critique their work and accept comments from other designers, buyers and sales people
  • the ability to take precise measurements
  • knowledge of the footwear market and its future trends
  • an understanding of the different textile components, dyes and production processes
  • the ability to manage a budget
  • excellent organisational skills
  • to work well alone, as well as in a team environment.

 

Interests

A footwear designer needs to:

  • be interested in fashion, design and textiles
  • enjoy working in a creative and fast-paced environment
  • be interested in past and future trends, including evolving footwear technologies.

 

Getting in

Footwear designers work for fashion houses, footwear brands supplying High Street stores, catalogue companies and specialist manufacturers of leisure and sportswear. Some create their own collections, although this takes considerable talent, luck and perseverance.

There are less than 1,000 footwear and leather apparel designers in paid employment in the UK. The majority of jobs are found in the East and West Midlands, North West England and London. There are more applicants than vacancies and getting into footwear design is fiercely competitive, although there is often a shortage of applicants with the required skills.

Jobs with the major fashion houses are highly sought after. It is quite common for designers who are getting established in the high-end market to do freelance work whilst designing collections for High Street retailers as well.

Jobs may be advertised in trade publications such as Drapers or Footwear Today, on the British Footwear Association website and, occasionally, in the national press. Networking at shows is a good source of work for freelance designers.

Entry for young people

Most footwear designers start their career after gaining a degree or an HND in fashion, art and design or a related subject. Some fashion degree courses have footwear design options. People who want to design sports and casual footwear may study product design.

It is possible to study for specialist footwear degrees. Courses include:

  • Degree in Cordwainers Footwear at the London College of Fashion (part of the University of the Arts London)
  • Degree in Footwear Design at De Montfort University
  • Degree in Fashion (Footwear and Accessories) at the University of Northampton.

The qualifications for a degree are usually at least two A levels/three H grades and five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), although other qualifications may be accepted.

The London College of Fashion offers a wide range of courses and qualifications. These range from a shoemaking for beginners course and an introductory diploma to a Masters Degree in Fashion Footwear. Five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3) and one A level/two or three H grades are usually required for entry to Foundation degrees. Useful subjects include art and design, and IT.

As well as academic qualifications, employers usually expect applicants to provide a portfolio of work.

Entry for adults

Although most people start in this career at an early age, there are no age restrictions on becoming a footwear designer. Commercial awareness and an understanding of the wider fashion market are a definite advantage.

 

Training

Most employers expect new designers to have mastered basic footwear design skills at college. Many start in a junior design position to gain experience, working alongside skilled designers.

Employers may support additional study and send designers on external courses. The Chartered Society of Designers offers a membership scheme for professional designers in all types of design work. The Society also runs training courses and workshops.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is important to maintain and update skills. Reading trade literature and attending regular fashion shows enables footwear designers to keep ahead of the latest fashion trends.

 

Getting on

A junior footwear designer may be able to progress to senior or head designer. In the retail environment, this increasingly means taking on wider responsibilities for fashion and accessories design.

There may be further opportunities in retail buying, sales and marketing, and in footwear manufacturing. These roles may offer designers the opportunity to work abroad.

Some highly experienced designers with a strong industry reputation may become freelance and work for different fashion houses. A few may set up their own design label.

Further information

 

Further reading

  • Getting into Art and Design Courses - Trotman
  • Working in fashion & clothing - Connexions

 

Magazines/journals

  • Drapers
  • Fashion Weekly
  • Footwear Today
  • Out on a Limb


 

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