How Can I Start My Own Sneaker Company?

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Your mom wanted you to be a a doctor. Dad pushed you to emulate Uncle Bernie, the accountant. But your passion for fashion design--particularly footwear--won't be denied and you're willing to bet the farm on sneakers. Launch your company with a solid plan. Control everything from design to marketing. Make your mark in the competitive sneaker industry and some day, both Mom and Dad will compete for bragging rights.

Things You'll Need

  • Design degree
  • Brand identity
  • Computer
  • CAD software
  • Design portfolio
  • Funding
  • Business plan
  • Manufacturer
  • Take classes in fashion design with an emphasis on footwear. Master drawing sneaker designs using sketchpad and pencils or use computer assisted design (CAD) software so you can render in 3D. Study color trends and your competition. Find a part-time job in sneaker sales or, if feasible, at a sneaker manufacturing plant to see what goes into taking footwear from design to shoebox. Build a portfolio of designs aimed at your target market.

  • Write a business plan that includes your goals and objectives and devise an operational plan for the manufacture, marketing and distribution of your sneaker brand. Importantly, construct financial models--graphs and charts that show wholesale revenue potential, manufacturing cost and retail markup estimates, plus anticipated profit margins--that describe your vision for making and selling product.

  • Turn to venture capitalists and lending institutions for underwriting. Consider offering angels a piece of the action in return for their financial help. Hire an attorney to draft a legal agreement so there are no ambiguities about return on investment, the amount of control investors may exercise and full disclosure of business finances and practices.

  • Master the sneaker pricing markup structure. To determine retail, the usual way is doubling the manufacturer's cost, or multiplying the landed cost of a pair of sneakers times five, if importing. Cut that in half to estimate wholesale price. Contract with a manufacturer to produce sneakers after applying due diligence to domestic and foreign plants to obtain best pricing, quality and return policies.

  • Safeguard your sneaker enterprise through building checks and balances into your contract with your manufacturer. This way you always have leverage when it comes to returning poorly-made product. Stipulate strict delivery deadline parameters so you don't suffer repercussions from late deliveries that can ruin relationships with retailers.

  • Become your own best sales star by personally representing your company to distributors, wholesalers, retailers and the media. Think about the personality-driven marketing tactics designers use to set their brands apart, but if you abhor CEO talking heads on the ground and in the media, defer to your instincts and hire a sales pro who unapologetically loves both sneakers and money.

  • Protect your proprietary sneaker designs. File for copyright, trademark or registration marks and display these symbols on everything associated with your footwear: sneakers, packaging, ads and more. Maximize your advertising and promotional efforts through choosing venues and publications your target audience favors.

  • Plan to grow at a reasonable pace. Spending too much time or money on whims and hunches can sabotage your start-up. Remember that you have a duty to the folks who believed in you enough to get you started with their infusions of cash and support; thus, limit risky ideas to sneaker design, not business maneuvers.

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