Custom Shoemaker

Custom Shoemaker

Creativity and boutique fashion meet in the custom footwear industry

Requirements: A custom shoemaker has to be a shoe-lover, and have a passion for shoemaking and design. Being fashion conscious and understanding current and upcoming trends in shoes and design is also important.

Knowledge of fabrics and other materials, as well as sensitivity to colours and shapes, are a must.

Being patient, open-minded and having people skills are also useful for dealing with customers.

Qualifications: You don't need a degree to become a shoemaker. But certain overseas schools offer courses. Examples include the London College of Fashion, the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in California, and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. Polimoda in Florence, Italy, also offers courses. Some short courses are available in Hong Kong.

Average pay: A shoemaker's income varies widely, depending on the design, craftsmanship, materials used and their reputation.

Work prospects: Demand for custom-designed and made shoes is growing among female shoppers in Hong Kong, but the time and manpower involved make custom shoes costly. To make them more affordable, generally the design and fittings are done in Hong Kong and the manufacturing is done on the mainland.

Winnie Fong, the owner of DYOS (Do Your Own Shoes), a shoemaking shop in Causeway Bay, began as a merchandiser. She gained several years of experience in design, sourcing and manufacturing before starting her own business.

She says it is a very different career from being a tailor, because each step in making a pair of shoes requires a lot of technical expertise, time and manpower. Accurate measurements, including the foot size and the arch, have to be taken to make a pair of shoes, which cost about HK$1,000 depending on materials and style.

She adds that making custom-made shoes is different from making podiatric shoes to cure foot problems. But accurate measurements ensure a better fit than in mass-produced footwear sold in chain stores.

After the fabric, materials and measurements have been sent to the factory to make the shoes, numerous quality checks are carried out before the final product can be approved, Fong says. Custom-made shoes are not like clothes - they cannot be altered if they do not fit.

For some shoppers, it is important but very difficult to find the perfectly fitted shoe. Today's shoemakers know this is a business that must deliver what the customer wants, and good design, customer care and craftsmanship are what make a reputation.

Long-term prospects: Shoemaking in Hong Kong has been transformed from a labour-intensive industry to one that adds value for customers who know what they want.

Many local customers, especially heel-lovers, are becoming more demanding about what they wear, and custom-made shoes meet their needs. This demand has led to a surge in the services of custom-shoe designers in Hong Kong.

Fong says new entrants today are generally more interested in shoe design rather than in actually manufacturing shoes.

There are many categories of shoe design, she says. Apart from fashion footwear for women, there are work-related, special needs shoes and shoes for children. Each category is unique, and requires specific knowledge and training.

Shoemakers can open their own shop or launch a brand if they have a solid client base.

Where to apply: Fong suggests starting as a footwear merchandiser in the shoemaking and design industry. Another choice is to enrol in a design school that offers shoemaking.

There is an annual design competition organised by the Hong Kong Footwear Association.

A day at work

A custom shoemaker should have a clear understanding of their customer's needs, such as style, material, colour and heel height. Accurate measurements are important, and it is crucial to ask the customer if the shoes are for special functions.

Then it's time to send the measurements and specifications to the factory. The manufacturing process needs to be fully monitored to ensure that the customer's needs are met. The last step is to do final fitting with the customer when the shoes arrive.

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