A Complete A-toZ
Footwear Design and
1- STARTING CODE BLACK
In 2015 I was commissioned by BASEMENT HQ to design a range of premium footwear collection under a new brand called CODE BLACK. Having met with the directors and the marketing team to get an insight on their business, I proposal a different design approach to their current collections that focussed more on the fine details of the products. I submitted a concept of 3 styles that acted as a foundation of the entire collection to come for 2015 Winter which I felt met their customer profile, identity and their style requirements.
Australia’s market is unfortunately behind the European and US market and it would be a mistake to take a totally new development approach to design and for this reason I maintained a safe, subtle difference to what is already on-demand in the local market while proposing a more revolutionary design approach once CODE BLACK safely enters the market place.
The 3 styles I chose were your
1. Chelsea Boots (high tops),
2. Classic Derby (Gibson Bucks) or Cap Toe
3. Chuck boots (Mid tops).
I took a minimalistic approach when design the range with a combination of 3 key elements – Style, Comfort and Identity.
One aspect I find works effectively when marketing or designing for the men’s market is for a man to feel you are wearing an exclusive piece of clothing or shoe. It’s important to keep the products commercial while also creating a sense of identity by what they wear. The customers you design for should hold feelings of exclusivity as though they are wearing a custom-made product specially made for them. This can be achieving by several different design techniques.
3- DESIGN INTENT
Designers much be aware pf how to make a commercial product that is already existing in the market place with many other brands come across as the preferred brand that has something more to offer the wearer at the same cost (if not less) but with more value. The approach here is to incorporate quality small details that are cost effective and raise the quality of the products (even if this may be a small stitch like or a unique branding placement).
My design intent was to modify premium Italian and European lasts that are well accepted by Australian men and recreate this last to a signature shape exclusive to the brand that gives the wearer a slightly better fit at the width and create a and overall look while slightly deepening the depth of the Midsole to allow for thicker cushioning and comfort while maintaining a shallow appearance. T
4- SMALL DETAILS, BIG IMPRESSION
Here I place emphasis on things that can be achieved without adding more to the manufacturing costs of the products, examples of these techniques are; uniform line work, clean stitch finishing, leather staining and airbrushing, , providing an extra pair of laces, branding eyelets or lace tips, flame burning the stitching just before packing, removal of excess glue or adhesives, steaming of suede or bleaching of certain fabrics that raise the bar on quality while using the same exact materials that are used by other brands but with more character and style.
5- EXTENDING THE GOOD LOOKS
Maintain the use of good quality joinery, zippers, rust proof connections and eyelets even if it means to pay slightly extra - The worst thing you can do for a product is to use a premium material, well stitched and within a short period of time the joineries give way or start to discolour.
6- BUILDING BLOCKS OF CUSTOMER DNA
I first study the current product line being produced by any brand and reverse engineer them with detail to identify potential improvements and quality issues that need to be addressed. I also make a point of studying the audience that a product is marketed to, to have a clear image of what I refer to as ‘Customer DNA’ that translates into form and function of a product that is preferred above the rest of the competing brands.
This DNA then allows me and my team to pick and choose what design features we want to incorporate by knowing exactly what the customer expects from a brand and what are things that they would like to see a footwear brand develop that is otherwise missing with existing products in the market. Here, it’s vital to identify everything that the target customer identifies with; their dress sense, their job, their preferred device, gadgets and brands they use daily (IPhone, Macs, Samsung etc) the car they drive, the grooming or styling products they use, the perfumes they use, the TV shows they watch, the type of sports they play, the type of magazines they read, the social media interaction, the type of restaurants they eat in, their hobbies and their dislikes, the type of partner they tend to have relationships with, the average age they tend to marry and start a family, they family ties, living arrangement etc…
A snippet from GQ Australia and Lynx with Omar discussing individuality and personal style. Investing time to study your target audience and their personal identity as a group helps design products that are almost always more successful because customers immediately are drawn to them and the products relate to their personal style. The more questions you as a design asks, the more your design work will gain grow in popularity and success in the market place
7- THE IMPORTANCE OF MOOD/STORY BOARDS
All answers to the above questions can be translated into design features or a particular style of shoe and further more creating what I refer to as the ‘Customer Visual Identity’ in the form of mood boards made of a collection of images that are closely related to how this customer looks, walks, stands, shaped and any other associated images that are part of the what makes this customer who he is..
8- DESIGN BY DNA
Take the question of ‘what type of Magazines the customer chooses to read’ – If the answers are magazines such as GQ, Men’s Health, Frankie, DETAIL etc… This type of customer is likely to be fashion conscious, fashion forwards and can appreciate excusive appeal, that cares about his appearance and health.
8.1- READING OF DNA EXAMPLE 1
For such a profile, you can almost propose to types of styles - A more hybrid sneaker that is a casual smart dress-code worn with fitted clothing that shows-off (in a proud and non-arrogant manner) his body form that he regularly trains at the gym to have, his rugged facial hair but well lined, his comb-over hair style that is often inspired from what he reads, his choice of subtle branded items, plain colours and ripped up black skinny denims and his bomber jacket.
8.2- READING OF DNA EXAMPLE 2
Another possible style would be an Oxford Wing-Tip brogue to compliment his daily tailored blazer, slim-fit collared button down shirts with a skinny tie and a tie clip, leather matching belt to the colour of the shoe and a contrasting chino that are slightly tucked up to show case this choice of designer coloured socks, his expensive watch, a ring, a bracelet and a possible aged-leather throw over-bag
9- RAISING THE BAR OF QUALITY
While remaining safe in developing a new product line with a new brand, the only approach I proposed to achieve is ‘re-spec’ing’ existing styles rather than redesign entirely. To introduce forecasted trends from Europe into the Australian market would be an error and to play catch up to the current competitors would be just as damaging even if your products are two weeks later into stores - The Australian market is not design driven unfortunately and are influenced by the large clothing companies as the fashion forward items that is 'the' items to wear if you want to come across as fashionably wise however there is a small market for men and women that seek fashion outside the dictated fashion norms which in my view has tremendous potentials to grow in Australia as a leading retail model (Producing niche, high quality, unique lifestyle pieces for very fashionable people that reject fast fashion and also reject high-end brands.
When ever I am asked to raise the quality of a product, I immediately start working on the material specification and reassign better materials that may either feel more comfortable or look premium, ages gracefuly, improve the brand placement and the toye of brand tags used, change outsole materials and reopen new moulds to improve the comfort, support and durability of the product while maintaining the familiar brand semantics. A trip out overseas to visit materialmanufactueres annually to
10- THE BRAND
11- THE lAST THAT SHAPES THE SHOE
I almost always refuse to create samples in China or overseas with most manufacturers. In my experience, this type of sample making produced from drawings that I provide them only results in my time and the clients time being wasted and disheartened. Mass manufacturers main goal is to produce products as fast as possible without too much attention to finishing quality (this standard is unfortunately set by multi-national brands that only intend to produce what I refer to as 'Disposable Fashion' at minimal selling cost to the mass market.
I commissioned my Footwear teacher, Robert Manilla who is one of the best Australian bookmaker with over 40years experience making mid-to-high end quality footwear for many brands to create a range of lasts that I required to built this range - The lasts needed to be perfect in fitting, comfort and form.
Custom made lasts improved both the fitting and the overall look for the products and this also gave the CODE BLACK brand a competitive edge, adding exclusivity in the shape rather than the same shapes and forms that are just repeated each season by all the other brands
Once I am satisfied with the form of the new lasts and testing the fittings, I then start to generate the pattern design and test different materials to stretch onto shape. The pattern lines of a shoe should always follow the continuous curvatures of the last that helps compliment the feet and sits nicely on the
12- SELECTING THE MANUFACTURER & THE HANDOVER
This stage of the design process is by far the most challenging if you introduce new construction methods of products that would otherwise speed through in the making. This phase takes some time to weed out the manufacturers with high ambitions to produce for you (if the projected numbers are promisingly high) but when it comes down to the actual work, they cannot deliver -
Inexperienced designers will place the blame of a bad sample or poor construction on the manufacturer but it's simply not the maker at fault rather the person who chose the makers to produce with too many high expectations and very little understanding of footwear manufacturer processes.
With each project, I will always go overseas with a complete hand-over package to the makers that includes:
-A last to be duplicated
-A pattern to be tested with the final selected material
-A specification sheet of materials
-A parts breakdown
-A physical material swatch and colour chart for each component
-Logo placement and finish instruction
-illustrations or sample patterns if need be that are complex to illustrate
Lastly, choosing the appropriate manufacturer can be simplified with a few key considerations:
-Don't ask the manufacturer to produce something that they have not produced before
-A men's footwear manufacturer is NOT the same as women's footwear manufacturer and while it's a good idea to work with the one manufacturer that can produce all your products and delivers to your quality standards, it's good practice to allow the manufacturer to work on what they know best - If they are a moccasin specialist, don't ask them to make you a Toe Cap design or anything else for that matter.
-Use an agent that is able to translate all your documentations and lease on the ground with the makers regarding your designs. Ideally choose an agent that has worked within the industry and talks the footwear lingo. I tend to work with local agents on every project having learnt the hard way when I took my own personal footwear project to be produced in Vietnam without a local to help me.
13- ONGOING CONSISTANCY AND DESIGN SEMANTICS
Think BMW and it's every familiar front grill and badge incorporated into the car throughout the companies history. As a footwear designer, I am passionate about creating legacy, not repetitive production and so why wouldn't I see each and every evolving design, be that a seasonal fashion line or more specialised footwear products that contain the same familiar design feature used consistently across the brand.
The use of design semantics is very important for a company that wants to hold unique features that remain exclusive to their brand and even as far as holding a design patent .
To be continued....