A complete list of basics about shoe uppers

what is a shoe upper?

The entire part of the shoe above the sole. One of the main components of a shoe helps hold the shoe onto the foot. Can be made in one piece or many pieces.

sport shoe upper components

Shoe upper components

  • Toe

The front-most part of the shoe. As this part of the shoe is prone to wear, the toe section is usually made of more hard-wearing material.

  • Vamp

The front part of the shoe, starts behind the toe, extending around the eyelets and tongue, and towards the back part of the shoe.

  • Tongue

The tongue generally refers to the part between the lower part of the shoelace and the upper part of the instep. Because its shape is a little like the tongue, it is called the tongue. The material color of the tongue will generally match the main color of the upper or the logo color or the shoelace.

  • Collar

The top edge of the quarter, where you insert your foot. This is often padded for extra comfort.

  • Eyelet

The holes where to put on your laces

  • Eyestay

The reinforcement pieces under the lace holes. Usually, an extra layer of eyelets on the outside of the shoe reinforces the lace holes and protects them from being easily deformed by the tightness of the laces.

  • Shoelace

It is a strap that is used to tie the inner and outer upper of the shoe, to decorate the upper, adjust the elasticity of the shoe, ensure ankle security, etc.

  • Quarter

The back part of the upper typically begins where the vamp finishes and wraps around the heel.

  • Counter

A piece of material forms the back of a shoe to give support and stiffen the material around the heel and help maintain the shape of the shoe. The counter helps strengthen the rear of the shoe.

  • Lining

A layer of lining on the inside of the shoe to make it more comfortable

shoe upper making process

  1. Raw materials procurement and warehousing

    • purchasing personnel purchase the required raw materials and hand them over to the raw materials staff to be counted and stocked.
    • The warehouse staff must check with the quality control department and the production department to ensure that the type, color, quantity, and quality of the material are correct.
  2. Raw material cutting

    • Cut out all the parts needed for the upper.
    • All cut components should be checked the quantity and quality and matched color by pairs and sizes.
  3. Processing of upper components

    • Place the cut parts neatly and wait for re-processing
    • Making the printing, skiving, stitching lining, reinforcing, amping, etc
    • Quality control staff carry out quality checks and collate and count quantities
  4. Stitching of the upper components

    • The process of the stitching will be designed according to the shoe upper pattern design.
    • If the capacity target is 1,500-2,000 pairs per day, then a stitching line should be equipped with 70-80 various machines and 70-80 skilled stitching workers, and 10-15 manual staff, for a total of 80-95 people.
    • Stitching operators should pay attention to the pitch of needles, width of edge, position of any attaching marks on the components while stitching.
    • The complete shoe uppers should be inspected the quantity by pair and size.
    • The finished uppers are handed over to each team’s quality inspector for quality checking by pair and size. Those that do not pass are reworked and re-operated. The qualified uppers are packed and marked with the name and quantity for the next operation.
    • This is the process of making the upper, here is the complete process of making the shoe for your reference. 

shoe upper price

Here is an overview of the main components of the upper price and how they vary from factory to factory. Main price components: Material costs, labor costs, overheads, other costs

  1. The price of raw materials has been very transparent in the shoemaking base with a perfect supply chain in China. Each factory has its own long-term cooperative suppliers. Basically follow the principle of large quantity better price, and the better the payment method, the better the price. Therefore, large factories will have more advantages in raw material procurement
  2. Labor costs vary according to the complexity of the shoes. For example, there are a few manual parts of the fly knit upper, which is knitted by machine, and it can also design in very fashionable styles. So now fly knit upper has become a favorite choice for many customers. For the upper that needs manual stitching, the price is also relatively transparent in the market. However, there is an interesting phenomenon that the larger the factory, the lower the labor price is. However, the wages of some smaller factories are better. The main reason for this phenomenon is that small factories can provide workers with a relatively poor working environment and welfare conditions, so they can only attract workers with relatively high wages.
  3. Obviously, the management cost of large factories will be higher, but generally speaking, the service they can provide will also be better
  4. Other costs cover a number of items and can vary relatively significantly from factory to factory. The general rule is that smaller factories are lower than larger ones.
  5. To summarise, raw material and labor costs are more advantageous in large factories, while their overheads and other costs are higher. On the whole, larger factories offer better quality assurance and service at higher prices. However, if you do not have a large order, a large factory may not be the best choice for you. Smaller factories can be just as good, and they are more efficient than larger factories. But you will need to be able to identify the right one with good quality and service.

Shoe upper materials

Sports shoes contain the largest and most complex range of materials, so here we take sports shoes as an example to introduce you to what materials are generally included in the upper.

leather shoe upper

1. leather

Cowhide, sheepskin, and pigskin are the most commonly used types of leather. Cowhide and sheepskin are mainly used as uppers, while pigskin is mostly used as the lining of leather shoes.

Depending on the process, various styles of leather are formed. For example, Aniline finish leather, boarded leather, burnished leather, chromed tanned leather, corrected grain leather, colored leather, top grain leather, split leather, dressed leather, embossing leather, glazed leather, oil tanned leather, patent leather, pickled hides, suede leather, etc

If you want to know more detailed information about leather, you can click here

2. Synthetics

The range of synthetic materials is very wide, here to introduce you to several synthetic materials commonly used in shoe uppers.


  • PU, KPU, TPU

PU is the abbreviation of polyurethane, in the upper material PU generally refers to PU leather. With the development of technology, PU leather is more and more in line with the needs of the market. Some high-end PU leather prices are even higher than natural leather. In addition to the breathability being worse compared to natural leather, other properties can almost replace natural leather.

KPU upper is lighter and has a very impactful 3D visual effect, which is very popular among users. The biggest advantage of KPU shoe material is its folding resistance, which can be up to 160,000 times. Therefore, it is often used as the upper material of safety shoes.

TPU is short for Thermoplastic polyurethane elastomer, also known as thermoplastic polyurethane rubber, TPU’s outstanding features are excellent abrasion resistance, excellent ozone resistance, high hardness, high strength, good elasticity, low-temperature resistance, good oil resistance, chemical resistance, and environmental resistance, and the hydrolytic stability of polyether type ester in a humid environment far exceeds that of polyester type. 

It is also an environmentally friendly material.

  • PVC

The strength of the product is high, easy to process, and low cost. However, the oil resistance and high-temperature resistance are poor, and the softness and hand feel are poor at low temperatures.

3. Textile

A variety of textiles are used in uppers and it is important to be familiar with the characteristics of each textile.

In terms of composition, the textile most commonly used for uppers are Cotton, Polyester, Nylon, Propylene, Lycra, Wool, etc. 

Depending on the weaving process, there are many categories of textiles used in shoe materials. Commonly used are canvas, mesh, knitted materials, non-woven fabrics, etc.

Dozens of processes are needed to make a pair of shoes, and the most complicated part is the manufacture of the upper. The above are common basics about the shoe upper. Hope it will help you.

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