Why NOT to Start Your Own Shoe Business?

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!

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 10.36.04

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…

28 thoughts on “Why NOT to Start Your Own Shoe Business?

  1. …and when we go to see a movie, we find ourselves looking at the actors’ FEET…never mind the plot–what shoes are they wearing? 🙂

  2. As someone who’s been making footwear full-time for over 20 years, I can confirm that Marcell’s exactly right. One thing I might add: You’ll need another income stream for quite a while. I had a young boot maker come to me for advice one time, and at the end of the conversation she said, “What’s the best advice you can give me?” My reply was to marry someone with a good job, which wasn’t exactly what she wanted to hear. Whatever your options are, you WILL need another source of income, because shoemaking will only cost money for years.

  3. What a great eye opening with this writeup. Please I need information on all equipment/tools for a shoe/sandal making especially shoe/sandal last with cost implication and where I can order. I’ll really appreciate this.

  4. Thank you for this post!
    This is was an awakening, an important advise that I really appreciate as a beginner, as a student.
    So, thank you for your honesty.

  5. Basically, I agree with the advice listed here. It is not easy at all. I learned shoemaking in UK and run a small shoe factory in Asia major in men’s leather shoe in several construction- -handsewing welt, goodyear welt, Norwegian and blake stitching.

    I also agree Lisa’s comments, try to find another source of income.

    Here I try to work out a possibility for shoe lover who are interesting in run shoe business.

    Following is the basically idea:
    – -We accept the learner learn shoe making in our factory, Basically, you may learn all the shoe making skill here, for example – leather knowledge, last creation, pattern making, clicking, closing, lasting and finishing.
    –The period is 2 years, in first year, the learner should focus on learning, Second year will created his own design and build his own collection. We will provide the necessary support.
    – -When his own collections is built, it is time for learner to back his home town to start his own business.

    If you think you are a shoe lover with passion to run shoe business, willing to invest 2 years for yourself, feel free to contact me for further information and discussion.


    Kevin Y.

    1. Hi kevin, I also started a shoe business, I am making driving shoes if you are intrusted I ll show the shoes picture.

    2. Thanks for this post. I love shoes so much that I can not part with my old shoes, then the thought came to me, why can’t I re-brand them, change their look and continue rocking them.
      Reading your post made me realize how i can turn my passion into business.

  6. This was discouraging but informative. I want to design shoes but I don’t know where to start. Help?!

    1. Sure. I would say study first. If you don’t have time: employ or use a consultant. That might save you way more than you spend on it – I offer these services, but I am sure you will find one too. If you decide to use a professional to help you – make sure he/she is really knows what he/she is speaking – check the references, own work, brand, etc.

  7. Hi Koronya! Where in NY your workshop is?do you make woman shoes as well? I’d like to consulate with you.How can I contact you?

  8. Hahaha….very funny!! Love it!You make me laughing reading it, so bloody but so true Shoe making is a lifetime commitment and it might take more effort than marriage! I study shoe design and worked as a shoe designer over ten years, live and breathe with shoes but still do not know much about it! This is the most honest and insightful write-up I have every read about shoebiz! Thanks for great sense of humor.

  9. I am a designer done 3 yrs course of designing from Footwear Designing And Development institute, NOIDA. I want that my creative and innovative designs should enter in the market first locally n futher achieving globally .. what can I do to do so so I can make myself busy in my work.

  10. We sold our home and used equity to open a shoe store. That is the worst decision I ever made. Stick to your job. Millions of people are selling shoes on line. Even Wallgreens was
    selling ugly UG boots.

  11. I am a student but I have passion to be a
    marker but I have no money to start but if should I will happy and so produce great quality shoes that will be known all over the world

  12. I am runing grocery small shop I sale 75%branded goods I have good income but i 24hrs worried from food inspectors becouse if they pick any sample from any shop they do fail and ask or desire money I am depressed I am 45 old I don’t want my son do any food business My some friends sugest me about shoe business my shop is small and in village please help me with your great idea about retailing shoe I want change in business thanks I wating your help

  13. Dear Marcell Mrsan, your article could have been useful to us before we started our venture to manufacture shoes in USA 5 years ago. We didn’t start because we read successful stories; we started because we wanted to bring a shoe that the industry was not providing. After 2 years selling our brand tells us that you know what you are talking about. Knowledge and experience are totally essential and I can tell you how much it cost us to the penny. I would replace “unnecessary” by “inefficient” expensive equipment, and they are part of some bad moves we did at the beginning. In reference of your option #2, we score not too bad and we believe our brand has a good foundation with all the testimonials we receive on a regular basis. It would be nice if you could write an article about what are the next steps to someone who started to produce and sell his own brand for 2 years already? We are ready to listen this time or accept some mentorship/consulting services. Thank you. – English is my second language; please excuse any grammatical missteps on my part.

  14. For me shoe is my comforter besides god. When am down, sad or angry i quickly open one of the shopping app and browse the shoe n it really makes me forget everything. I love to start my own shoe making business n just so confuse how to start. What kind of machines are required, what kind of tools are needed etc etc. Need some suggestions.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.