Trials & Tribulations of a Footwear Designer


Photo Credit: Joe Raedle

Trip to the Shoe Repairman

Since moving to the West Coast and my last factory visit, I accumulated a bag of heels, boots and flats all in need of repair. The days of having my team technician replace an outsole, top lift or even fix a broken heel has been long. Dreaded was the day I knew I would have to visit a local repairman as it would mean building a new relationship and from experience I am very aware of all it involves.
Seven years designing & developing footwear in various countries I learned to be ‘passionately detached’ to first protos. You get really excited about a design you sketch and detail so beautifully then you open the shoebox and your heart sinks when the proto received is so far from what you communicated. This would happen for at least 3 styles per collection and you never really knew which it would be. As heartbreaking as it was, I understood it to be part of the relationship building and development process.

The Drop-off
So the day arrived when I really needed to find a repairman. I was to attend an important meeting and wanted to wear my favorite pair of Jill Sander winter white patent slingback pumps. To be sure I found the right shop, I called the holy grail of footwear supply stores which happens to be in my neighborhood. He gave me a referral and I went right away to the shop, Jill Sanders in hand. I figured I would see how he does with this one before sending more his way, you know step-by-step. I spoke with the owner explaining the three main details to be repaired: replacement of the leather outsole on the platform, new top lifts, and lightly clean marks. He reported back that he could do it and quoted a steep price. I left feeling good (despite the price) that I was clear communicating the work to be done.

The Pickup
I arrived and was handed my Jill Sander pumps and my heart sank. As my heart pumped I was taken back to being in the office opening a shoebox to find a very scary-looking proto staring back at me. Back to the countless times growing up family members and friends would tell me “you are too picky, just accept it the way it is”. At that point I decided to ‘check’ my emotions and doubts, instead trust my eyes and focus on the main red flags on my, now sad looking, Jill Sanders. I proceeded to explain to the repairman my main concerns:

  1. The beautiful patent leather luster quality was gone. I now realize that this was due to him applying paint to coverup marks!
  2. The top lift was at least 3mm larger than heel itself, the color was distracting but acceptable.
  3. There was now a third color spotted throughout the shoe!

Unwanted Advice
As the repairman tells me his part, his partner decides to take my shoes and clean off the excess top lift; a major detail that should have been caught. I then hear grunts to my side. Turning to my right I make eye-contact with an older woman you proceeds to tell me “sweetie, you can’t have perfection in life” and rudely asks if she can go ahead of me since I was taking so long. At this point I thought I was transported to the twilight zone, I had a few choice words to shoot off at her but being raised to respect elders I addressed her in a graceful, diplomatic fashion. She then huffed some more, threw a colorful word at me and left.

The Conclusion
I could tell the repairman was sincere in his efforts; however, major details were overlooked resulting in a watered down version of my favorite Jill Sander pumps. I left with a discount on the service and lessons learned.

  1. Always trust my instincts and abilities. I knew not to suggest cleaning the patent. I have always found success removing marks my way but for some reason thought he would know a better way.
  2. Don’t let what people think of you taint your vision. Instead filter out the fluff and focus on creating your unique vision.

Anyone here in the Los Angeles area with a repairman they love?
Share, please! I have a bag full of shoes in need of repair.




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