How to become a footwear designer: Five expert tips

From sneakers to sandals, to sold out celebrity endorsed footwear (think Yeezy and Fenty by Rihanna for Puma), shoes have never been so popular. Shoe design continues to evolve and develop, making for a very exciting career path.

There’s also an incredible amount of skill and craftsmanship that goes into making each pair of shoes, and that’s something which is slowly disappearing in the UK as shoe factories shut up shop here and head to Asia.

To keep the magic alive, we discuss how to pattern cut, make shoes and keep this skill at the forefront of British design.


You have to be an out-of-the-box thinker to work in footwear design, and be extremely passionate. I had a passion for sneakers from a young age, and footwear as a whole was a hobby and real interest for me. I felt that clothing design was an oversaturated market, but there’s still so much potential with footwear. So I rushed to sign up for a degree in it and follow my creative mind. Attending a university open day and liaising with the Footwear Design course leader allowed me to secure a conditional offer at De Montfort University. The course leader saw how passionate I was about studying the subject, allowing me to secure a place and helping me to take the first step to becoming a Footwear Designer.

Also be open to networking, I networked my way on to the course and I still network now, it’s a close knit industry so using LinkedIn, Drapers, and going to industry events are key for getting yourself known.



For me it was architecture, colour, material, shapes, every building influenced my designs. For one of my third year university projects the Sydney Opera House inspired me. I made a ladies shoe with a metal wave shape heel capturing unique shapes and highlighting a breathe of influences. I also looked to blogs, designers, magazines and WGSN for inspiration.



The shoe last is a wooden or plastic block in the shape of a foot- it’s the one key tool in every footwear designers bag. It is your starting block, like the dress form is for clothing designers. The shape will help you get your proportions right, you can tape up a last and then you draw your design on it, so you can see how the design and overall pattern executions will look on the final product. It is a great selling tool resource and it will give you a 3D perspective of what the shoe will look like too.


We had to present projects at university to tutors, and it is still an integral part in the industry today. You will go on to present and show your sketches to directors, buyers, merchandisers, product developers and sales teams so be confident with your direction. My tutor at university said to our class that you might not be an amazing illustrator but as long as you can communicate your concept, that’s what matters. Do not underestimate the power of speech.


Do retail research- are you interested in Men’s? Women’s or kids? Formal? Casual? or sport? Which market is best for your directional designs? What brands reflect your design style? These are important questions when you are thinking about jobs in the footwear design sector. Your portfolio needs to be targeted to that particular brand, ideal or aesthetic, and within that you need to be able to adapt when a new season brief is given to you, having that flexibility is key to becoming successful in the long-term.

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