How can I find a shoe manufacturer?
So you have your design concept. You know the gap you want to fill in the footwear market, and now you want to find a shoe manufacturer who can make your designs. Finding a shoe factory seems like it should be easy, but you feel as though you are coming up against a series of brick walls.
Your messages to footwear factories are being ignored. When you find a shoe manufacturer who seems keen, they end up ghosting you. So how do you get them to take your shoe startup seriously?
I am going to tell you some truths which might be difficult to hear, but if you want to find the right shoe factory it is better to be armed with this knowledge. In fact, by the end of reading this article, you will be in a much better position to plan your shoe factory approaches.
Here are my shoe manufacturer finding tips:
Are you ready to speak to a shoe factory?
For most shoe entrepreneurs, design is the exciting part, so you naturally want to skip straight to designing. Your next thought is “I need to find a shoe manufacturer now”. If you want to save money, time, heartache, and get shoe factories to take you seriously, you need to first assess the business opportunity. Sounds dull? It really doesn’t have to be.
Make sure you have explored the following areas in-depth before even beginning the design process, and definitely before approaching a footwear manufacturer:
- Your customer – Who are they? What drives them to purchase shoes?
- Your competitors – Of course you are planning to create something unique, so may not think you have direct competitors, but your customers are buying their shoes from somewhere. Where are they buying them?
- Your sales model – How are you going to sell your products?
Still feeling a bit lost? My How to Start a Shoe Brand course guides you through the research you will need to complete to be clear on each of these elements.
What does a shoe manufacturer need to know?
Trying to get a shoe manufacturer to work with you is a bit like pitching to an investor. The shoe factory representative needs to believe in you, and your ability to develop a commercial shoe business. Some entrepreneurs are surprised when shoe makers don’t jump at the chance to work on their exciting project. In reality, most shoe manufacturers have worked with some difficult shoe startups in the past, and feel cautious about repeating that experience.
Some shoe factories simply don’t have the capacity – or perhaps the inclination – to work with entrepreneurs such as yourself.
A shoe factory or footwear sourcing agent is more compelled by the size of your market, than by the tiny details of your customer’s lifestyle. These are the elements they will be most interested in at first:
- What your product looks like, its construction and materials
- How many styles and colours you will require
- Projected volumes – how many pairs you think you will order from them in the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth seasons
- Target cost price – they don’t need to know your retail price – but they do need a properly calculated target cost price to work to
If the phrase “projected volumes” fills you with horror, don’t worry, you are just making educated guesses. There is a startup-friendly template for this included in the How to Start a Shoe Brand course. You also get a range planning guide to help you decide how many styles and colours to start off with, and a cost price calculator for wholesale and direct to consumer pricing.
Great, but how do I find a shoe manufacturer?
You need to know which country you want to manufacture in before starting your search. This will be based on your retail and cost price.
As a rough guide:
- Luxury or premium = Europe, USA
- Premium or mid-market = China, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Brazil, Mexico
- Value = Cambodia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Ethiopia
Of course there are many exceptions; there are luxury factories in China and mid-market factories in Cambodia etc.
LinkedIn is a good place to start. Find Sourcing is also a good option.
Should I use a sourcing agent or go direct to the factory?
The How to Start a Shoe Brand course goes into much more detail on finding a shoe manufacturer including:
- How to decide between using a sourcing agent or working directly with a factory
- Interviews with shoe brand founders who share their tips on how to find a good shoe factory
- A downloadable checklist of essential points you will need to find out about a manufacturer
I also recently recorded my “How to Find a Shoe Manufacturer” masterclass with special guest Marion Ayonote. To access the recording of this masterclass and get exclusive invites to live masterclasses, apply to join The Shoe Community.