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How to Become a Footwear Designer in the US

Footwear designers combine art, technique and skill to create new designs for shoes, sandals and boots. They ensure their designs lead to the manufacture of products that are functional and capable of improving the wearer’s overall look. If you are a creative person with an eye for the newest trends, this could be the career for you.

What Do Footwear Designers Do?

Although these designers typically specialize in designing certain types of footwear such as athletic shoes, casual boots or women’s dress shoes, their day-to-day tasks commonly include:

  • Holding discussions with clients to know their design specifications
  • Drawing sketches of footwear designs by hand or using a computer
  • Presenting sample designs to clients or design managers for approval
  • Collaborating with patternmakers to create and cut shoe patterns
  • Attending events to stay abreast of current trends in the footwear industry

Work Environment

Footwear designers work full time, from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. However, freelance or self-employed designers have flexible schedules.

While at work, they usually spend their time in design studios or workshops, where they come up with their designs.

The work can involve some traveling, particularly because footwear designers need to attend industry events and present their designs to clients or manufacturers.

Salary

What is the average annual salary for footwear designers? Find out below:

Occupation

Annual Wage

Footwear designer

$70,000

Source: Indeed

Entry Requirements

To qualify for employment as a footwear designer, you should earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in footwear design. Besides equipping you with the knowledge of the principles of footwear design, the program will enhance your shoemaking skills and ability to communicate ideas.

The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in California is one of the few institutions offering an academic program that specifically deals with footwear design.

You may also enter the profession with an undergraduate degree in fashion or textile design, as long it offers coursework in footwear design.

Important Qualities

To be an accomplished footwear designer, you need:

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  • Strong design, drawing and illustration skills
  • Strong creative and visualization skills
  • Strong computer skills
  • Good research skills
  • The ability to pay attention to small details
  • Good practical and technical skills
  • An interest in fashion and trends
  • Good teamwork skills
  • A sound understanding of the processes involved in manufacturing footwear products.

Career Development

After finding employment, you will learn on the job to improve your skills and professional competence.

As you gain more experience, secure membership in the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) to gain access to professional development resources such as industry publications.

If you are willing to study abroad, the University of the Arts London offers a graduate degree in footwear design that can significantly heighten your career progression prospects. This is because currently there aren’t any US universities offering graduate studies in this field.

Job Opportunities

Although some designers work on a freelance basis, you can hired be as a full-time employee by:

  • Footwear manufacturers such as Nike
  • Footwear retailers
  • Footwear importers
  • Fashion design studios

With vast experience and advanced credentials, you can advance to become a footwear design manager, or establish your own design studio. Some footwear designers also often move into manufacturing or merchandise marketing.

According to a report compiled by AAFA, employment in the US shoe industry has been growing since 2010. As of 2012, there were about 1.02 million workers in the industry. With more Americans becoming fashion-conscious, there is no doubt the number of workers will keep growing, meaning more employment opportunities for footwear designers.

So if you have a passion for shoes, and you would like to see more people looking good and trendy, then maybe this is the profession you should join.

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