Is becoming a ready-to-wear shoemaker right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do ready-to-wear shoemakers do?

Still unsure if becoming a ready-to-wear shoemaker is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a ready-to-wear shoemaker or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

How to become a Ready-to-Wear Shoemaker

Becoming a shoemaker demands passion, patience, and perseverance. The shoemaking trade does not have strict requirements in terms of degrees or certifications. It is often recognized and valued based on the reputation, skill, and craftsmanship of individual shoemakers rather than official credentials. However, acquiring relevant training and/or formal education can greatly benefit aspiring shoemakers and provide a solid foundation for their career. Here are the educational paths commonly pursued by individuals interested in becoming ready-to-wear shoemakers:

High School Diploma
Complete your high school education or an equivalent qualification. Focus on subjects like art, design, mathematics, physics, and chemistry, as they provide a foundation for understanding the principles of footwear design and manufacturing.

Research and Familiarize Yourself with Shoemaking
Begin by gaining a solid understanding of the craft of shoemaking. Read books, watch tutorials, and explore online resources to learn about the tools, techniques, and materials used in the trade. Familiarize yourself with different shoe styles, construction methods, and the history of shoemaking.

Acquire Basic Shoe Repair Skills
Gain practical experience in shoe repair and maintenance. This will help you develop a foundation in working with footwear, understanding its components, and familiarizing yourself with different types of shoes. Consider working or apprenticing at a shoe repair shop to gain hands-on experience.

Ready-to-Wear Shoemaking Apprenticeships and Mentorships
Apprenticeships and mentorship programs offer the opportunity to learn directly from experienced ready-to-wear shoemakers. By working alongside a master shoemaker, apprentices gain practical knowledge, refine their skills, and absorb the techniques, craftsmanship, and nuances of the trade. Apprenticeships typically involve a longer-term commitment, where you work and learn under the guidance of a skilled practitioner.

Build a Portfolio
As you develop your skills, start building a portfolio of your work. Document your shoe designs, completed projects, and any special techniques or innovations you've mastered. A strong portfolio will showcase your abilities and help you attract clients or secure employment opportunities.

Establish Your Own Workshop or Seek Employment
Decide whether you want to establish your own shoemaking business or work for an established shoemaker or brand. If you choose to go independent, set up your workshop, acquire the necessary tools and equipment, and establish a presence through marketing and networking. If you prefer employment, research and approach ready-to-wear shoemaking companies or manufacturers that align with your style and values.

Continual Learning and Improvement
The learning process in shoemaking is ongoing. Stay updated with industry trends, take short courses on specific aspects of shoemaking, and attend workshops, conferences, and seminars to expand your knowledge and skills. Seek feedback from peers and clients to continually refine your craft.

Formal Shoemaking Education
While formal education is not mandatory to become a ready-to-wear shoemaker, it can provide a structured learning environment, access to experienced instructors, and opportunities for networking and collaboration with peers.

Many specialized schools and workshops around the world offer courses and programs focused on shoemaking. These educational institutions provide hands-on training, covering various aspects of the craft, including pattern making, cutting, stitching, lasting, and finishing.

Some renowned schools include Cordwainers at London College of Fashion, Ars Sutoria in Milan, and the Shoe College / Université des Chaussures in New Orleans. Programs may range from a few weeks to several months in duration.

Below is an overview of the course units which comprise the Bachelor’s Degree (Honors) Cordwainers Footwear program, which runs for 90 weeks in full time mode. The program is divided into three stages over three academic years. Each stage lasts 30 weeks.

Stage 1

  • Introduction to Footwear
  • Product Design and Technologies
  • Product Creativity
  • Better Lives
  • Fashion Cultures and Histories

Stage 2

  • Professional Practice
  • Critical Issues in Fashion Research
  • Creative Design
  • Industry Project

Stage 3

  • Concept Vision
  • Contextualizing Your Practice
  • Concept Realization

On successful completion of Stage 2 students are offered the option of a professional placement leading to an extra qualification, the Diploma in Professional Studies.

The Diploma year is a single unit, undertaken as a form of full time study, with placement activity at its core. For those who take up the option of studying the Diploma, the experience is designed to be an integrated and assessed part of a student’s journey through the course. It allows students the opportunity to experience the atmosphere, pace, and discipline of working in the industry, through total involvement in the day-to-day activities of a company. It will build on the knowledge gathered through course work to practically demonstrate the roles and functions, and operations typical of the fashion industry and the student’s chosen specialism.

Two alternatives to a completing a formal program in footwear design and creation are undergraduate studies in industrial design or fine arts. These programs can provide a strong foundation in artistic skills, craftsmanship, and working with various materials, all of which are transferable to shoemaking.

Professional Organizations Supporting the Shoemaking Community
The following organizations cater to ready-to-wear shoemakers and the broader footwear industry, providing platforms for networking, professional development, and sharing knowledge and resources:

  • City & Guilds, a UK-based organization, offers certifications in shoemaking through their Leather Production and Craftsmanship program. These certifications cover various aspects of shoemaking, including pattern cutting, closing, and finishing.
  • The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, a livery company in the City of London, UK, has a long-standing history and tradition associated with the shoemaking craft. The company gets its name from ‘cordwain,’ the white leather produced from goatskin in Cordova, Spain.
  • The Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) is a trade association representing the footwear industry in the United States. It brings together footwear brands, retailers, manufacturers, and suppliers.
  • World Footwear is an international platform that provides information and news about the global footwear industry. It addresses various aspects of the industry, including manufacturing, retail, trade, and sustainability.
  • The British Footwear Association is a trade association based in the United Kingdom, representing manufacturers, designers, and suppliers in the footwear industry.
  • The Society of Shoemakers of New York is a non-profit organization which aims to promote the art and craft of shoemaking, preserve the heritage of shoemaking skills, and provide a collaboration platform for shoemakers.
  • The Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education is an employer led organization that supports technical education and apprenticeships in the United Kingdom.