Do I need to run a fitting trial for my new shoes? 

A shoe fitting trial or fit trial is a footwear brand’s process to confirm a new shoe fits correctly and feels good on the user’s feet. The goal of a fitting trial is to evaluate the entire size run and determine if a shoe fits correctly and is true to its size. 

A fit trial is complementary to a wear test. In wear testing, the shoe brand will focus on the function and durability of a shoe.
(Learn more about fit testing, wear testing, and other pre-production procedures in our books
How to Start Your Own Shoe Company 
How Shoes Are Made books and ebooks.)

Big brands like Nike, Adidas, and Jordan have entire departments responsible for running fitting trials. For example, every new Nike shoe must pass a fit trial before being approved for mass production.

Proper fitting shoes will keep your return rate down and your profit margin up.

The average return rate for mail-order shoes with poor fitting is 30%! 

Yes! You need a fit trial.

A shoe fit trial must be part of your production quality assurance program. A great-looking shoe that does not fit the size mark or does not fit proportionally is not high-quality. A new last, a new outsole, or a new upper design will require a fitting trial. A proper fitting trial during the pre-production process allows the brand time to adjust the size and fit of the shoe before wear testing, size grading, marketing, and selling.

(For more information on pre-production testing and quality assurance processes check out How to Start Your Own Shoe Company and How Shoes Are Made books and ebooks.)

Setting up your shoe fit trial

When developing your shoe, the first size made is called the “model” size. The model size is usually USA 9 for men’s and USA 7 for women’s shoes. The shoe brand or the shoe manufacturing factory will have someone on staff who is the fit model. The fit model’s feet measure close to the ideal standards for an M9 or W7. You need to complete the fitting work on the sample size before the size grading and the full-size run fitting trial can begin.

Before the fitting trial: Inspect your samples.

Do you see any loose spots or wrinkles on the upper? First, remove any shoe stuffing and check that your samples are not crushed or twisted from shipping. Next, run your hand inside the shoe to feel for any rough stitching or wrinkles in the footbed. Finally, properly lace each shoe and then take the time to loosen the laces, so it’s easy for your test subjects to get their foot in the shoe and adjust it.

Running a proper fitting trial? Needs:

1. A full-size run of the test shoes.

2. A measuring tape.

3. A Brannock™ device for measuring feet.

(Learn more about the Brannock™ device and other shoe tools in How Shoes Are Made.)

4. A questionnaire to record the stated foot size, measured foot size, 

sample shoe size preference, and any footwear fitting comments. 

5. As many people as you can get to try on your shoes!

6. It is a good idea to have socks available in a standard thickness for your test subjects.

How to run a fitting trial 

Find a place and time to gather your shoes and test subjects together. Ideally, you will test one person at a time without the other test subjects listening in on the test. When your test subject arrives, record the size of the shoes they are wearing. It’s a good idea also to record the brand of shoe they are wearing as some brands are known to fit larger or smaller.

Next, measure your test subject’s feet yourself with a Brannock™ device. Make sure to note the length and width. Also, try to record the ball girth of their feet. You will need this information to help you qualify the subjective feedback when fitting the shoe. You will also need to screen your test subjects for abnormal foot shape or physical issues affecting the fitting.

Finally, select a shoe for your subject to try. Once the tester has the shoe on, ask them to stand up and give their first reaction before flexing or walking in the shoe. 

If you have a soft shoe, you can press on the toe box to feel if the subject’s toes are touching the end of the shoe. When standing, the toe tips should not be touching the inside end of the shoe.

If the shoe feels good, instruct the subject to walk and get a feel for the shoes as they flex in motion. Your test subjects may run if you are fitting a sports shoe. 

You can ask the test subject to record their feedback on a questionnaire or interview the subject. Your goal is to understand if the length, width, and volume feel right. During a fitting trial, you should be studying the shoe as the test subject flexes. Look for the following:

1. Does the shoe gap open or pinch?

2. Do you see loose spots or wrinkles?

3. Does the test subject’s heel lift out of the shoe?

4. Does the subject feel the pressure points or stitching inside the shoe.  

5. Make any comments on the length, width, and height.

6. Does the top line feel comfortable around the ankle bones and Achilles tendon?

The result of your fitting trail  

If the shoes fit great and look great for every test subject, fantastic! If you see any issues, now is the time to record the faults and work with the factory technicians and pattern makers to correct them. In the end, a properly run fitting trial will give you the confidence to move ahead in your shoe production or give you the information needed to make adjustments. 

My sample size fit test is complete. Now what?

For the next steps in the pre-production process, including size grading, wear testing, and quality control procedures check out these shoemaking books.
Start Your Own Shoe Company 
How Shoes Are Made 
Footwear Pattern Making and Last Design