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South Africa | Manufacturing| Showing growth
September 2015

What it takes to be

a shoe designer in SA

Chanelle Mac Allister spoke to Gordon Gassert about his career as footwear designer for the Jordan & Co brands Olympic and Bronx

It is widely believed that Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe said give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world. If Monroe’s quote rings true, we need people like Gordon Gassert, Product Developer at Jordan & Co, and one of South Africa’s leading shoe designers.

Born and raised in Cape Town, Gassert followed in his dad’s footsteps. “My father was one of the greats in his day,” says Gassert. “The shoe trade chooses you somehow! I believe it’s in my genes.”

He believes the best way to learn is to spend time on the factory floor in all departments and absorb as much knowledge as you can. “Each day has its problems and the more you know, the easier it is to find solutions,” he observes. There are, however, footwear design schools both locally and internationally.”

One of the brands he designs shoes for is the Olympic active footwear ranges for women, men and children. Gassert comments that once you’ve mastered the basics of shoe design, it not as challenging as people may think.

“As long as you know what the function of the shoe will be, i.e. casual wear, sport, etc. you can apply the necessary detail to create the shoe you need.

“The components you choose to use will determine the comfort of the shoe. A padded collar and tongue and a soft inner sock will make a massive difference to the comfort, compared to a shoe without those features.”

Gassert also enjoys designing rugged, street fashion men’s footwear and he has been working on the Bronx range for many years now.

“I adore shoes with attitude,” he says. “I love to use natural leathers that emphasise the defects such as tick marks, scratches etc. as this give the shoes a more natural, worn in look. Even though the shoes are mass produced, they each have a distinct look and feel due to the way the leathers pull up.”

Quality and comfort has been the foundation on which the Bronx brand has been built “and we incorporate these features in all our shoes,” he says. “Quality soles, padded collars and tongues, quality leathers and comfort socks all contribute to the making of a comfortable shoe.”

Gassert has a keen eye for identifying proportions, colour combinations and fashion trends.

“A sound knowledge of leather is essential, as is the ability to work in a team.”

Good knowledge of the market is important when predicting which designs will be most in demand in the future, he believes.

“You need to know who you are catering for, listen to customer feedback and know that anything too fancy will probably have limited sales value. Again, it depends on the kind of footwear you produce. A good basic will always boost your sales.”

As a designer, he follows trends on the Internet. “It’s critical to pick up on trends. International travel to the trade shows and fashion magazines should also give you a good idea of what is trending in the footwear world.” Gassert started his career in shoe designing by spending three years on the factory floor, learning the art of shoe manufacture.

“I then spent one year on pattern cutting, followed by 20 years of designing, which also includes selling, range building, sourcing leathers, soles and various other components, designing trims, labels and shaping lasts. I’ve also been lucky enough to travel the world through my job.”

His advice to those dreaming of giving people the right shoes to conquer the world, are simple: “Try to become an intern at a shoe factory to learn as much as you can about how shoes are made by spending time on the factory floor in each department.

“Once you understand the practical side, the design side will fall into place.”

The biggest challenge faced by a shoe designer is learning how to handle criticism of your designs, he adds. “Everyone likes to be told that their designs are great, but I’ve learned so much by listening to the critics and seeing where I went wrong.”

Gassert, is married with two daughters, two dogs and a cat. He spends his free time on family outings, allowing his Husky to take him for a walk. “We love outdoor activities.”

His ambition is to always create better ranges.

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