Off on the Right Foot

Off on the Right Foot

20.04.2016 News
Friedl, Hanwag’s shoe designer, explains the various steps
that a new Hanwag shoe goes through before it goes into production.

1. The Idea

The starting point with all our footwear is what kind of shoe do people need? We collect ideas and suggestions from customers, from retailers, from Hanwag ProTeam members and our own sources of inspiration. Once an idea starts to take shape, we examine it to see if it really makes sense. Does it fit with the Hanwag brand? Flips flops, for example, are not exactly our thing. Do we have the necessary expertise to make such a model? Are we able to make a better product than the competition?

2. The Basic Design

Our customers want footwear that does the job. The best boots and shoes are the ones that you forget about while you are wearing them. To make this possible, we have to combine a number of different factors. We need the right materials, the right construction, the right design for the activity in question and last, but not least, the right skills and expertise. Which last will we use? What will the midsole and the outsole be made of? What is the upper to be made of? How stiff should the sole be? And so on.

3. The Drawing

The first step is to put pen to paper. I sketch out the design – normally several versions – showing the basic features of the new shoe. I then discuss it with my colleagues on the development team and refine and improve it. This process is generally repeated several times. We continue until we’re all happy that it’s time to turn the design into an actual shoe.

4. Computer Aided Design

Up until a few years ago, we would go from the drawing to the initial sample. We would trace out the individual pieces of leather by hand, cut them out by hand and stitch them together by hand. Today, my colleague Jens Fickenscher does all this with his CAD program (Computer Aided Design). It allows us to see the design on-screen. This makes it much easier to manipulate, to experiment with colours and – in particular – to alter the individual components to be cut using a laser cutter.

5. The Initial Sample

We make the upper for the initial sample either here in Vierkirchen or together with our joint venture in Croatia. We also endeavour to make sure that we have the corresponding sole unit ready. For existing soles this is generally no problem. However, where a model involves a new sole design, then we have to make compromises. It would be too expensive to justify making a completely new sole unit just for an initial sample.

6. The Prototype

To be honest, we’re rarely able to perfect the initial sample to the extent that we can present it outside of the development team. The first sample generally goes through several rounds of optimisation and improvements. We might alter the materials, the position or number of eyelets, the shape, the height of the upper or the stitching, etc. There lots of areas for potential errors. Once, these have been ironed out, we make up the prototype.

7. The Test Run

If we are making a completely new model, then I also make a sample for myself. I need to wear it to see what it feels like on my own feet. Next, we make up more first prototypes, which go to the ProTeam and Hanwag employees who spend large amounts of time up in the mountains. They provide the feedback we need to see how well the shoe performs in practise. Sometimes, suggestions for improvement are all very similar. However, we also get conflicting feedback and requirements. For example, some might feel that a particular model is too hard, while others might find it too soft.

8. The Presentation

We generally repeat step 6 and step 7 several times. By now, we are ready to present the new model properly for the first time at our international Sales Meeting. As a footwear designer, I’m always proud to see the results of my handiwork. At the same time though, I’m always slightly nervous, because it’s easy to criticize things and you can always make something better... In addition, we often find that different market sectors have a different take on a particular model. Sometimes it’s not that straightforward.

9. Pre-production

In extreme cases, a model might be rejected at the Sales Meeting. This is possible, especially if we’re not quite ready with a particular model. However, most new models get accepted and we go on to make up the salesman samples. These are the shoes that our sales personnel take to show retailers. We also present these versions at the trade shows. It’s this step that really determines whether a shoe gets made or not. Only when there are enough orders, will a shoe go into production.

10. Serial Production

Before manufacturing starts in Vierkirchen, Croatia or Hungary, there are final adjustments to be made. A buckle to re-align here, a midsole colour change there or the overall construction might be fine-tuned. Size scaling is a particularly complex issue. Ultimately, a new model should possess the same features, regardless of which size it is. In addition, it’s important that all the different components are ready and available to go to production at the same time. If there aren’t enough insoles in one particular colour, a solution can normally be found. However, if there’s a shortage of leather in a new colour or not enough outsoles things start to get complicated...