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How to: Design a Shoe Collection

How To Aug 28, 2013

In the past I always used to wonder about the process of designing – how do you get from a tangle of ideas to a fully fledged and (hopefully) well executed collection? As many of you will know a few months ago I launched a shoe line in collaboration with Tony Bianco, and was so lucky (one of those dream-come-true moments) to get the opportunity to be involved in the process from inception to launch. The best thing was that the Tony Bianco team game me pretty much free reign on conceptualising and designing the shoes myself, allowing me to be true to what I liked. The steps below are my experience of putting together a shoe collection and I was so lucky to havethe whole TB team to back me up. If there are any shoe designers out there reading feel free to chip in along the way with anything I missed. Read on for a little run down on how our shoe collection came about.

How to: Design a Shoe Collection

1. Gather Inspiration ( 7 months prior to launch)

The first step in creating a collection of any sort is deciding on the common theme or inspiration you’ll base the pieces on. Without an underlying theme you may end up with a mis-matched set of pieces that aren’t cohesive (leaving people a bit like whuuut?). To decide on my inspiration I looked at lots of magazines and images I had saved over the years of things I liked to wear as well as DIY projects I had done. I then put together lots of mood boards – grouping certain ideas to see what popped out at me. One part of me wanted to do something completely out there and experimentative, but in the end I went with an idea that reflected my taste, the A/W season and the type of thing I love to wear.  Overall it was loosely inspired by french magazine editors – classic shapes and a colour palette of black, white, red and nude with simple but luxury details like curb chain, fringe and lacing.

2. Start Drawing (6 months before launch)

Although it’s possible to communicate ideas to a manufacturer or design team without doing any sketching (whether by hand or by computer), to me that seemed like the a risk, so although I’ve rarely done any sketching before (save for a period of constantly drawing  princesses in year 4), I did a little crash course in drawing shoes (and yes, the first few were horrendous).  You could say I created my own style but in the end I think it was the best way to convey my ideas. For anyone who thinks they can’t draw I’m proof that you definitely can if you practice. To start with I brainstormed more than 24 different designs based on my inspiration, from which we chose the ones we liked the best.

3. Review and Refine (6 months prior to launch)

Originally I had envisioned a few extra styles embellished with rhinestones (one of my favourite materials of the moment) but for clarity and cohesiveness of the collection we went with chain, fringing and lacing as the key details. Throughout the design process you have to make these decisions based on the cohesiveness of the collection, what you think people will like and what materials you can afford to use. It’s kind of like leaving one of your babies behind when you discard an idea and can feel a little brutal, but it’s worth it for a better set of designs at the end (at least you cross you fingers this will be the case).

4. Create & Assess Samples (5 months prior to launch)

Once you’ve decided on your chosen ideas, it’s time to create specs for the manufacturer to use to create the samples. These include all sorts of fancy shoe language like upper (the top part of the shoe) and last (the shape of the inside of the shoe) to determine exactly how the shoe will look in terms of both colour of all the different parts as well as construction. The specs are then given to the manufacturer and you hold your breath to see how the samples turn out.

5. Make changes (4 months prior to launch)

The manufacturer then provides you with samples of the styles so you can check them for aesthetics and fit. This is a really important step because even the best designs will likely need some tweaking. At this point we swapped out a few details so that they were true to what I had originally envisioned such as the colour and weight of the chain used.

6. Produce the line (3 months prior to launch)

This is pretty much a waiting step when the manufacturer goes away and creates all the styles for you – but you have to keep track of when they will be ready so you know the timeline for your promotions and launch.

7. Launch

As part of the launch we created a lookbook for the styles with my friend Margaret Zhang (talk about a fun day of shooting!) and I flew to Melbourne and hosted 3 DIY workshops. All in all loads of work but such an amazing process to be part of!

8. Celebrate!

Most designers will tell you that no matter how articulate you are about your ideas, there are always minor details you would change. As an author I know how true that is, but have to honestly say I was so happy with the way this collection turned out. Perhaps it was down the euphoria of seeing my name on the inside of a line of shoes – but all in all I couldn’t have been happier. I have to thank the TB team for giving me this opportunity – in my wildest dreams I never thought this would be something I would do (designing roadway systems and townhouses in my old job didn’t really prepare me for this!).

You can find the few remaining styles from the collection here and here.

In other news, it’s the last few days of the Share Style Win competition that Marg and I are judging, make sure you check out the website and enter by creating a look to win a $500 Visa debit card for you and 2 friends, as well items from the look you put together. Yay!

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