Storeroom to Boardroom: 7 Jobs In the Sneaker Industry and What They Involve
So, you want to take your passion for sneakers from hobby to occupation – and maybe eventually convert that into a lifelong career. Great!
The sneaker industry is one of the quickest growing fields in the world, with new jobs being created almost daily. For example, at time of writing, employment website Indeed currently has over 8000 sneaker-related jobs open for hire!
While roles and tasks can range from the mundane to the glitzy, each job can largely be broken down into three main overlapping categories. If you’re working in the sneaker industry, you’re making, selling, and/or communicating shoes.
Here are just seven particular jobs you can have in the sneaker industry, and the sort of work that’s involved in each. Good luck!
Before new sneakers hit the shop shelves, they go through multiple rounds of sampling and testing to ensure they meet brands’ stringent quality and performance needs. A lot can be tested remotely, such as GORE-TEX's waterproofing and weather resistance, but in the real world, things can be wildly different than the controlled conditions of a lab.
This is especially pertinent in performance footwear like running shoes, which go through specific and repeated stresses. So, brands employ product testers to do what the title says: test product. Beyond the simple metrics of comfort and fit, etc., product testers need to identify potential areas that can become defective or poorly designed, such as a misplaced upper seam or flex point. By recognising where things can go wrong, the product designers can then tweak the design to avoid these defects and, in turn, issue fewer refunds.
Recently, Tom Sachs selected members of the public to help wear-test his NIKECRAFT Mars Yard, which provided him with invaluable real-world data about the features and flaws of the design.
This particular title comes straight from Nike HQ at Beaverton, Oregon, but other brands likely have a similar role. The Innovation Engineer works towards implementing the very latest (and future) cutting-edge technology into products, namely footwear, but sometimes sole tech can end up in apparel and vice versa, such as Flyknit.
The path to becoming an Innovation Engineer isn’t typical of other jobs in the sneaker industry. It seems more likely that the role is filled by scientists and engineers who also happen to have a passion for footwear. As such, this high-level job requires a background in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
And that’s not all that’s needed. For example, a Nike Innovation Engineer working in the Cushioning Innovation Process Team will already have prior experience with complex equipment, 2D and 3D design, among other skills, before taking on new knowledge like polymer processing techniques! It takes years of devotion and study.
As the title suggests, designers are responsible for all your favourite sneakers. Whether they’re operating as an individual or within a team, designers create new products (or sometimes recreate them) for a number of reasons. Some of the most common include implementing the latest technology, such as the Nike Space Hippie line. While others rework old blueprints for a new audience, like the truer-to-OG Air Presto.
The past decade has seen the emergence of footwear design academies like PENSOLE, whose programs can really get your foot in door. But the path to becoming a sneaker designer isn’t always linear. Did you know Tinker Hatfield was originally an architecture graduate before he went on to design dozens of Nike’s most iconic sneakers?
However, landing a design job at one of the big brands is an extremely contested position. Few succeed, and many fail. But, you’ll never know if you never try.
Buying is a frequently found role on the retail side of the sneaker industry. Buyers choose which product lines and new brands a business wants to carry for the upcoming season/s. Sounds pretty easy, right? Just buy up all of the hyped releases and call it a day – nope!
Getting the one big Nike SB or Jordan release isn’t going to keep the lights on. A good buyer strikes the balance and chooses to buy bread-and-butter GRs that sell well, in addition to hyped releases that build brand presence. In turn, strong performances give brands incentives to offer retailers a particularly coveted release, or even their very own collaboration!
The best buyers are often those who started on the shop floor and worked their way up, giving them an up-to-date understanding of what the market wants, but also an analytical mind to balance the numbers. For example, John Brotherhood has been buying for Footpatrol for over a decade, and has helped net the boutique some pretty sweet colabs along the way!
And, if it isn’t already hard enough, buyers need to choose the styles that they think will be hot up to 12 months before they even hit shelves! It can be pretty risky sometimes, but the payoff is huge, as a good buy can really influence consumer trends, and the sneaker industry as a whole.
Of the jobs included on this list, writing about sneakers is perhaps the most autonomous. Almost anyone can become a sneaker writer if they have a blog and an opinion. But, under a more professional and regimented organisation, sneaker writers are penning everything from snappy release blogs to long-form historical deep dive features. Or, they’re just jumping online to bicker with other sneaker writers.
Getting started with writing is easy, and you can DIY, but turning that into a full-time occupation is far from an exact science. Like any creative pursuit, it takes time, dedication, and a lot of knockbacks. Many writers start off as freelancers or interns with their own blog pages, occasionally contributing articles here and there. While others can land an editorial gig for a boutique retailer en route to a full-time writing job. There’s no one exact way to do it.
A picture may tell a thousand words – but someone’s gotta write them!
Visual merchandising (VM) is the art form of optimising spaces to better sell products. While VMs aren’t exclusive to the sneaker industry, some of the most exciting examples of product marketing have been tied to footwear. It can involve creating window displays to showcase the latest products, or even redesigning an entire space for a pop-up.
VMs arguably have one of the most exciting yet stressful jobs. Displays and props often have to be custom made for each shopfront and product, which keeps things interesting but also very challenging!
Despite VM largely being the domain of physical storefronts, the e-commerce side of the sneaker industry has exercised similar practices. Changes like effective website design or interactive page elements can all be considered good VM.
The potentially humbling experience of working in footwear retail has been detailed here before. However, for many, a job as a sales assistant is often the first step towards a career in the sneaker industry.
Instant perks include sweet discounts on even sweeter kicks, as well as insider info on upcoming drops, which should already be enticing enough of a reason to drop off a resume. If you stick it out, you pick up valuable industry experience and gain hard-earned understanding that can only be obtained firsthand on the shop floor. An innate knowledge of consumer trends, and market regions, are some of the things you’ll pick up.
There’s also plenty of transferrable talent that’ll remain with you for life, especially when working within the sneaker industry. If you’ve got the skills to sell sneakers, know that you’ll be using that same verbal dexterity to pitch your next big sneaker design or feature article to the higher ups.
The more people involved in the sneaker industry, the merrier! With a larger workforce, there can be even more cool footwear concepts becoming a reality. Search up ‘sneakers’ on your local job hunting site, and see where it takes you…