Career as a shoe designer
Ailsa Jackson designs ladies' shoes and is the owner of a London-based business. She has just opened her first shop selling her own original designs. Ailsa finds time to market her shoes at trade fairs throughout the world.
What is your role as a shoe designer?
My job involves designing shoes and bags, seeing them through from concept to production, as well as controlling and implementing business strategies.
What does your career as a shoe designer involve?
Researching ideas for future collections is the first part of the design process, which can involve travelling anywhere in the world. After making some rough drawings in my sketch book, I compile a mood board, with inspiration for colour, fabric and shape taken from a range of sources including poems, pictures and people. The shoes may be made in soft leathers, or other fabrics such as raffia or silk.
I then design and develop the lasts and heels. The last is the model of the shoe, with the correct dimensions, that I sketch my design onto. This is then sent to the manufacturer who produces the shoe.
Are there any other aspects to your career as a shoe designer?
Attending fashion events and participating in trade fairs in New York, Las Vegas, London, Paris and Milan are all part of my job. I also hold regular meetings with my team in London, to discuss progress and to implement strategies for the growth of the business.
Promoting the brand is an important part of my work, involving regular interviews and events. I work in collaboration with fashion designers for fashion shows and also design and consult on collections for other brands.
Why did you decide to run your own business?
I wanted the chance to create my own designs. I was also challenged by the prospect of making shoes that were comfortable enough for women to wear during the day, and yet special enough to be worn in the evening.
What hours do you work?
Normally, I work from 8.30am to 6.30pm, but with the travel and running my own business, I regularly work longer hours.
What is the working environment like?
It's important to me that everyone in the company really enjoys their work. I make sure that it is a relaxed atmosphere and we play music in the background. I work with an assistant, a sales director, a finance director, the press office and my manufacturers.
What personal qualities and skills do you need for a career as a shoe designer?
You need to be artistically creative and to have a sound business mind. Most importantly, you need to really enjoy your work and be passionate about it. It also helps to have computer skills – we use creative computer packages such as Adobe Photoshop and Quark, alongside Word, Excel and Entourage.
Why did you choose this career as a shoe designer?
A shoe comprises 20 different components and I love the challenge of creating something beautiful but practical. Also, running the business allows me to be artistic in other areas.
What do you enjoy about your career as a shoe designer?
I love meeting so many different and interesting people.
How do you see your future?
I'm hoping to slowly expand the range and to see the business grow.
Ailsa's route to becoming a shoe designer
- BA (Hons) in Graphic and Media Design.
- Footwear design course.
- Designer at Jimmy Choo.
- Designer at Lulu Guinness.
- Short course in business management.
- Launched own collection.
Ailsa's shoe designer tips
- Learn as much as you can and don't expect to stop learning.
- People skills are very important.
Shoe designer related jobs
- Fashion/clothing designer
- Footwear designer
- Leather craftworker
- Product designer
- Retail buyer
- Textile designer
Salary of a shoe designer
- Footwear designers in their first job might earn around £14,000, rising to around £25,000 with some experience.
- Senior designers could earn between £30,000 and £40,000.
Career as a shoe designer
- A degree in footwear or product design is the usual way into this very competitive career. A portfolio of art work is essential, and many people complete a foundation course in art and design before their degree.
- Some universities offer degrees which include footwear design, including the London College of Fashion's BA Product Design and Development for the Fashion Industries and De Montfort University's BA (Hons) Footwear Design.
- The London College of Fashion offers a one-year diploma course in footwear design for those with experience in other areas, and an MA course in fashion footwear. Short courses are also available.
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