Finding A Shoe Factory
I was asked yesterday ‘How do you know which factory to approach?" The Milan shoe fair is vast - 5 or 6 halls each the size of Olympia, each full of factory stands, each showing hundreds of shoes styles.
I started by selecting an exhibition-hall category likely to have a relevant price and style offering - the choice being Designer, Contemporary, Urban, etc.
The first five seconds on any stand are critical – basically, a quick scan around the shoes on offer, looking for the last-shapes (square toe) and assessing the quality and design capability. Quality of make was astonishingly variable; truly, why do some factories show samples of their capability that are covered in glue and production scuffs? Many were immediately a ‘no’ and I moved on. But every now and then I’d find a last shape or shoe design that might work.
Using a mobile phone as camera-note-book (forbidden, but no-one stopped me) I then approached someone on the stand, exchanged business cards, and worked through a pro-forma I’d drawn up with a list of important questions defined by a previous discussion with an industry guru I call Mike-The-Shoe.
Likely questions triaged factory feasibility from the outset – things like ‘Do you do Private Label?’ (ie would I be able to put my own brand marque in a shoe - a must), cost price, minimum runs, production time, repeat time and delivery options. The most astonishing thing was minimums, which varied from 8 to 1000. From my first visit, I identified 3 factory possibilities. The most difficult bit, frankly, was persuading factory owners that I was not just a bored housewife amusing myself by asking for a few samples - ie that samples would actually lead to me buying some volume production. It took three successive shows, identifying and targetting three factories before starting to work with one of them, based in Naples. Time to visit the factory!