Savvy Solutions: Stepping Out into the Footwear Industry

I have been sketching shoe designs and would like to begin producing a shoe line. Eventually, I would like to find a manufacturer in China but would like to start with a U.S.-based manufacturer. How do I begin to locate manufacturers?

–R. E.
Baton Rouge, LA

The three C’s are a must before you proceed: capital, clients, and costs. “What’s your budget?” asks Candra Palmer, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based custom shoe design business Artyce Footwear. “If you don’t have one, you’ve got a problem.”  How much you will need varies depending on the type of shoe you look to create as well as the producer’s terms. Palmer notes most U.S.-based factories work off cash. So, it’s not uncommon to need at least $25,000 to $50,000 set aside.  But in the last five years domestic companies have become more affordable and offer more skilled individuals compared to overseas, says Palmer. Also, utilizing homegrown resources affords you greater access to manage quality control and to build face-to-face relationships.

To find U.S.-based manufactures, attend industry tradeshows and scour through trade magazines; do the due dilingence to be sure you’ve found the proper fit. One industry member organization, The American Apparel & Footware Association (, provides resources, industry tools, and hosts events. Also, be realistic in your pursuits. “If you need to start off small do so,” Palmer urges. “Know your market, product, and client before you start producing anything.”

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Black Enterprise magazine.