Shoemaking questions answered

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Answers to all of your shoemaking questions!

Thank you for visiting our shoemaking blog! started more than ten years ago with the mission to inform and educate shoemakers around the world. We strive to provide both basic and advanced shoemaking knowledge. Every day we receive shoemaking questions from our followers around the world. Here are our best answers to your most frequently asked shoemaking questions!

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Great Question!  I can tell you how I landed my first job in the shoe business. After I graduated from Design school I made a portfolio and a small booklet of my product designs. I applied for every design job in San Francisco. I was turned down 20 times before I got a job designing sports bags and golf bags.

Was this my dream job, NO! But it was a start. Working 60 hours a week, I didn’t have much free time but I was gaining experience.  I learned how to handle customers and refined my drawing skills. Working nights and weekends I made shoe drawings, I put together a portfolio of just shoes. After a year making money designing sports bags and golf bags…I quit. I then set to work drawing on my own from 9 am to 5 pm every day. 

As each new job listing opened, I assembled portfolio pages specific to the job on offer. After several more months of job rejections, I landed a small contract for a single shoe design project. That one shoe project grew into two projects, those two projects grew into 5 projects. When these projects ended I was offered a full-time job. Awesome! It took me 3 years to finally land a shoe design job. 
That is how I got my start!  
I hope the books and online courses here can help you build your skills so you can land your first job!
Good luck!

Wade The Shoe Dog

The last is NOT part of a shoe. The last is a metal or plastic form used in shoe development to make the pattern and in production to set the final shape of the shoe.
Read more here: About Shoe Lasts

This a great question and a complicated one. Nike has teams of shoe designers and footwear developers. Nike does not own any shoe factories. The shoe designers and developers work with the shoe factory teams to transform the designs into shoes.
Read more here: How Nike Shoes are Made

Most leather shoes are made with cowhide leather. Calf and pig hides are also commonly used to make thinner leathers for uppers and linings. Kangaroo leather is very elastic and is used to make soccer boots. White leather sports shoes are often made with “Action” leather, Pu coated cowhide.
Read more here: The Designer’s Guide to Shoe Leather Shoe Material Design Guide

Vans shoes are made by the vulcanized construction process. In the Vans vulcanized shoemaking process, the rubber shoe outsole parts are assembled onto the lasted upper before the rubber is completely cured. With the sole attached, the entire shoe must be heated in a vulcanizing oven. The shoe must be heated to around 110˚C for 80 minutes.
Read more here: How Vans Shoes are Made: Vulcanized Construction

Another great shoe material question! Shoe mesh is made in many countries in Asia. The most mesh is made in China, followed by Taiwan, Korea Japan, Vietnam, and Thailand. High-end technical mesh is made the USA, Japan, and Europe.
Read more here: Textiles for shoe design / How to pick shoe materials

Yes! Adobe Illustrator is a great tool to make shoe specification drawings and shoe renderings. Adobe Illustrator can also be used to create, grade, and modify shoe patterns. Check out the online video course Adobe Photoshop for Shoemakers. Great for beginners and intermediate users.
Learn more here: How to draw shoes. How Shoes are Made. Download Illustrator shoe specifications.

Another great question about materials for running shoes. For running shoes, the best materials for uppers are mesh, PU leather, and TPU. For the running shoe outsole, EVA foam is ideal. It’s lightweight, flexible, and durable. Materials NOT good for running shoes include leather and suede. For running shoe outsoles avoid TPR.
Read more here: Running Shoe Parts and How Running Shoes Are Made

Hand lasting is the traditional way to make shoes. With a wood last, lasting pliers, and lasting nails, the shoe upper is pulled into place and secured with tacks. In the article listed here, you can see lasting pliers in action. Read more here: Lasting pliers

Rubber outsoles for shoes and sneakers are made by the vulcanizing process. The rubber components, both natural and synthetic, are mixed together in an uncured form. This gummy paste is then pressed into a heated mold to cure the rubber, transforming the paste into the tough elastic material suitable for outsoles.
Read more here: How rubber outsoles are made

Outsole rubber is measured in the “A” scale of hardness. The standard for athletic shoes is 60˚ to 65˚.
Read More here: Durometer Testing Rubber soles Shoe Material Design Guide

Another great question about shoe materials. The classic Vans shoes like the Vans Era, Vans Old Skool, and Vans Slip-Ons are all made of the same basic materials. Vans shoes’ raw materials include suede, cotton, canvas, vinyl, and rubber for the foxing tape, midsolepadding, and outsole bottoms. Vans uses the vulcanizing process to make their shoes so the materials must be heat resistant.
You can learn more about Vans raw materials here: Vans Shoes

Was slave labor used to make your shoes? It depends…
If your shoe carries the logos of Nike, Adidas, Puma, Van, or Under Armour, then most likely not. If you have discount shoes from a discount brand in a discount store then all bets are off!
You can learn more labor conditions in Shoe factories here: Nike Labor

The basic manufacturing steps can be broken down into cutting, stitching, and assembly. Of course, manufacturing a shoe is quite complicated, but these are the three departments you will find in every shoe factory.
Read more here: How a Shoe is Made

Another great question about the cost of making shoes! Let’s work backward on this calculation. For a Nike shoe that retails for $200, the shoe store buys the shoe from Nike at 50% of the selling price, or approximately $100. Nike buys the shoe from the factory and must also pay the shipping costs, import duty fees, athlete royalties, and account for their own profit margin of approximately 50%. So, the cost to make a pair of $200 Nike shoes is around $40 to $45.
Read more here: How Much Does it Cost to Make a Shoe.

No! Polyethylene is not used to make shoe soles. Polyethylene, usually called PE plastic, is used to make stiffening boards. Called “PE board,” this PE board can be used inside soles but is not common. PE board is found in fabric sided luggage. Shoe soles are made of poly-URETHANE.
Read more about sole materials here: Shoe Material Design Guide

Converse makes shoe soles out of vulcanized rubber. All rubber found in shoe soles is vulcanized. Vulcanizing is a process that uses heat and sulfur to “cure” the rubber. Curing is when the rubber molecules cross-link to transform sticky, gummy rubber into the tough, elastic material suitable for outsoles.
Read more about Converse shoes here: How the Converse All-Star is Made


The most common reflective material to use on shoes is Scotchlite™ Reflective made by 3M.
Read more about 3M: Here

The basic shoebox costs about 65 cents. Die-cut and folded corrugated cardboard is the standard. 4-color processing and printing inside the box costs extra. A fancy box made of hand wrapped fiberboard can cost $5 or more!
Read More Here: Shoe Material Design Guide

Yes! We offer a full curriculum of online shoemaking classes for all levels of shoemakers. On demand training for footwear designers, developers, brand managers, brand builders, and sneaker freaks alike. See the course offerings here or purchase the All Access Pass to get the full curriculum at the best price. Advance your skills today!

I really like using Adobe Illustrator for designing shoes. Illustrator is a great tool for making 2D footwear renderings and making shoe specification drawings. There are also many other vector-based drawing programs less expensive than Adobe Illustrator.
Learn more here: How to draw shoes How Shoes are Made Download Illustrator shoe specification

First of all, Nike does not own any shoe factories. The factories that make Nike shoes will have a huge variety of equipment from many different places.
You can see the machines needed to make Nike shoes here: Shoe Factory Equipment

Vans manufactures shoes using a process called vulcanizing. Raw, uncured rubber is glued to the finished uppers. Afterward, they cook the entire shoe in an oven. The vulcanizing process transforms the soft rubber into tough, flexible soles.
You can learn more about Vans here: Vans Shoes

Here are 10 steps to become a shoe designer:

Learn to draw…. shoes and everything else.
Go to design school.
Find a shoemaking or shoe design mentor.
Learn computer software: start with Adobe Illustrator.
Build a great shoe design portfolio to get a foot in the door.
Study the classics of shoe design.
Fill your mind with great designs! Shoes, cars, clothing, bags, anything.
Books! Books! Books! Read your way to expertise.
Cut up old shoes. You will learn what is inside.
Fortune favors the bold.
Take chances! Your shoe designs should pursue perfection, no matter what kind of shoe it is. Do something new and different. Work hard to understand shoe design challenges, then attack from a new direction. Find a new material for your shoe design, use an old material in a new way. Visit the shoe factory, and see what they can do, see what they can’t do. Don’t take no for an answer.
Read more here! How to become a shoe designer

So what materials does Nike use inside their running and basketball shoes? The short answer is plastic, rubber, and leather. Plastic is the most common material in Nike shoes, as it can take many forms. Man-made foam, fabric, and synthetic are all made from different forms of plastic. Uppers, Midsoles, and laces are all plastic. The outsole bottoms are made of rubber, and can even be a mixture of both natural rubber and synthetic rubber. The famous Nike airbag is made of blow-molded TPU plastic.
Read more here: Shoe Materials

Another great shoemaking question! For metal eyelets, there are many ways to reinforce eyelets depending on the style of the shoe and the eyestay material.
#1. Use a metal washer to reinforce the back of the eyelet. Very common on the top eyelets of army boots.
#2. For leather dress shoes, a double layer of leather and/or Canvas fabric.
#3. For sports shoes, Non-woven reinforcement fabric known as supper tuff is the standard.
Read more here: Shoe Material Design Guide Super tuff Reinforcements for Shoes

The medial side of the shoe is the inside face of the shoe. When you are standing the medial sides of the shoe face each other, with the arch side of your foot being the medial side. The lateral side is the “outside” of the shoe.
Read more here: Medial Side

How is a shoe lasted? Depending on the style, material, and price of the shoe, there are many different ways to last a shoe. Lasting is the operation of pulling the upper of a shoe tight.
Read more here: How to last a shoe. Footwear lasting operations

So what materials does Adidas use in their shoes? The short answer is plastic, rubber, and leather. Plastic is the most common material in shoes, as it can take many forms. Man-made foam, fabric, and synthetic are all made from different forms of plastic. Uppers, Midsoles, and laces are all plastic. The outsole bottoms are made of rubber, and often are a mixture of both natural and synthetic rubber. The synthetic rubber is made of the same compounds that are also transformed into plastic.
Read more here: Shoe Materials

The sockliner (also called insole or footbed) is the first layer of soft foam in which your foot rests on inside of a shoe. Sockliners are made of a soft foam, which offers cushioning along with making sure your foot fits comfortably inside the shoe. The sockliner will have a layer of fabric on the surface to absorb moisture and provide some friction to hold your foot in place.
Read more here: Learn more about Sockliners