Becoming a Shoe Designer: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a shoe designer? Get real job descriptions and salary info to see if becoming a shoe designer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Shoe Designer

One of the biggest appeals of becoming a shoe designer, particularly for creative individuals, is the imaginative work environment. Read on to weigh more pros and cons:

Pros of a Career as a Shoe Designer
Creativity is integral part of the job*
Fashion designers make above-average mean salaries ($73,690 as of May 2014)*
Opportunities for advancement to chief designer or creative director*
Travel opportunities for fashion shows or meetings with clients*

Cons of a Career as a Shoe Designer
Employment is expected to decline 3% for fashion designers from 2012-2022*
Most work opportunities are concentrated in New York and California*
Anonymity is a typical experience (most fashion designers, shoe designers included, are often unknown, even though their work may be highly visible)*
Irregular or long work hours may be required*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Shoe designers fall within the broader career title of fashion designers and, in fact, share many of the professional duties of individuals who design other items, such as apparel. Shoe designers may be required to sketch out their footwear designs, create a unifying theme for a footwear collection, evaluate larger fashion trends, visit trade shows and conduct presentations of their designs.

Job Prospects and Salary Info

Although it is difficult to hone in on specific employment information for shoe designers, the employment trends of fashion designers overall may be helpful. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), demand for designers overall is expected to decline by 3% from 2012-2022. That decline is mainly driven by a decrease in apparel manufacturing employment, which is expected to decline 51% in the same period.

In 2014, the mean annual wage of fashion designers, in general, was about $73,690. Beyond this estimate, it should be noted that the earnings of designers can vary widely, depending on factors such as employer, location and experience.

Career Paths and Specializations

Fashion designers typically start out working with patterns and sketches before taking on more advanced positions. It's important to note that fashion designers and shoe designers are not mutually exclusive, as individuals who start out designing apparel may branch out into designing other things, such as accessories and shoes. Some designers may start their own companies or gain employment at high-end fashion houses. Others can become department heads, creative directors or chief designers with large companies.

Career Skills and Requirements

Although postsecondary education is not necessarily required in order to become a shoe designer, many employers prefer candidates who at least hold bachelor's degrees in design or related fields. In addition to formal education, designers typically gain expertise through internship opportunities. There are no certification or licensure requirements for this occupation.

Useful Skills

You'll need to rely on a number of hard and soft skills to successfully complete your professional tasks. These may include:

  • The ability to take an artistic vision from the design stage to production
  • Attention to detail
  • Effective communication with professionals in a variety of sectors
  • Knowledge of design-related software systems
  • The ability to work effectively in teams

Job Postings from Real Employers

A December 2012 job search produced a range of job listings from employers seeking footwear designers. Many sought designers who held at least a bachelor's degree in design or a related field. A particular premium was placed on experience, with many employers looking for individuals with at least five years of relevant work under their belts. Below are some actual listings from that search:

  • A global footwear and apparel company based in Portland, OR, looked for a footwear designer with at least five years of design experience and a bachelor's degree in industrial design or a related field to work on developing a brand. The successful candidate would also have proficiency in various computerized design programs.
  • Another Portland, OR, footwear and apparel company sought a footwear category designer to supervise the design of one of its footwear lines. The successful candidate would hold at least a bachelor's degree in design, seven years of professional experience or some other adequate combination of education and experience. Responsibilities would go beyond design and into areas such as marketing, team management and trend analysis.
  • A San Francisco, CA, children's apparel and footwear company sought a shoe designer with at least a bachelor's degree and roughly seven years of experience in the retail industry. The employer also required applicants to hold experience in print design and Mac operating systems.

Standing Out in the Field

According to the BLS, fashion designers are often judged on the strength of their portfolios. For that reason, aspiring designers should compile portfolios that fully demonstrate their creativity and skill. A strong work ethic can also help designers stand out.

Participation in shoe design contests may lead to networking opportunities and recognition, which can help aspiring designers gain an edge in the field. A variety of competitions are hosted by apparel and footwear companies every year.

Other Careers to Consider

Graphic Designers

If you're looking for a field with stronger employment growth, consider becoming a graphic designer. Similar to shoe designers, these professionals need to have a good understanding of design-related software programs, and creativity is an important component of the job. Their responsibilities may include designing images or logos for products, selecting layouts for advertisements and presenting ideas to clients.

Graphic designers are typically required to hold a bachelor's degree in graphic design or a similar field. In addition, a portfolio of your best work is often required. According to the BLS, the number of employed graphic designers was expected to increase 13% from 2010-2020, which is about average compared to all other occupations. In 2011, the mean annual wage for these professionals nationwide was about $49,000, reports the BLS.

Sewers and Tailors

If you aren't interested in completing a postsecondary program but still want to work in the fashion industry, you may consider a career as a sewer or tailor. These professionals are typically trained on the job and/or through classes. They primarily measure clients for clothing, cut patterns and designs, hem garments and operate sewing machines.

According to the BLS, employment of sewers and tailors is not projected to grow by much, if at all, from 2010-2020. In 2011, the mean annual wage of tailors, dressmakers and custom sewers nationwide was about $29,000, according to the BLS.

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