Famed Shoe Designer Stuart Weitzman Visits Campus

Courtesy of Footwear News

On Feb. 28, famed shoe designer CEO Stuart Weitzman visited Swarthmore to talk to students about his business journey and give advice. Creating and repeating unique styles such as thigh-high boots and “nudist” heels and using celebrity imagery, Weitzman has become foundational to culture and fashion by adapting to demanded trends, prioritizing comfort, and highlighting the importance of shoes on the red carpet. The visit was organized by the Center for Innovation and Leadership and co-sponsored by the Makerspace, the art department, and Career Services. 

Weitzman started his Swarthmore talk with the importance of risk in his success. After graduating from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania – where the school of design is now named after him – and working in the industry for five years, Weitzman created his own company in his name in the hopes of filling in the niche of custom shoes for celebrities. With a costly individualized production plan for a new business, his risk paid off when Aretha Franklin displayed her pair of Weitzman shoes live at the American Music Awards. 

“If you’re in the world of creativity or the world of business, entrepreneurship, you always need to take risks,” Weitzman said. “Nothing moves forward in great leaps without it, it just doesn’t.”

Additionally, Weitzman prioritized imagination through design and marketing. With advertising featuring unlikely items covered in shoes such as dogs and pumpkins, the Stuart Weitzman Company won a prestigious Clio award and continued to be celebrated for their magazine spreads. The company has benefited from high-profile celebrity appearances in their shoes such as Kate Middleton, Angelina Jolie, and Jill Biden, hence making a name for itself in popular culture and well-timed photos. Above the originality and sensationalism of ads, Weitzman stressed the importance of truth, comfort, and durability in marketing.

“It has to be something that I’m able to live up to. I believe when you tell a girlfriend or your best friend something you better keep that promise. If you don’t keep that promise you’re not going to keep that relationship or that customer,” Weitzman said in an interview with The Phoenix. “Our marketing never exaggerated who we are; it was always something that I knew we could live up to.”

During the talk, Weitzman showed some of his female “muses” including Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. During his time as CEO, he remained committed to female leadership for a company with an entirely female market; out of his 73 managers, 71 were female. When designing, he looked to his market for what was wanted, denouncing earlier histories of men designing uncomfortable women’s shoes to save on costs. 

“Women determine the change in fashion, the clothing industry, the food industry. Women lead the way,” Weitzman said in his interview. “I tell you if women were president of all the countries in this world, we would not have war. I’m such a fan of women. I’ve gotten to know you so well, your heart, and the way you are. You’re not aggressive and you want what you want. And now I’m so glad you can get it again and I’m happy to be part of helping you do it.”

As his most crucial piece of advice to current students, Weitzman stressed working after graduation to gain experience working with others and build connections. He also promoted fashion as an industry open to all. “It is as blind as with respect to employees [identities] and [full of] integrity as any industry could possibly be,” Weitzman said in his interview. “Would you design a beautiful shoe for me? Would you come up with a good marketing talent? That’s what matters to us. Not where you are, where you’re from, who you are, what you like, and not every industry is like that. You go to banking; good old boys’ club. If you want to become a professor, you have to maybe act a certain way for the attitude of that university. In fashion, you’re on your own and can make it happen, and I love that. Free: as free as a job to be.”

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