In the journey to create and build a footwear brand, there are many questions that arise, from big-picture quandaries such as what do I offer the market to the more granular topics around production, marketing and retail distribution.
In the FN x FIT Footwear Business Foundations educational course, powered by Yellowbrick, industry experts seek to answer all of those questions from start to finish by providing “a comprehensive educational program that takes a deep dive into what makes a footwear company successful and teaches the skills needed to build a brand from the ground up.”
In the first module of the program, participants gained insight into the evolution of the footwear industry, various business models, as well as how to develop a team that will embrace and execute on the brand vision.
Module 2, “Managing Footwear Production,” which is available now, delves into the nuances of the design and production process, offering vital knowledge for any successful shoe business.
Below are three essential questions that experts answer during the sessions:
What Is a Tech Pack?
Tech packs — or, as they’re sometimes called, spec sheets — are the instructions for the factory outlining each aspect of a product. “They’re like a contract with your factory,” says Sarah Mullins, assistant chair of the footwear & accessories design program at FIT. “You are going to inform the factory of every single detail in that shoe, from materials to midsole, outsole, sock lining, lining, type of stitch, type of thread, logo placement, fabrication — is it welded, is it stitched, is it molded. All of that information is in that tech pack, and what you don’t put in there will not be added by the factory.”
She adds that it’s important to be very specific in your instructions in the tech packs. “You know, if you don’t include the thread color, you get whatever thread colors on the machine,” says Mullins. And brands may miss out on an opportunity in the marketplace, she notes. “I always tell our students any information you don’t put in your tech pack, somebody else is going to come up with what’s missing.”
What Is a SKU?
A SKU, or “stock-keeping unit” is a code assigned to individual products and is generally associated with a scannable bar code. Maggie Beatty, director of operations for Jessica Rich Designer Shoes explains that SKUs help differentiate between the different styles in your inventory, with unique codes assigned according to the different sizes, colors and technical features. It also has universal functionality. “The great reason for using a SKU for communicating with factories is that it’s usually a number and letter combination, so it translates easily between different languages and it’s easy to track — it’s not words that might confuse people.”
SKUs and bar codes also are essential for tracking sales results and planning for the future. “It’s very important to watch the data that comes through associated with each SKU,” says Beatty. “You can keep track of which style sell better, or which colors or sizing sell better. [That’s] how you’ll make your projections in manufacturing and [determine] which sizes you’ll go heavier on and which sizes you need to go lighter on.”
How Do I Choose a Factory?
“For the young entrepreneur starting out, the factory partnership is one of the most critical decisions they will face in the beginning of their business,” says Michael Atmore, chief brand officer of Fairchild Media Group and editorial director of FN.
He notes that while many new designers will proudly boast they manufacture in the same factory as giants like Prada or Chanel, that relationship can sometimes backfire. “The concern there is that as a small designer, they’re going to be at the bottom of the priority ladder,” says Atmore. “You could get pushed aside, you will fall prey to all of the supply and demand issues that that factory is facing.”
For Chris Wichert, co-founder of the Koio shoe brand, it took time and patience to find their factory. He recalled that he and his business partner spent weeks traveling through Italy (alongside a friend who spoke Italian), meeting with factories until they found the right partner who understood and appreciated their idea for luxury sneakers.
And for Lisa Cronin-Arida, a creative director at Steve Madden, sometimes the answer is to work with multiple manufacturers depending on which type of footwear you’re designing. “Each factory most likely has their own specialty, and each country has their own specialty,” she says. “China’s really good at certain things. India is great at other things, and Brazil is great at other things. So when we’re we’re putting down all of our ideas on paper, then we know where we’re going to be sending each thing.”