Shoes come in a variety of sizes and colors. Determining their quality, durability, and affordability relies on the materials used. While leather is often the material that comes to mind it’s not the factor. Some shoes are priced higher than expected due to the use of materials instead of non-sustainable ones. This blog post discusses both scenarios. Sheds light on why certain shoes have price tags. It also addresses questions about cruelty alternatives for those interested.

The selection of footwear materials is crucial in bringing your shoe design ideas to life! The shoe pattern itself isn’t the distinctive aspect; it’s all about the materials used! When learning how to make shoes or aspiring to become a shoe designer understanding how to specify footwear materials becomes essential.

You have an array of material options and colors, at your disposal to create your footwear masterpiece—whether it’s luxurious leathers, smooth mesh fabrics, or cutting-edge synthetics. As a shoe designer, careful consideration must be given when choosing materials that can withstand the demands of shoemaking or buying. 

We need to ensure that footwear meets the requirements for performance and manufacturing. It’s important to avoid using materials that tear easily during the lasting process or fade when exposed to sunlight. Let’s explore the process of selecting materials for footwear.

Factors for Shoe Design Materials:

When choosing materials, for your shoe projects it’s important to consider the shoe design brief. This brief helps define the type of shoe you’re creating whether it’s a ballet slipper for a dancer or work boots for lumberjacks. You’ll need to think about what kind of material is best for sneakers or running shoes and if you’re aiming for high-end footwear. Armed with your design brief and some background knowledge you can make decisions about which materials are suitable for your shoe designs.

There are materials used in shoemaking; leather, textiles, synthetics, rubber, foam, and plastic. Each material has its applications in footwear. Depending on your design goals each material will have a role to play in your shoes. Choosing the materials is an aspect of shoe design. Let’s take a tour of these used materials.

Picking Leather for Shoes

Cow leather is the choice when it comes to making shoes. It offers durability, flexibility, and stretchability. Comes in a range of styles, colors, and price points. Leather truly makes for functional footwear. Its character even changes as it ages! A high-quality leather shoe. Molds itself like no footwear option is available.

 Handcrafted leather shoes can truly be considered works of art crafted by shoemakers. However, it’s important to acknowledge that leather does have a drawback. It can be quite heavy and tends to get hot. Is prone to absorbing water and sustaining damage if not properly treated. The application of water waterproof treatments adds an expense. Additionally when compared to fabrics or synthetic materials leather is generally more expensive.

Requires handling throughout the shoe manufacturing process. This is because each piece of leather comes from an animal hide with variations in size as well as potential scars, imperfections, and even branding marks that must be avoided during cutting.

These unusable parts are known as cutting loss. In the case of leather cutting loss typically accounts for 5% of a hides area. However, for high-quality shoemaking using premium leather, this percentage can increase up to 15%. It’s disheartening to think that such a significant portion of the material cost ends up being discarded.

Leather is primarily sourced from animal hides such as goats, sheep, crocodiles, and snakes (among others) through tanning or chemical treatments. In the shoe-making industry specifically, it is recognized as the used raw material due to its durability and suppleness alongside its affordability and wrinkle-free nature.

Moreover, it offers flexibility and elasticity while effectively preventing wear and tear caused by abrasion. During summer months men greatly appreciate leather for its breathability which allows air circulation while also regulating temperature—a popular choice among male consumers as well as renowned shoemakers.

Choosing Textiles for Shoes

Shoes offer a range of textile options in terms of colors, weaves, knits, fibers, and deniers. Denier is the unit used to measure thread weight, with 1 denier equaling 1 gram per 9000 meters of thread.

Choosing Textiles for Shoes

Lightweight fabrics typically have a denier of 110D while shoe fabrics commonly range from 420D to 600D. Footwear textiles are available in fiber types such as cotton, wool, nylon, polyester, polypropylene, rayon, lycra, and many others. Each type has its appearance and physical properties.

Textiles play a role in shoe design due to their variety of weaves, colors, patterns, and special features. They are used both inside and outside footwear. Can even be found on the soles. Man-made polymer fibers like nylon and polyester offer a combination of lightness and durability. Lycra provides stretchability while cotton canvas is essential for vulcanized construction and has its appeal. Textiles have gained popularity as shoe materials since leather can be quite expensive to purchase. These fabrics come in colors and an array of varieties. 

Synthetic For Shoes

Synthetic leather, also known as PU leather or just PU has become a component of sports shoes. This material offers shoe designers a range of options in terms of colors, textures, and features available, at price points. In the past it was considered cheap and unsuitable for high-quality shoes; however, times have changed! These man-made materials are typically composed of two layers; a backing layer made of nonwoven polyester fibers and an external surface created through either a “dry” lamination process or a liquid “wet” process.

Some of the synthetics have a fibrous woven backing with PVC skin produced using a wet process. The surface texture of these materials may not be entirely smooth which could result in wrinkles and creases appearing on the shoes. Such materials are commonly found in priced footwear.

High-end synthetic leather starts with a water-resistant microfiber PU backing that boasts a smooth surface and can be easily cut to match the desired surface materials. This type of backing can be ordered in thicknesses ranging from 0.5 to 2.00mm. Offers some flexibility along with water properties. 

Polyurethane plastic film that is 0.2 to 0.5mm undergoes a production process and then the two layers are joined together through the application of heat and pressure. The outer layer of the polyurethane is customized through printing, embossing, scuffing, or polishing techniques to create a range of surface options.

The leading polyurethane manufacturer offers hundreds of embossing patterns that can be applied to surface variations. As long as you can meet the required order volume you have the freedom to choose any color you desire! In an article, we will delve deeper into materials. They offer durability, cost-effectiveness, maintenance requirements, and an appealing texture, and most importantly they do not suffer from issues, like peeling and cracking that genuine leather does.


There are types of foam that are used in the manufacturing of shoes. Today we will discuss the types of foam that can be found in shoes. Generally, foam can be categorized into two groups; “Open Cell” and “Closed Cell” foam. Open cell foam is just as it sounds. The plastic material that forms the cells of the foam is open allowing air and water to freely enter and exit, similar to a sponge used for dishwashing.

On the other hand, closed-cell foam is quite the opposite; each cell is. Closed off preventing gas from escaping within the foam structure. Open-cell foam permits air and water to pass through while closed-cell foam blocks off these cells and retains all gasses inside. You may come across a term for cells called KFF, which is often found on shoe collars and tongues.


In sports-related footwear production rubber soled shoes are commonly made using this type of material. Tennis shoes and running shoes serve as examples of footwear with rubber soles. Natural rubber shoes come in styles well. Unlike leather-soled shoes that are more suitable for summer wear only rubber-soled shoes are versatile, throughout all seasons. Whether it’s snowing or raining outside your durable rubber-soled shoe will ensure you reach your destination safely.

Rubber sole shoes are also more affordable compared to leather shoes. Moreover, natural rubber has gained popularity over polyester due to its friendly properties over time.


There isn’t one material that is considered the best, for all types of shoes. The ideal material for a running shoe may not be suitable for a work boot. The shoe designer, footwear developer, and product manager must collaborate to select materials based on factors such, as price, performance, durability, duty rates, comfort, and style. Each shoe will have its set of material requirements.

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