This is NOT a quick “bla bla shoemaking” post
HOW TO START A SHOE BRAND IN ITALY
This is my ultimate to-do list on how to start a shoe brand in 2018.
This is NOT a quick “bla bla shoemaking” post.
Instead, you’re going to read about my tried and tested ways that got me where I am right now… a collection of 10+ styles, handcrafted shoes made in Italy with luxury qualities.
So let’s do this.
One of my favourite ways to add a special touch to my outfits has always been shoes.
Being a beach girl and sun chaser, sandals have always been THE essential item in my wardrobe.
So when living in Australia, you pretty much live summer all year around.. or close to it. But the kind of elegant flat sandals I was looking for, I couldn’t find anywhere. And if I did – they were the crazy expensive designer sandals kind.
I always had a passion for both shoes and the artisan craft. I prefer to buy a well-made product that has been ethically produced and that won’t fall apart after one season. After all I was born in East Germany where broken things were always fixed and re-used. Not everything was widely available and we valued the things we could buy and keep.
When I think about my own purchasing habits I know that I probably pay a little more here and there for clothing and shoes.
But many things I get to keep for years. Some of my shoes have been with me for 15 years. So naturally I wanted to design and create a product that is of higher quality. So I turned to Italy.
Different shoemaking regions
It’s helpful to understand that different regions in the world have a different way of working. Let’s take China for example. In China you have hundreds and hundreds of factories lined up and often they produce exactly the same kind of shoe or accessory. It’s overwhelming researching and selecting the best option for you. I produced samples and giveaways in China for different businesses. Chinese suppliers will often go over and above to help you find solutions. The Chinese factories want your business and they want to work with you. So they will try to help you find the right style, material or colour. I even had a factory once that did not produce a particular accessory for a product but to get the production order they researched their own network to find a suitable solution for it and bought it from another factory to provide the complete product to us.
Not so in Italy.
In Italy you will find many small factories. So when you’re thinking about how to start a shoe brand, the location can make a big difference.
In Italy shoe companies often have no website. As a result, it’s hard to track them down. These small family factories work with many small and larger supplier factories for all shoe components. In some cases Italian factories look after the whole process from prototyping to sample production to the production of your line. Then they are likely to look after the ordering of all components with their sub suppliers. But that’s not always the case. The first time I produced my samples I had to place purchase orders directly with 15+ different shoe suppliers from leathers to lasts, soles, and embellishments. It was a lengthy process. Some of these companies don’t even work with emails. The shoe industry in Italy is very fragmented. Shoe factories are spread out all over Italy. There are shoe hubs everywhere across the country. One of them is located in the Milan region, north and south of it, like Parabiago for example. That’s where my journey started.
So when you’re thinking about how to start a shoe brand, this will hopefully be helpful to you.
HOW TO START A SHOE BRAND IN ITALY
First things first. To start a project like this it’s important to break it down into milestones. Otherwise it can easily get overwhelming. And what happens then? You’ll never start.
Especially with a project this size you have a mountain of work ahead of you. So it’s important to take one step after the next.
So when I thought about starting my shoe project I knew I had to write down a few important points. I then would come back to them over the course of developing the line.
Sidenote: Where ever you want to start a shoe brand and develop your line, make sure you can communicate with suppliers and experts there. This is easier in China, Portugal and Spain as many of them are used to speaking English. This is a different story in Italy. If you don’t speak Italian, you won’t get very far. Therefore, your first step here would be to either find someone locally that you can work with, or learn Italian. That’s how I started. (I can recommend a fantastic teacher in Florence who teaches via Skype if you’re interested)
When you’re thinking about how to start a shoe brand
1. Have a point of difference
.. because there is SO much out there. So when you think about how to start a shoe brand it’s important to do your research before you go ahead. You might be missing something particular in the market that you can never find. And that’s where your research starts.
I knew instantly the type of sandal that I wanted to produce. It was the style and quality that I always wanted but could never afford. So in my case, a similar kind of sandals that I wanted was – to some extend – available in the market place. But they were out of reach for me because of their luxury price point. Ultimately, I wanted sandals that were comfortable and affordable but chic and special enough to elevate my casual everyday style. On the other hand I didn’t want statement shoes that made me feel overdressed at the playground.
So now ROCCAPINA designs sophisticated pieces that easily work with any wardrobe. They are made with high end materials and have enough ooomph to instantly create a polished style.. even if you’re wearing your ripped boyfriend jeans. Our womens flat sandals are city chic and stylish, yet equally comfortable for beach lovers.
So think about a point of difference in style and design or materials and put your own spin on things.
You can also focus on a particular target group that might be neglected by other brands such as glamorous fashion pieces for plus sized body types. You could also think about function and come up with new technical details that make all the difference. That this is possible even in a crowded market place shows the example of the new innovative running shoe brand ON founded in Switzerland with exceptional cushioning that has convinced experts in the field. I am curious to test them!
2. Find a name and register your business
Maybe you’ve had a name in mind forever, then you’re lucky. Otherwise a good place to start are people’s names or you might take a word that inspires you and turn it upside down.
In my case, I stumbled across the name ROCCAPINA on a beach holiday in Corsica. It’s a beautiful secluded little beach. ROCCAPINA is all about celebrating summer, and it’s a catchy name so I thought why not.
You should also register your business and business name in your country. If you have enough budget, definitely think about securing the trademark. This does get expensive so a good starting point is your own country or most important markets.
3. Define your customer
First, think about who you want to design for. Do you design for women (or men) like yourself? Maybe you have a muse that inspires you. Perhaps you have different target groups. That way, you have a red line that you can follow when designing new collections. Keeping your target market in mind will give you a lot of clarity when it comes to new shoe designs.
Another cricital element is the brand strategy for your line and how you want to position your line. This is very helpful as you move along. To be honest, I did scribble this down just a little in the beginning but did revisit this topic with a friend of mine who works in advertising and brand strategy. It’s very helpful and will provide you with a framework for all your product design and marketing communications.
4. Decide on quality and price point
Once you’ve nailed your target customer, think about price points.
Where does your customer shop? Potentially call up those retail outlets and ask them about their customer and their best-selling price points.
How much is your customer willing to spend on a pair of shoes?
Is she (or he) a fast fashion shopper that values trends and newness above everything else? Or – does quality come first.
So when you’re thinking about how to start a shoe brand, this is an important step.
In ROCCAPINA’s case our customer is a little older than what I initially thought. There’s no problem with that. It’s just helpful and important to understand who buys your product.
If you are predominantely selling online, it’s good to find ways to engage with your customer. In our case we have used popup stores and home sales parties to do this. Here I found that many women that bought ROCCAPINA sandals are 35+. This also allows me to get a better understanding of price points and what my customer is willing to spend on a pair of shoes. My customer wants comfort over trends, but values elegance – and refined features.
Here we provide quick and easy shoe designer business templates that help you save a ton of time and get started quickly.
5. Define your logo, develop your packaging
When you start your own shoe brand you will need to develop a logo and corporate identity. Or at the very least, decide on fonts and main colours for your label. You will need this to provide some guidance to website or graphic designers that will create your packaging design.
When it comes to packaging for shoes, you can choose the traditional route and create a simple shoe box branded with your logo. I always found shoe boxes to be such a waste of paper as most people don’t want to keep them so they are being thrown out. So my goal was to develop a shoe box that was nice enough for people to want to keep it. Either to keep their shoes in it or to store other things, like small bits and pieces or jewelry. I had many compliments on our shoe boxes so I think I achieved this goal.
6. Find a shoe producer
In most cases the quality and price point of your shoes will determine where you produce. If you want to produce affordable fast-fashion type of shoes at the best possible price, you will likely turn to Asia.
There are also fantastic options in Europe that come at a modest price point. If you want to support local factories, why not turn to Spain or Portugal? As an alternative to Italy, many luxury shoe brands have turned to Portugal over the last decade. I did some research here too and met some people. If you need help, contact us for advise.
So in my case, I went on to research shoemaking in Italy and to find an Italian shoe factory that would be able to produce the kind of summer sandals I had in mind. I started my shoe journey north of Milan, in Parabiago. I produced my first prototypes here. Then I worked with people in Tuscany. I worked with embellishment companies in the Veneto region. Now I ended up in San Mauro Pascoli where I produced my first line.
7. Create your shoe design
When it comes to designing your shoe line you have different options.
You can attend a shoe design course and create your own designs. Another option is to work with a design studio that you brief on the style you want. You could also look for a freelance fashion or shoe designer. This freelance designer should either already create designs that you like, ideally you can look at their portfolio – or have a good understanding of what you want to achieve and be capable to translate that into designs you like. Even large established brands work with freelance designers so there is no harm in doing that if drawing and sketching is not your thing. Remember – there is no stopping you. You can always find a solution to any problem that comes your way. Maybe it costs more money, maybe you have to learn new skills.. but anything is possible.
8. Last development
Once you have your designer ready to go it’s time to think about lasts.
The shoe last determines the shape, fit and form of your shoes. It’s a critical element of shoe design. You’ll find a detailed description here.
To start, you can visit a last producer in Italy. One of the well-known last producers in Italy that I worked with is Ifaba. This kind of company has a massive resource of lasts that have been developed over the years. You can pick and choose from their shoe last library, or you can develop your own last. If you brief one of their skilled developers they can generally show you some suitable options for the kind of shoe and design you want to achieve.
9. Prototyping & samples
Something I definitely had to learn, and still am learning, is to be patient.
Quality work takes time. You cannot whip up a beautifully crafted shoe in a few weeks.
Depending on the type of shoe you want to create, it takes more or less time.
I wanted to design shoes that are refined with embellishments. That means, that first I had to perfect my sandals which takes a good amount of time. Likely you can expect 3-4 rounds of prototyping. Nothing is ever perfect from the start so don’t get upset if things take time. This is a normal process in fashion and shoe design.
Then I had to source the embellishments, test them and finetune them. This takes equally as long.
If you decide on a more simpler kind of shoe, you likely will save time.
After the prototyping stage you will create samples. The industry standard for samples is a size 37. Therefore, shoe fittings are usually done with a size 37 and you have to find a suitable model. Since I built my line of sandals on a shoestring budget I couldn’t afford this. Well – it was not really a shoestring budget but I tried keeping costs down where possible. It was also important to me to try and test every shoe by myself as I am very critical when it comes to fit and comfort. So my prototypes and samples are always developed in a size 39.
Samples are developed after you have approved your prototypes. You can take the prototype to a shoe factory who will produce your samples. Depending on your distribution model you will need more or less samples. Essentially, if you work with agents, they will need samples. If you work with a sales manager, he or she will need samples. You will need samples for trade fairs and samples for PR purposes. You will likely need them in different sizes and colours. Not necessarily all samples will go into production.
10. Distribution & sales
Have you thought about your distribution model?
When I first discussed my idea with people they were concerned I would never be able to find a producer in Italy.
I was always most concerned about sales and distribution.
Correct, it is difficult to find a reliable production partner in Italy that produces the kind of shoe and quality you want. But in today’s crowded marketplace it is even more critical to decide on the right sales channel. So give this point some time when thinking about how to start your own shoe brand.
ROCCAPINA currently sells via it’s online shop and a handful of select retail boutiques. We also run popup stores. We have also tested private shoe sales parties that have worked really well for us.
I still hear many people with little experience online saying they will just sell their products online. I can only recommend: do your research, talk to people, read about digital brands. There is a reason why there is a trend in co-retailing and digital brands moving into retail spaces like Bulletin.
Your other options are to select a fashion sales agency or freelance agent. You could also start selling your line directly to wholesale accounts, boutiques and department stores.
It’s important to understand the differences between these channels. While online allows you to keep a bigger margin on your products compared to wholesale, it also means you have to invest much more into online marketing to make your shoe brand be seen online. You also need more manpower packing and shipping your products. You won’t believe how much time it takes to package a pair of shoes nicely!
11. Budget – How much money will you need to get started
Much more than you think.
Let me try and break it down for you. You need different buckets of money.
Depending on your sales model you will need a sizable number of samples for sales agents or sales reps. How much budget you need will to start a shoe brand also depends of the amount of styles and colours you create.
If you focus on direct selling through your website or own retail shop you need to pre-produce your entire collection. If you prefer wholesale, you first produce your sell-in samples and wait for your orders to come in.
How to start a shoe brand on a shoestring budget
Designer & Prototyping: €2000 – €5000
Samples: €1000 – €2000 (depending on quantities and the kind of quality you produce one pair can cost between €30-€150)
Cost for lasts: €300 – €2000 (depending on if you select exisiting lasts or develop your own)
Website: €3000 – €10.000
Marketing & PR: €2000 – XXX
When it comes to marketing spend let me reassure you, even basic activities will cost you more money than you think.
For example, if you want a blogger to review your shoe, you need to send a free sample and pay for shipping. If you want to be found online, you need to pay for SEO services (or learn about it to optimize your website yourself). For your popup stores you need leaflets or flyers. To create them you need a graphic designer and printer.
If you want magazines to write about your product you need to pitch them your story and send them samples (ideally). If you can’t do it yourself, you need a PR agency or freelancer. To get your story out there you need to be active on social media. In today’s digital age this means a large amount of beautiful content needs to be created. This brings me to my next budget point – photography.
Photography: €1500 – €5000 (depending on the type of quality and photography you need but likely you need to create product shots for your webshop and emotional campaign images for your homepage, brochures, flyers and social media.
Travel Costs: €2000 – €4000 (depending on your location and how often you have to visit your producers)
Sales: €1000 – €10.000 This is relevant mainly if you are thinking of working with agents or sales representatives. They don’t work for free.
These costs give you an idea and are a starting point. However it should be mentioned that if you really want to create impact, your costs for PR, marketing and SEO would be much higher.
There is a good chance I have forgotten some details here so I will come back and update over time.
So that’s how I prepared the launch of my shoe label.
Now it’s your turn.
There are different ways to start a shoe brand – which of these steps are you going to tackle first?
Let me know by leaving a quick comment below right now or send me an email.
Here we provide quick and easy shoe designer business templates that help you save a ton of time and get started quickly.
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PS. Shop our Elegant Flat Sandals here