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Real Life: The Struggles Of Building A Footwear Brand

Starting a business could either be the single most terrifying thing on the planet or the most liberating thing. After years of expressing my love for shoes through conceptual sketches and proof of my helpless addiction peeking through the crack of my closet door, I decided to start a footwear brand called Molly. It was kind of a no-brainer… Girl loves shoes. Girl draws shoes. Girl should make shoes.
Hmm… Sounds about right.

But! Life hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows since I made the decision to embark on this journey. The universe sure has a way of stalling dreams.

One day you wake up full of life, eager and willing to do whatever it takes to get your designs on department store shelves like Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom, and the next you’re going bonkers and low on hope because great quality footwear manufacturers seem to only exist halfway across the world. Bummer.

Through tons of tireless research, I discovered relatively quicker, more thrilling alternatives and techniques to creating luxurious shoes… The sunshine after the storm. Since many of us creatives struggle with optimism, I decided to share some of the many obstacles I’ve faced and how exactly I overcame these little hiccups.

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As with most things in life, the first rule of action is to plan. Plan a budget, plan a timeline, plan an execution, plan, plan, and plan.

I won’t get into too many details about budget planning cause I’m not here to bore you, but after doing a little math I found myself looking at a little over $20,000 to partner up with manufacturers overseas, provide the best packaging, among many other things, to start a small-scale brand that truly captures the beauty and quality I envision for my shoes. It was a little more than I’d initially budgeted for, so I racked up ideas in my brain to find ways around this obstacle in the mean time and landed myself on something even better- The Art & Sole Academy in Toronto. Jackpot!

A quick and perfectly guided shoe-making course where I got to use my bare hands and actually learn how to make shoes versus paying out of pocket to a bunch of strangers in lab coats overseas that I might never meet? Uh duh! Sign me up. After all, saving tons of money while acquiring a new skill set for life could only be gratifying.

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Ever heard the saying “the last comes first”? If you haven’t, here’s the definition in a nutshell: You can’t make a shoe without a last. These are blocks of plastic or wood that are moulded to create specific footwear styles. For example, if you were to create your version of Christian Louboutin’s famous Pigalles, you would need a pointed-toe last.

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Christian Louboutin Pigalle (Left); Pointed-toe last (Right)

Now with that being said, in order for me to make a full size run of pointed-toe, round-toe, square-toe, or whatever my heart desires really, I would need to purchase the last in every shape AND size. Yay! More money :/

Finding a supplier for lasts was one of the most frustrating things I could imagine because:

  1. I NEED lasts to make shoes.
  2. I couldn’t (and still can’t) find a company in Ontario, Canada, that makes lasts for shoemakers. Meaning I would always have to outsource supplies from a company overseas.

At some point I even found myself ridiculously close to wiring $900 to a “company” I still believe is a scam *rolls eyes to the back of my head* despite reading the negative reviews about it. Yes, I was that desperate. Luckily, I found a company in Montreal, Quebec called Lonsdale Leather where I was able to purchase 2 variations of lasts to start off with. Two down, a gazillion more to go.

*Side note to my budding designers out there*

If you have a gut feeling that you’re about to be scammed, chances are you’re probably right. To put your intuition to the test, try to feel out the customer service of that website. For example, if the person responding seems a bit to eager to collect a payment, lacks knowledge or simply fails to respond (like in my experience), then the customer service will tell you more about the company than what is being said.

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I’ve never been one to pride myself on my time management skills. It’s not the best, but (as consolation), it’s really not the worst either. Splitting my time between work and school, along with trying to make time for what I love is a real bust! Half the time I’m spreading myself too thin and find myself on the verge of a breakdown.

So what’s the solution?

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A planner!

I know it sounds retro, like who even writes in planners when we have smart phones, right? But you’d be surprised the amount of clarity and productivity these bound pages bring into your life. And don’t worry, if you forget to use it every once in a while, remember: it happens! Just do your very best to plan efficiently and stay on track.

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To create shoes, you’ll need the tools and you’ll also need a relatively roomy location to move freely and create. For the first few weeks after embarking on my shoe-making chapter, I worked out of the Art & Sole Academy studio– a VERY convenient and accommodating experience, I must say.

BUT! Soon after my 10-day intensive came to an end, I realized it would be a bit more difficult than I imagined to create shoes from my apartment seeing as it’s designed mostly for living and not to serve the purpose of a workshop.

Nonetheless, I’ve decided to make the best out of what I’ve got and work with it.

The plan is then to create a shoe release strong enough to provide major financial returns so that the profits cover the cost of studio space. No biggie.
It’s a gradual process, but I have no doubt that I’ll get there soon.

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To all my introverts who wish social media marketing wasn’t a thing, you’re not alone. Emerging from our sacred territories into the online world can be terrifying. I mean not knowing what to post or when to share posts, how and when to respond to comments, struggling to build your following and my favourite, worrying about whether or not your content is likeable enough to be shared. It’s a love/hate relationship.

To me, social media was a relatively intimidating realm that I steered clear of for years- simply for the mere sake of protecting my mental bubble, but a change was needed. Once I began designing shoes, I forced myself to shed the fears of sharing myself with the rest of the world. I must admit that it was a somewhat liberating experience, but that’s a story for another day.

More than anything, I know the idea can be super nerve-wracking, but pace yourself, take notes from those you admire, follow their footsteps and don’t be afraid to go wild with the bookmark feature on your web browsers and Instagram. As much as it kills me to say this, we NEED social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to grow a business in this era so my advice: Just Do It.

Start up a page that expresses your sense of fashion and personal style so that it’s easier for people to put a face to your brand when you decide to go public.

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My worst and biggest struggle of them all- Imitation.

We hear the saying “Imitation is the best form of flattery” too often. That’s good and all, but when you’re still a nobody in the industry (like myself) you can’t afford to take the chances of bigger brands stealing your designs and passing them off as theirs. Believe me, it’s the hardest thing to go through as a creative knowing your hard work, genuine ideas and vision have all been stripped away from you without any form of compensation… so please, keep those beautiful sketches and ideas sacred until you’re ready for your stunning debut or better yet until you have your designs legally protected.

Ever encountered any struggles while building your brand? Share your personal experience in the comments below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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