Custom Shoe Making Business | How To Start Small And Easy And Grow

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My fascination and need for custom shoes

I have been fascinated with shoe making since a child. You see, as a school going kid, till about the age of 10, I always wore custom made leather shoes. Every year I would get a new pair as I outgrew the current ones.

The reason I had custom school shoes made for me was because I had something called the ‘flat foot’. In case you do not know what that means, I will give you a quick explanation.

custom shoe making

On a regular foot, the sole of the foot has a natural arch. If you have ever seen an imprint of a wet barefoot on a floor, you will have noticed that not the entire foot is imprinted. Only the front part of the toes and the balls of the feet along with the heel area leaves an impression.

The middle portion is kind of missing from the picture. This is because of the natural arch of the foot that I just mentioned. Because of the arch the middle part of the foot does not make contact with the floor.

A person with “flat feet” does not have this arch. If you saw their wet foot impression, you would see pretty much the entire foot printed.

The reason why this is a big deal is that according to medical opinion, having flat feet has some detrimental effects. The gist of it is that flat feet tend to ache easily with regular amount of walking and standing. At least, that it what my parents were informed at that point of time.

Wearing custom made shoes with a specially arched inner sole was supposed to help with this condition. In my case, it seems to have worked because I have an arch on my feet not. Although I would like to add that I feel my feet hurt more than a regular person from walking and standing around!

Enough about flat feet. I was trying to give you a background to the fascination and awareness I have about custom made shoes. Most people do not know such a thing is possible because, let’s face it, ready made is more in vogue than it was a few decades ago.

Does the world need a custom shoe making business

Well, yeah. There’s the good and the not so great. Let’s go over the not so great aspects first.

The first factor is that you have a lot of competition from the machines. Shoe brands today are making are making an insane variety of shoes. Even major brands like Nike are jumping on the custom shoe making band wagon. Its the ‘in’ thing for people who can afford it and a necessity for others who need because of special needs like different foot sizes, flat feet, extra cushioning etc. 

The other things is that learning shoe making is going to take some time till you get really good at it. We are looking at about 6 months of work. The more you learn, the better you are going to be at it. It’s actually an good field to get into at a young age when you are doing college or design courses. You can do one now. Reason? You can design your own shoes and sell exclusive stuff! We will touch on this a little later.

Now for the good. You may have competition from the mass manufactureres. But the machines are not making the stuff that people with custom needs require. Even if they are, it is easier to get them tailor made locally or from a specialised shoe maker. That is where you business comes in.

An example is of someone who has different size in each foot. It happens. As do other issues. People have foot sizes where they cannot easily find their size. That’s where you come in.

Children often end up having specialized and custom shoe needs, as I did as a child. Thats where your custom shoe making services can help.

Always remember, that stuff made for the needs of children tends to do well in sales, as does targeting a demographic with specialised needs. Keep your target audience in mind. Who is likely to buy custom made shoes from you? Make for them and direct your promotional campaigns towards them.


Custom Shoes Vs. Designer Shoes

There are two ways to go about this whole thing. You can choose either or both. Some custom shoe makers are about custom needs and fit. The stying is standard and fixed.

Other custom shoe makers are not just about the fit, because that happens anyway when you get a custom shoe made, but also about their designs. Some independent shoe making companies are easily recognisable for their shoe designs.

designing shoes

Some of these shoes are designed from patterns over 50 years old that the founder / designer of the shoe company created. They have become a popular classic shoe now. These kind of custom designer shoes are expensive and many people with means take great pride in wearing them.

Think of a designer shoe making business as similar to someone wanting to start their designer clothes line. You have to introduce designing and styling elements in the shoe apart from just the custom construction.

So the choice is yours. You can learn designing and learn to design your own shoes or you can learn to craft the known styles that are often taught in a shoe making course such as Oxfords, Ballerinas etc.

Small Business Exclusive Custom Shoe Makers

Italy is known to have small shoe making shops that are in fact so exclusive that each pair of shoes from them costs thousands of dollars. Hard to believe? Well, there is a reason for everything, to put it in a fashion. These small shoe shops, often run by a single owner and shoe maker, have got themselves a reputation. In their own way, they have for themselves a very powerful brand. They are not on hoardings or neon signs anywhere, but everyone knows about them, and a very select few go to them.

The brand image could be the expert craftsmanship of a business that has been in existence for a 100 years, through a family of shoemakers, one generation following another. Or it could be the exclusivity of a shoe designer who is able to give you a perfect bespoke shoe fit and make it out of the most exotic leather you cannot find anywhere else, certainly not in a regular mass manufactured shoe brand. 

Similar shoe businesses exist everywhere, even where I live. The idea is to appeal to the people around you in one or the other. I know someone who makes adorable shoes for kids. Kids love them, they can request designs, they are tailor made to be comfortable, and since the kids are happy, so are the parents. Besides there is a different charm and convenience of buying from a small, cozy business without the rush and madness of a mall. And you know you will get what you want. So, overall, it is also a good shopping experience for everyone. 

Where And How To Learn Shoemaking, Mentorship etc.

That brings us to the subject of learning all about shoe making. There are many ways to learn shoe making and one of the best ways is too find a mentor, as it the case with most forms of craft.

The good news is that you do not necessarily have to go looking far and wide to find a mentor to teach you shoe making. The people teaching you online can fit the mentor role, at least an extent. I say ‘to an extent’ because Mentorship while learning and working can be two different experiences.

learning to make shoes

Traditionally, craft forms could only be learnt by working under a master crafts person. That still remains one of the best ways to learn. The downside is that there is usually no fixed curriculum and it takes a long time before you learn enough. A lot depends on the mentor and their availability and willingness to teach their apprentices.

For that reason, most prefer to learn through schools, colleges and courses. The internship is reserved for gaining hands-on work experience, which is an invaluable addition to the education.

There are a few good courses available online and they aren’t exactly what you will call cheap. I guess shoemaking is a popular choice after all !

One of the reasons for the high price is also the fact that these are live classes. You attend and show up everyday, or whatever the schedule of the class is, and so does the teacher. Often, there is more than one teacher to take different modules.

Some of these shoe making classes offer one to one interaction as well which further justifies their high cost.

Teaching Vs. Working Mentoring 

I want to be clear about one thing. Mentorship while learning and working can be two different things. Working mentoring can also be thought of as apprenticeship or internship.  

Once you have learnt shoe making, you can jump straight into starting your shoe business or look for a job. If you want to start your own business, it might be a good idea to look for internship with other shoemakers. It is immensely helpful in imparting a hands-on knowledge of how the shoe making business works. Any shoe maker will be aware of the this fact. So you can expect to work for free for a while till you prove your worth.

Of course , if you find a shoe making job, then you will be get paid as per the terms of the job. But a Mentorship program can be a different experience in a way that it gives an opportunity for a more one to one attention from the mentor shoe maker.

You might even prefer to have a job as a shoe maker over starting your own business. And you just might get inspired to start your own business because of it, who knows…

So here are some resources online to learn shoe making. You will notice that several of them offer different courses to make difference styles of shoes. It’s good to start from the classic styles.

The business of selling shoes.

At the end of the day, you have to sell the shoes you make. And that involves going through the regular all-time proven marketing strategies of creating a brand, developing ad campaigns, innovating promotional tactics, targeting the right people etc. There are a lot of good resources available online on all these subjects.

We have put in a lot of matter on our blog touching on all these subjects, as well, including setting up your own online shop. Shopify is a great platform to do this. It is one-stop place to take care mostly all online selling needs. 

If you want to sell online, keep in mind that one of the greatest lures of custom shoes for customers is a custom fit. For that you need custom measurements. But many shoemakers skip this part to keep things simple and focus on design, fabric, construction and quality instead. 

So if you want to sell your custom shoes online you will have to devise a fool proof way of getting these measurements, which will be tricky. Any craftsperson can tell you. Making the right measurements is a skill in itself and takes experience to execute accurately. The age old adage of “cut once, measure twice” is absolutely correct.

The other way to make your custom shoes appeal to online buyers is to introduce a design element in them. For this you have to become a shoe designer or hire one. You will be aware of celebrities starting their own line of clothing accessories and making millions off it. They usually hire others to design for them and then do the necessary branding.

While the celebrities sell their shoes lines on the strength of their personal popularity, you can sell it on the merit of interesting designs and superior shoe wearing experience. Not to mention the fact that your potential customers are probably not looking to shell out a couple of thousand bucks for a pair of shoes.

But hey, you just might get there too, right? 🙂

Where To Start

This is what bogs down most people. Where and how to start with whatever needs starting.

If you are an aspiring shoe maker, you have to look at your choices. Let’s assume that you are still on the sidelines and wondering if this is something you should get into. Well, the first thing, if you like shoes like a passion and shoemaking is what you want to do, then go for it. The world definitely has room for one more inspired Shoemaker.

Learn the craft with diligence through whichever means suits your situation. If you are eligible to take on a college degree in design, then do that. If you want to learn through independent courses and workshops, then you can find those online, and if you are lucky in the area that you live. Maybe you can find a master shoe maker where you live who will take you in as an apprentice and teach you the art of shoemaking.

An arrangement with a mentor like that could work out really well. While you might not get paid little or not at all in the beginning, that scenario usually changes if you prove your worth.

So instead of paying for an education, You are at the receiving end of both knowledge and income. The only thing is that while the real world experience of learning the shoe making business is invaluable, Mentorships tend to be longterm arrangements.

So expect to take time before you feel competent enough in your knowledge. A lot depends on you and your mentor. If you are quick at picking things up and your mentor is in generous with his time and knowledge, you will learn all about the shoe making business faster.

Deciding if shoe making business is the right choice for you

Are you still on the fence? Let us change the situation a little bit. Are you still trying to decide whether the shoe making trade is the right one for you? Well, what are your aspirations? Is it to have a business for yourself or is it to work for a bigger shoe making business?

Depending on the answer will begin your researching trip.

If you want to set up a local business, you should we aware of your local prospects. Most of the time, people like it if you make things easier for them. Coming into a cozy and relaxed place to get fitted for custom shoes is probably an experience that many people will enjoy no matter where you live, as long as you have something that they will like.

A few things you can offer as a shoemaking business that will draw people are:

  • Custom shoes for children. Giving the younger generation, the right fit and comfortable fittings.
  • Shoes for special needs like flat feet, wide or narrow foot size, extra cushioning, et cetera.
  • Using luxury / distinct material. This is the secret sauce for virtually any craft. Take a regular well-made craft and construct it with better / exclusive material, and you have a high value craft on your hands. The same is true for shoes.There are many gents out there who will love to have their standard Oxford shoes in soft Italian leather. You can tempt the ladies with similar decadent choices :).
  • Making designer shoes. If along with the fabric you offer original shoe designs, you will be taking the next step in creating a super brand value for your products. That is definitely going to help pull the customers in.

The above points are relevant factors in the success of your custom shoe business. You might live in a place where not too many retail shoe outlets are present, or you may live in a larger city where there are plenty.

Whatever your research shows as the potential market for a shoe business, effective marketing and promoting the above points will get in more sales.

Potential for Diversification

Once you get into making shoes, and cutting different materials and fabrics like leather and canvas, a whole range of other possibilities open up for you. Just like a plastic or metal manufacturing unit that can expand their product line simply by getting more casts to make more shapes, you can make so much more using the same materials and essentially the same sewing and gluing techniques, things like handbags and fashion accessories like belts. The good news is that these too are hot selling and best selling craft products. 

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