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Shoes and Craft

A shoemaker's blog about shoemaking

This might have come as a surprise. What? Marcell Mrsan, master shoemaker, accessory professor does not suggest to start a shoe business? Well, not quite, but let me get there..  If you don’t want to be discouraged – just jump to the end, I am being supportive there!

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I receive tons of mails from people with great plans to start their own shoe business, pretty much convinced, that the market only waits for their products.
Well, it might come as a surprise, but the market is already full with products. Cheap ones, expensive ones, overpriced ones, very creative ones. Many for tiny narrow feet, wide feet, exotic skins, weird looking lasts, weird shaped uppers, etc. Your friends are supportive – their opinion just DOESN’T matter. Sorry, no offense.

What kind of problems you have to face with, if you plan an own brand?

I believe knowledge is the main issues. Unfortunately people – especially here in the USA – seeing so many success stories are very much willing to start an own business. Unfortunately those stories never share statistics about unsuccessful businesses which ended up with a bankruptcy and there are mode from those. Spending your saving on a dream statistically a stupid idea.

So where knowledge comes from? Not just formal education, but experience. Education might save you from mistakes. Expensive ones. I can list long examples, but I am afraid I would just reach the opposite I write this post for – people would try to gain information and learn. But this is not knowledge. With 90% knowledge you spend 9 times more. Strange mathematics, but ask a professional – true.

You can’t just save leathers, lasts, but a bunch of other unnecessary things, what your don’t need to buy. Ever. Guess what? Shoe finders, machine sellers want to make business – so if you just use their advice, you will end up with a really expensive equipment. Just compare it with buying a new car – do you think they try to sell you some expensive extras? hmm? Do you still believe them?

Let’s say you are not a professional, but love shoes. Love them. You know them. You think… Look down your own shoes! Do you see the number on them? Let’s say 10. 10 what? What measurement? Centimeter? Sure not. Millimeter? Come on… Inches? Seriously? Most people can’t answer this simple question. Learn! You need to understand measuring systems – you want to produce different sizes, right? Or you want to trust on others opinion?

You are just familiar with the Imperial system? How much is an ounce for leather thickness? You want to use 3 or 8? Or you prefer irons? So, would you order a 10 iron sole for a heel or not? Do you want to ask your leather seller, what he suggest? He must be an expert (although never ever touched any lasts). You need to make specifications – more than possible using millimeters. Are you familiar with millimeters or you will mess it up with centimeters, as many of my student do?

Let’s talk about money. Your money, what you saved in years with hard work. How you want to spend it? Do you have a cash flow plan? Did you consult with a professional, or you saved that amount, because you know better?

Let’s see how you gonna spend your money, making shoes:

1. Let’s suppose you don’t want to make (manufacture) but order shoes from a company. It sounds, like a great plan! How come nobody thought of this? (yeah, I am being sarcastic). You order shoes pretty cheap, let’s say 15-25 dollars. Not gonna be so sophisticated I am afraid. So first you pay the factory (“in advance please”), you might have to pay some custom, you also want to make some money on it, just like the retailers (they are not that humble with that… just to mention), and… a bit – let’s say 20% for marketing costs for the retailers please… and there is this nice person helped to get in to that store, he might want to have a few (lot) percent from the first shipment. Anyway – without exact numbers, you shoes will end up somewhere 70-120 USD. Easily. You only made a few dollars on them (if you are lucky), but guess what – in that category people can buy shoes way cheaper. Sometimes they can find shoes from famous brands in sale for that. Not a hard decision…

2. You can make them. How many models you want to make? 5-6? Are you kidding? But, let’s say OK. Heel height? 2? Well… OK. How many sizes? At least 8-10 right? Different widths? Maybe 2? Sure! Now you need to order:

(10 size + 10 more for the medium sizes) x 2 widths x 2 heel heights = 80 pairs.

Don’t forget to order insoles, heels, soles, extra heel top lifts, etc.

Now you have only one or two toe shapes. I hope you have a good eye, because many customer have. Pretty much like cars.

You invested several thousand dollars and you only have parts. Not a single upper, not a single design. When you finish the whole procedure, and you have the first shoe in your hand, you spent many ten thousand dollars, and still have to deal with the retails. Go back the 1. point and put your costs instead of the 10-15 dollar. Shocking isn’t it?

3. You have a great idea, brand new, nothing to do with these scenarios. Wow! May I ask – maybe you want to make custom shoes? Don’t even start, if you haven’t completed 500 pairs, because you know nothing about shoes before then. Ask any professionals, they will agree, maybe even give a higher number.

Do you see my point? I didn’t want to be discouraging. You can be successful, but do your homework. Your competition did. They still fail sometimes. So, before you put all of your money to shoe business and lose it – study.

The supportive part starts here
There are people successful in shoe business. I know some. They manufacture great shoes, build amazing brand, make gorgeous designs and spend their holidays in the Bahamas. You can be there too, but there is a long way until there. I am not saying there are no shortcuts, but finding them is like winning the lottery – there is only a small chance. But the big difference – and this might be the most important sentence here: you can’t just do it for money. We, successful people in shoe business love shoes. LOVE them. We spend our lives with shoes, we would do it, even if that would make us poor. Just like artists – this is called passion. Don’t start it if you don’t have it.

You also need to have knowledge. That saves you a lot of money and time. Study and get experience and contact. A few years at a bigger brand will help a lot – you will make a lot of contacts at stores, shoe factories, leather sellers, insole makers, etc. It might take 3-5 years, but it saves you double as much time.


ps. we might dream about shoes even in the Bahamas…

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