How to Manufacture Shoes: 10 Simple Steps

Wondering how to start a shoe line? You finally have your shoe designs ready and your fantastic idea is just waiting to come to fruition. Now what? How do you actually get your shoe design manufactured? Following these 10 simple steps of how to manufacture shoes will make this task seem much more understandable and will bring your designs to life! 

1. Research & Inspiration

The perfect way to gain inspiration so you can manufacture your own shoes, is to actually get out there and touch and feel other footwear! Online shopping is great, as it helps to easily and economically gain insight into what is available in the marketplace. However, actually physically going into stores is much more helpful and inspiring. To touch the materials and see the last and heel shape, noticing the construction of the shoe, and all the finer details in real time, is much more effective than viewing virtually. These shoes will become reference guidelines for the factory. This will help ensure that the shoe prototype samples (also known as first pull over samples) are produced correctly and in a timely manner, the first time. Therefore, having reference samples to send with your tech packs is a must to guarantee the factory clearly understands your designs.


2. Create design sketches & footwear tech packs

After further refining the overall design, it is now time to prepare a specification sheet or Tech Pack. But what is a tech pack? A tech pack is a blueprint and detailed description of the shape, structure, materials, colorways among other design details. This helps the development team in the factory’s sample room to easily know how to execute your designs correctly and quickly, since all the information is easily organized for them. However, basic sketches and reference images are also fine to get the conversation started with Italian Shoe Factory. If you need help creating a tech pack, we offer a handy Tech Pack Guide with an excel template. These guidelines, along with reference samples, are imperative to the manufacturing process.


3. Establish your Niche & target budget 

It is also important to realize if you are targeting a niche category or a mass market product for all. At this point you should also have an idea of the retail price point you want to fit in. It is always advisable to focus on a niche market to begin with if you are a startup. This gives you an upper hand in the market and thus you can charge appropriately rather than competing with giants on a similar product offering. This will also help you get in touch with the right manufacturer during your research. For example, if you are in the medium to high end range then you should get in touch with a shoe manufacturer that has experience in producing high quality luxury products. In contrast, if you want to manufacturer a cheaper mass market product and quality is not a priority, then it may be best to find a manufacturer that can meet such demands. 

How to allocate budget

When establishing a budget to manufacture your shoes, it is advisable to allocate funds towards sample development, initial quantity order and packaging. You will want to have an idea of how much of your budget you wish to dedicate to each of these areas. It is also important to have a realistic understanding of what your budget should be. Often, your understanding and budgeting may change after speaking to a manufacturer and therefore it is important to have flexibility here.

Crowdfunding your Startup production

If you are a startup that is planning on crowdfunding your project, then you should have the funds necessary to cover the cost for product development & samples before you begin crowdfunding for production level orders.


4. Decide on a Shoe Manufacturer 

Next step is to decide on the right shoe manufacturers to make your shoes. Different factories specialize in specific constructions and footwear types. For men’s shoes alone, simpler constructions include: cement, slipper and moccasin.  More complicated constructions are: goodyear welt, blake, stitch down, opanka, vulcanized (think rubber boots or “converse”shoes- these actually go into ovens to be cured!), and strobel (used mostly for athletic shoes). Make sure you partner with the versatile factory, depending on the type of footwear you want to manufacture. 

Before getting in touch with the shoe manufacturer, it is also advisable to look at pictures of what types of shoes the factory already produces. You can get a sense of quality standards by looking at pictures on the shoe manufactures website or social media. Sometimes this can be difficult as most ethical shoe manufacturers do not provide pictures of private label brands they work with due to client confidentiality. As part of Italian Shoe Factory’s ethical conduct, only pictures of bespoke/custom made footwear is shared on the internet. 


5. Submit your project to a manufacturer for review and request a quote

Now that you have found the right shoe manufacturer, it’s time to send the tech packs along with reference images. The tech packs should be in a proper pdf format, along with a reference shoe sample that is ready to ship to the factory. It is also helpful to share the desired budget and a clear business plan upfront. If there are any estimated timelines that need to be shared, now is the time to inform the shoe factory. After sharing all of the above details, the manufacturer can provide a product development quote and tentative production timeline slots. Pricing for production (price per pair) at this point may be difficult to acquire as there are a lot of unknowns. The manufacturer may not know the cost of materials and components or time in production. Therefore it’s critical to go through the sampling stage to uncover such details. But sometimes it’s possible to get a rough production estimate, along with the sampling costs. Often the cost of shoe prototype sampling can range from 1650 to 2500 USD/-.


6.Understanding Minimum Order Quantity (MOQs)

Most shoe manufacturers have minimum order quantity requirements, also known as MOQs. Such requirements vary depending on the type of products, country of origin and shoe construction. For example, manufacturers that offer a semi handmade production can have an MOQ of 500-1000 pairs on the initial order. Whereas, Chinese or South East Asian manufacturers that produce fast fashion footwear have much higher MOQs in order to offer you more competitive rates.

Italian Shoe Factory has no MOQ’s which is absolutely amazing and extremely rare! Ofcourse, a higher quantity will always mean a more economical price per pair. But not having to order large amounts of shoes means more cashflow and zero dead stock. It’s always a good idea to decide on a viable retail price and then calculate backwards to see if the price fits into the target price. Any additional costs such as: opening lasts or molds, tooling/cutting die costs, MOQ surcharges should also be discussed. Discussing development and production timelines at this point is also a best practice.


7. Product Development & sampling stage

Now the fun really begins! This is the step where the magic happens- your shoe design comes to life!  The entire prototyping process varies based on the manufacturer and can take minimum 6 weeks to completion. Here is a breakdown of the general steps included in Italian Shoe Factory’s shoe product development process:

Tech Packs and Reference Sample review

At this stage the sampling team thoroughly reviews your designs and tech pack in order to give you quotes and recommendations

Technical Consultation

After the project is confirmed, the design team reviews aspects of your design to check if it’s technically feasible for shoemaking. At this stage the team will advise if any changes need to be made to make the product technically correct. 

Shoe Last Development

Shoe last making is the most important step in the process. A shoe last is a 3-dimensional wooden or plastic mold upon which a shoe is constructed. The last used during shoe assembly can affect the overall fit of a shoe. All lasts include the following dimensions: Heel width. Instep height. Forefoot width.

2D Pattern making and size grading

The shoe designer converts your basic sketches or images into 2D technical patterns.

Sole Procurement or Development

Most often a pre-moulded sole is procured, if you require any customizations on the sole then a sole metal mould can be developed which can get quite expensive if you are a startup. Most sole designs are readily available and can be procured.

Material Sourcing

Depending on your tech pack and material quality specifications the factory will procure the right materials for your sample. Italian Shoe Factory mainly sources high quality materials from the best tanneries in Italy, Europe and around the world. 

Buckle and/or accessory creation

Here any buckles, zippers, Swarovski crystals or various accessories can be procured to match your design vision.

Trial Shoe Prototype (pull over sample)

Scrap materials are used at this stage to create the shoe design mockup to check fitting, shape and to make any corrections. At this stage, the client has the freedom to communicate any final adjustments. Even if it’s as small as a 1 mm difference. Once the mockup sample is confirmed back to the factory, this means it’s time to move onto the production stage.

Final Shoe Sample

This is where the factory starts producing the final sample with the materials selected as per your tech pack. 

Sample Packaging

Ask the factory to provide a sample box that can be used in production with your branding. 


8. Shoe Production Process 

Now that the samples are confirmed, there are a few more steps to confirm during the production stage. Sending purchase order details to the factory will be completed at this stage. This usually includes packaging and labelling guidelines for the product, shipping guidelines and production lead times. For Italian Shoe Factory, production lead times are generally anywhere from 6-8 weeks from the time you place an order. Factory lead times also depend on how busy the factory is, what time of the year it is (national holidays or peak seasons) and where the shoes are manufactured. In addition, order quantity, level of craftsmanship and the time in production will dictate overall production timelines. The production stage can usually have its fair share of challenges that may spring up as there are so many details and moving parts, dealing with trusted and established factories will help the process tremendously.


9. Understand the Manufacturers Quality Control process. 

Most manufacturers have in house quality assurance to make sure that the goods meet their standards. You can also hire a third party firm that specializes in inspection of footwear production, lab testing and quality control. Intertek is world renowned and is extremely reputable quality assurance provider, however this can be quite expensive and can increase your cost per pair. Hiring third parties is only advisable if you have shipments that are larger than 2500+ pairs.


10. Shipping, Customs Clearance, and Receiving

Researching and hiring a logistics company/freight forwarder should happen around the time that you place your order with the factory. They can assist you with shipping timelines and cut off times, ensuring that you can coordinate your shipment. They can also provide you with approximate costs and will help to make sure you have the customs clearance documents. Most factories do not provide such services and the products are generally ex-factory. Italian Shoe Factory, however has a special rate with DHL, Fedex and TNT for shipping at discounted rates.

In conclusion

Learning how to manufacture your own shoes and the steps to create your own shoe brand can be a little daunting but making sure you hire the best possible partner to help you with the entire manufacturing process, will be your key to success. Italian Shoe Factory is able to help you with each step. With over 25 years of experience in shoe manufacturing, we understand the process inside out. We hope you were able to learn more about our production process and get a detailed understanding of how to create your own shoe brand from scratch so you can take the first step!