How to Start Your Own Shoe Brand

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Start Your Own Shoe Brand
Start Your Own Shoe Brand (Image: Photo by gigijin (Flickr))

The shoe industry in the United States rakes in about $25 billion per year according to "Research and Markets." Major brands such as Nike, Adidas and Reebok may rake in the big bucks each year, but the typical brand makes less than $100 million and employs about 90 workers. Retail outlets such as Foot Locker and Champs may represent the greatest outlets for shoe brands, but the industry rank and file work through smaller businesses. Your shoe brand needs to bring something fresh to this competitive market in order to reach the level of a Nike or Adidas in the future.

Use your business plan to explain your shoe brand's niche and target demographic. Your business will struggle if your shoe brand simply mimics models from Nike or Timberland. Create a model of your ideal customer and explain how your shoe brand will take this customer's business from established brands in the near future.

Seek investors in your shoe brand who are willing to stick by the company over the long term. A shoe brand that focuses on niches such as eco-friendly production and extreme sports can land traditional investors through an initial public offering (IPO). Your best bet with a more mainstream shoe brand is to seek venture capital and accept venture capitalist input in exchange for short-term funds.

Join industry groups such as the American Apparel and Footwear Association (APFA) to improve your visibility nationwide. The APFA is the main lobbying group for clothing and shoe brands in the United States, representing hundreds of businesses in the industry. Your APFA Footwear Membership offers access to marketing strategies, industry contacts and events unavailable to non-members. An APFA membership ranges from $1,100 to $31,850 per year, depending on annual revenues.

Select a brand name and logo that will be easy for consumers to remember. Your brand name should represent your views and background, using strong and concise language to make an impact on the public. Work with a graphic designer to create a logo involving the brand name to create visual recognition by prospective customers.

Look through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to determine if your proposed name and logo have been taken. Apply for a trademark from the federal agency to protect your shoe brand from infringement by competitors.

Develop a relationship with a skilled shoe designer to turn your ideas into shoe prototypes. Your recruitment should take place at fashion and art schools in your region to attract creative minds to your new shoe brand. Ask prospective designers to produce sketches of shoes based on your suggestions before choosing a design for your first shoe.

Outsource production of your shoe brand's prototypes and actual units to an outside company such as SoleTech. This rubber sole producer and shoe repair company has expanded into production to help smaller shoe companies meet customer demand. Select a shoe manufacturer that offers reasonable fees for small production runs until your business gains traction.

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Hire a limited staff to handle sales and administrative tasks as your shoe brand gets started. Your office staff should consist of a secretary and at least one sales person who can keep your brand growing from day one.

Calculate price points for each of your brand's shoes that balances production costs with profit. Your first line of shoes should run close to the cost of production to encourage retailers and consumers to try out your brand. As your brand puts out additional models, you can offer multiple price tiers to bolster your profits.

Attend industry events such as the WSA Show to sell your brand to retail buyers and industry insiders. The WSA Show is one of the largest events for shoe and clothing brands looking to get their products into stores worldwide. Look for regional events that are less expensive to attend to build your brand name before heading to the WSA Show and comparable events.

Tips & Warnings

  • Work with a website designer to create an interactive online store for your shoe brand. Your brand's website should give shoppers access to photos, product information and customizing options to create an experience similar to shopping in a shoe store. As your brand gets distribution and acclaim, post news about your company to the website for the benefit of avid fans.
  • Contact independent shoe stores in your area that may be overlooked when trying to gain distribution for your shoe brand. Young shoe brands often make the mistake of going after bigger retailers such as Foot Action and Champs without looking in their own backyards. If your shoe is picked up by a small shoe shop in town, you can use the hometown angle to sell your brand to area residents.

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