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Want to be a shoe technologist?

A shoe technologist not only designs a footwear product as per fashion trends but also decides on the material to be used. Vandana Ramnani tells you more about this profession.

education Updated: Apr 28, 2010 09:39 IST
Vandana Ramnani

Michael Jackson made the Moonwalk famous. Bill McInnis designs and tests sports shoes that’ll almost convince you that you are sprinting on the moon. His children (10 and 12 years old) think his job is really cool... but his parents think it is ridiculous. They simply can’t believe that he gets paid to do what he does.

As managing director of advanced research and development product marketing for the Reebok brand, McInnis is responsible for the creation and positioning of technology with a focus on consumer benefit, function and price. He also oversees the development and launch of new technologically advanced products.

Prior to joining the company, he spent four years working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on the space shuttle programme where he managed engineering integration of the space shuttle, satellites and solid rocket boosters.

So, why did he decide to become a shoe technologist? “I had been working in the aerospace industry as an engineer on the space shuttle programme in the early ’90s. Some of the engineers from the original Apollo missions were still around the programme at that time and even after 30 years they were still fascinated and passionate about even the smallest details. I resolved to find something that I could be that passionate about and for me it happened to be athletic shoes (also, while far from being a professional, I was an athlete growing up),” he says.

Things did not end there. Though he was BS in mechanical engineering from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, McInnis went back to graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to do an MBA and while there worked on a project with a small athletic shoe company. “Those contacts led to an interview at Reebok. I wish I could say Reebok welcomed me with open arms but it took over a year and multiple interviews before I was hired,” he says.

What is his job like? No two days are similar for McInnis. His job involves spending a lot of time with designers and engineers, reviewing product designs and testing results. He also does a lot of research outside the footwear industry in generating new concepts. His latest product ZigTech was partially inspired by a Slinky toy. “My particular role extends into explaining our latest innovations to our sales groups and accounts, as well as briefings with marketing and our advertising agency. We also have a great headquarters campus here in Massachusetts in which I can personally test prototype products in our gymnasium. I try to get out at least a few times a week with our newest prototypes,” he says.

What does it take to become a shoe technologist? First, a strong passion for sports in general and athletic shoes in particular is most important. Being able to identify opportunities (and these often come disguised as problems) is equally important. Finally, being a good problem solver (engineering method helps here) counts because your first solution is rarely the correct one. There’s a lot of trial and error in getting to a final product so being a little stubborn is a good thing, he adds.

Finally, what is the rewarding thing about his job? There are a lot of ideas that get proposed for new concepts and they can come from anywhere in the company. In fact, from many ideas come a few good ones. “When a concept that you created survives the long design and development process (can be up to 24 months from idea to in-store) and becomes a hit in the market it’s very rewarding. The way the whole company comes together as a team when we launch a product is also a great feeling. You really feel part of something,” he adds with a smile. Surely, that’s the foot soldier talking.

What’s it about?
Shoes today have become more than just footwear. With growing demand therefore, the scope of work for a shoe technologist has also become wider. A shoe technologist not only designs a footwear product as per fashion trends but also decides on the material to be used. A technologist also uses the requisite technical know-how to enhance the performance of the footwear.

The Payoff
. In India, a trainee footwear designer/ footwear technician earns Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 3.5 lakh per annum
. An executive footwear designer/ footwear technician gets Rs 3.5 lakh to Rs 5.0 lakh per annum
. A manager earns Rs 5 lakh to Rs 7 lakh per annum

Skills
. A strong passion for sports in general and athletic shoes in particular is very important
. Identifying opportunities (and these often come disguised as problems) is important as well
. The tenacity of being a good problem solver (engineering methods help here) is critical because your first solution is rarely the correct one
. There’s a lot of trial and error in getting to a final product, so being a little stubborn is a good thing

Clock Work
Every day is different.
9 am: Reach office
10 am: Spend time with designers and engineers, reviewing product designs and testing results
12 pm: Research the footwear industry to generate new concepts
2 pm: Explain latest innovations to the sales groups and accounts, as well as brief the marketing and advertising agency
4 pm: Test the prototype of the product
7 pm: Go for a jog to test the newest prototype

How do I get there?
To start with, there are a lot of blogs and websites dedicated to the shoe industry. Exploring these and seeing if one feels as strongly about shoes as the people posting comments, will give one a sense of how well-suited one is for the job.

For a two-year PG diploma in management — footwear technology (PGDM-FT) from the Footwear Design and Development Institute (FDDI), graduation in any stream is a must.

Admission is through an All-India entrance exam.

Institutes & urls
The Footwear Design and Development Institute
. PG Diploma in Management - in footwear technology (PGDM-FT)
http://www.fddiindia.com/academics/academics.htm
Central Leather Research Institute, Chennai
. CAD course for footwear design
http://www.clri.org/
. Harcourt Butler Technological Institute, Kanpur
http://www.hbti.ac.in/

Pros & Cons


.

To think that someone somewhere is going home happy because of a product that you helped create is very rewarding


.

One gets to be one’s own shoe-tester


.

One does not always get one’s way. Some of what one may think is one’s best ideas may never see the light of day

Basic shoe Business

With global retail chains sourcing footwear from India, there is huge opportunity for footwear experts

What are the job opportunities in the footwear sector?
The footwear industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in India. India’s footwear retail market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of over 20 per cent from 2008 to 2011. India is the second largest producer of footwear after China, accounting for 14 per cent of footwear production of 14.52 billion pairs. Footwear is the engine of growth of the leather industry, currently accounting for an export value of US$ 1212 million, holding a major share of 41 per cent in India’s total leather trade. Considering this fact, by 2010-2011 footwear exports from India are expected to reach US$4.5 billion, where the overall exports of leather products will reach US$6.98 billion, wherein footwear alone will account for a share of 65 per cent in India’s total leather exports. Footwear is expected to comprise about 60 per cent of the total leather exports by 2011 from over 38 per cent in 2006-07.

With many global retail chains actively sourcing footwear from India, there is a huge opportunity for footwear designers, technicians and managers.

During the placement session held recently on campus, international luxury brand Louis Vuitton offered a package of Rs 5 lakh per annum to one of our students.

Skillsets required for becoming a shoe technologist?
Familiarity with the fashion industry, illustration skills, and broad knowledge of textiles, leather and materials and an understanding of shoe engineering are some of the baseline skills for becoming a shoe technologist. Proficiency with computer-assisted design (CAD) programmes and modelling software is also useful. In addition, strong marketing skills, an ability to analyse trends and basic business acumen are important for those wanting to start their own footwear lines.

What are some of your new tie-ups with foreign universities?
FDDI has recently signed a memorandum of understanding with ARS Sutoria, Italy and LDT Nagold, Germany.
At present, we have campuses operational at Noida and Fursatgunj (Rai Bareli). Besides these, there will be four new campuses at Chennai, Kolkata, Rohtak and Chhindwara functional from the new
session.

Rajeev Lakhara, managing director, Footwear Design and Development Institute (FDDI), Interviewed by Vandana Ramnani