Textiles for Shoe Design:

A High Duty Textile Shoe 20% +.90 Ouch!If you want to learn how to design shoes you must have an understanding of fabrics.  Fabrics, or textiles, are a miracle material for footwear designers!  With an infinite variety of weaves, knits, colors, patterns, and special features, textiles have a special place in footwear design. You will find fabric inside and outside on footwear, even on shoe bottoms. The polymer fibers such as nylon and polyester are lightweight and durable. Lycra is stretchable and cotton canvas is a must for vulcanized construction and has a look all its own.

When considering any textile for your shoe design there are five things to consider. The thread size, fiber composition, weave pattern, backing material, sizing, and surface treatments.

Thread Size:

The basic building block for fabric is…of course, thread!  Denier is how thread weight is measured. 1 denier = 1 gram per 9000 meters of thread. Typical deniers are 110D for very lightweight fabric, 420D to 600D are common in shoes, 1000D for boots and bags.

Fiber Types:

Footwear textiles come in many fiber types including cotton, wool, nylon, polyester, polypropylene, rayon, and lycra.  Each has their own look and physical properties like water absorption, stretchability, UV resistance, and colorfastness. For shoe design, polyester and nylon are very common. Stretchable lycra is often used for bindings and linings.  Cotton is a must for vulcanized shoes as synthetic fibers tend to melt. Natural fibers like cotton or wool will accept finishing treatments. Cotton canvas shoe uppers can be salt or stone washed before assembly to give the shoes a special character. Cotton can also accept an oiled or waxed finish, but this must be done after the shoe is assembled. Oily or waxed canvas cannot be easily bonded to the shoe outsole during assembly.


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Fabric Weaves:

shutterstock_279936593-ModThere are many ways to “weave” the fibers together. In a woven pattern, two fibers cross each other. The fibers running the length of the fabric are called the “warp”. The fibers running across the fabric side to side are called the “weft”.  The more typical “plain” square weave has an equal number of fibers in the warp and weft. There are many weaves: plain, twill, satin, basket, doddy, and ripstop.

Shutter-Stock_mod The “knit”  is the other common way fibers are joined. In knitted fabrics, the thread follows a meandering path forming symmetric linked loops. These linked and meandering loops can be easily stretched in different directions giving knit fabrics more elasticity than woven fabrics. Depending on the fiber type and knitting pattern, a knit fabric can stretch as much as 500%. Common knits types are jersey, interlock, double knit, and ribbed.
shutterstock_177273620High-tech “air” mesh or 3D mesh is made by knitting. Also known as sandwich mesh, the inner surface can be smooth and act as the shoe lining.

Fabric Backing and Sizing:

Once the fibers are knit or woven, the fabric must be dyed, sized, and backed before it can be used in shoes. The freshly made fabric is soft and shapeless, not suitable for use in shoes. It’s the sizing and backing treatments that give fabric the toughness and body to make it useful. Sizing is a liquid resin treatment applied to the fabric. The fabric is stretched, heated, and treated with the sizing resin, this holds the fibers in place. The backing material is critical to the character of the fabric. There are two common backing types. The thinner clear coating called PU; this is the cheaper, lighter, less waterproof coating. You can see the fiber under the coating. Next, we have PVC backing which is more solid; you cannot see the fibers through the backing. PVC is used to make a very sturdy waterproof fabric. Solid PVC Backing Solid PVC BackingMesh-PU-Backing Thin PU Backing

Fabric Surface treatments:

Screen Shot 2015-10-17 at 11.28.07 AMThere are many treatments for fabric.  DWR or (Durable Water Resistant) coating is common. Another treatment is called brushing. Nylex and Visa, or Visa Terry, are knit products where one side is brushed to tease up the soft fibers. These are the most common shoe lining materials for sports shoes.
Mesh-Foam_backing+TricotFabric Lamination:  When the fabric is assembled into shoes it is often laminated with a thin layer of PU foam. The foam backing controls wrinkles and makes the fabric easier to handle during assembly. The foam also prevents inner layers from x-raying through the thin fabric. The fabric shown here has tricot material laminated to the back of the foam.

Import Duty for textile shoes:

shutterstock_195179909Textiles often incur a high import duty rate. Shoes made with 51% textile surface area are assessed for 20% duty. A textile shoe which costs less than US$12.50 will be charged 20% +.90 duty! (depending on the country of origin). However, there is a trick, by molding textile on the sole of the shoe you can avoid the high duty rates!  Be sure to check the import rules for your shoes’ planned country of origin and destination.
Textiles really are a miracle material for shoes!  With a rainbow of colors, patterns, and special features; textiles have a special place in footwear design. They are lightweight, strong, and flexible.  There are so many options for your design. Textiles can be as classic as waxed canvas or as high-tech as patterned 3D air mesh with the inside backing surface included. Let your imagination run wild. If you care to see how the fiber weaving and color dying process works it’s worth the time to visit the mesh factory. Learn more about textiles and other shoe materials in our book the Shoe Material Design Guide.