The Entrepreneurial Journey with Shoe Icon Stuart Weitzman


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker, Stuart Weitzman


April 9, 2024


Stuart Weitzman  00:01

I had my muses. Marilyn Monroe was my muse for award shoes. I don't

Emily Lane  00:08

Thats a great muse Yeah,

Stuart Weitzman  00:09

She was before us, you know. But yeah, that picture some seven year itch with a dress over the subway grating voted one of the three most renowned photographs taken in the last century with the Iwo Jima flag and number the sailor kissing in time square. those three and her picture. I said I would draw up 100 sketches and maybe keep going, keep going keep going. Then when I'm done, I look at it.I would circle the ones I thought Marilyn would wear. And from that came some great great party shoes.

Emily Lane  01:01

Welcome to Clothing Coulture, a fashion industry podcast at the intersection of technology and innovation. I'm Emily Lane

Bret Schnitker  01:09

And I'm Bret Schnitker. We speak with experts and disruptors who are moving the industry forward and discuss solutions to real industry challenges.

Emily Lane  01:17

Clothing Coulture is produced by Stars Design Group, a global design and production house with more than 30 years of experience.

Emily Lane  01:27

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture. Today we're gonna be talking about the entrepreneurial journey and fashion the good decisions, the bad decisions, the tough decisions, the twists and turns and unexpected surprises, as we share the legendary story of a legacy and fashion. Today we're joined by Stuart Weitzman, who has had the wonderful unique skill of balancing that creative right brain with that businessman left brain. He went from a designer to entrepreneur, building a legacy business. That after leg after decades in the industry.

Emily Lane  02:11

Sold the company to a multi billion dollar fashion holding company true success story. I'd like to start at the beginning. First of all, welcome, Stuart.

Stuart Weitzman  02:18

I'm glad to be here nice warm day after New York. This is a pleasure.

Emily Lane  02:26

Oh, like you're welcome to come anytime.

Emily Lane  02:29

I'd like to start kind of at the beginning of your story. You know, you have a soul rooted in shoes, I guess you could say your father being in the business, manufacturing designing shoes. At what point did you know that this too was your passion?

Stuart Weitzman  02:49

Oh, this was not going to be my passion. I was a my goal was to get into the Wharton School. I did. Fortunately, not sure I would be able today with the standards that these kids live up to. And that's that was my mission. I was going to Wall Street. I was going to break the bank. I interned at Goldman Sachs, I was promised a job when I graduated. They did a lot of recruiting at the college I was at and things changed. You know, serendipitously sometimes things happen. You and they do to all of us. Keep your eyes open everybody because something might be out there in front of you just pay attention. And it can change your life for the better. And that happened to me. I was

Stuart Weitzman  03:35

I was a senior. I had a friend who, whose father owned a shoe factory. I didn't know that. But he asked me, he said, Can you draw some shoes for my dad? I said why would why would I want to do that is when I saw the designs you draw for them? Mask and wig. That's our our theater like the hasty putting it at Harvard. Penn has mascot. And it's so beautiful. And I'm sure you could draw shoes as well. I never did. But why would I? Well, he buys designs. He's a shoe maker. But he doesn't. He doesn't design himself. He buys freelance. Okay. Give me his catalogue. I'll see what it looks like. Maybe I can make some ideas that would fit his market. And I drew 20 sketches. I went to his house.

Stuart Weitzman  04:22

Ruff kind of guy calloused hands. He was the shoe maker. You could tell he was on the machines a lot. And he said, My son tells me a dress shoes. I really don't. But I did. Hope you like some, lay them out. Like you might read a deck of cards in a fan. And he picked one up. And he looked at it and he looked at it. He says you know we're medium price here. So occasionally I'll copy something but I always have to know who it's from. So who'd you copy this from?

Stuart Weitzman  04:49

Nice challenging question. Sure. Since I hadn't it wasn't really a challenge. And I told him that I looked at your catalog. So it may be this might be an idea. In fact, I turned to the pages

Stuart Weitzman  05:00

That's the shoot of inspired. Oh, he says, Okay, put it up to the, to the chandelier over the dining room table who said that? His son is one and he's shown. He said, I see tracing marks. I know you trace this shoe. So please, who would you trace it from? Because I do like it.

Stuart Weitzman  05:18

I didn't I'm sorry. If it's a challenge to you to use any of these ideas because of your concern. It's not a problem. And I started to scoop them up. And he tore my sketch up.

Emily Lane  05:32

oh my gosh,

Stuart Weitzman  05:33

any crumbled it threw it on the floor. And I mean, it was like dead silence, right? 15 seconds or so went by nothing happened. I don't know what to say. My buddy didn't. His dad and then his dad picked up another shoe.Looked at the sketch. What is he going to do with this one. And he taught me a great lesson. He looked at it, flipped it over, put it on the table, took a pencil out and said draw it for me again.

Stuart Weitzman  06:06

I couldn't see it of course, because he had turned it to the blank side. I sketched it out, boom, boom, boom. went like this. He looked he looked he looked he saw it was the same. He said, I'll give you 20 bucks a sketch $380 We'll go off 19 $20 bills, sound of a gun never paid for the one he tore up.

Stuart Weitzman  06:26

And he kept it. Probably scotch taped it back again. My tuition, I'm sorry for whoever hears this was $1,780 at the University of Pennsylvania

Bret Schnitker  06:38

a little different today

Stuart Weitzman  06:40

And he just paid me 380 bucks for an hour's worth of catching. Yeah, it wasn't even work. It was fun. I sold him $4,000 worth of sketches. Oh my gosh, never told my dad, he paid the tuition. And I had fun with that money.

Stuart Weitzman  06:57

And I call Goldman Sachs and I'm gonna take a year off. I want to try something. I have a good time. You know, we may not have a chair for you, because we're filling them all the time. Whatever. never looked back. That's how it happened.

Emily Lane  07:08

Oh my gosh, Bret. There's some similar story like,

Bret Schnitker  07:11

oh, yeah, I started sketching when I started into retail years ago.

Stuart Weitzman  07:15

Things like this happen. Yeah. But you know, what really triggered it that summer. At the end of my senior year, June, I think it was I was walking on Fifth Avenue, you know, where Bergdorf Goodman is. On the other corner is Bolgheri 57th and fifth Bolgheri used to be a great shoe store called I. Miller. It was America's premier designer quality shoe chain 15 stores in the best cities on the best streets. And in the window is this shoe that Whoa. And I looked inside, you know, nose up to the window. And I saw the label. It said the D Antonio. That's the guy I sold my sketches to. He made my shoe. four colors of it in the best window on Fifth Avenue went inside. They told me they just placed the reorder for it. Woah,

Emily Lane  08:09

oh my gosh,

Stuart Weitzman  08:10

that convinced me that's when I call Goldman Sachs said I'm not gonna join you in September. I'm trying something else

Bret Schnitker  08:23

so when did you make this leap from designer to business owner?

Stuart Weitzman  08:27

Well, I I was both at the same time, okay, I worked for a company for five and a half years. And I picked that company like you'd pick the school you want to go to get your education. I wanted a company that was doing what I hope to do. And they were doing it well. And that was my goal. And I interviewed about 10 companies, they thought I was being interviewed by them when I was really interviewing them. And I picked one and he said you know we're not ready to start a whole new division a lot of money, this and that. And I made it easy for him. I said you don't have to pay me. I'll do it. Give me two years. few bucks a week to so I can eat my wife's salary, we'll cover rent and everything. That's it won't cost you anything. I want a percent of whatever volume I can create.

Emily Lane  09:20


Stuart Weitzman  09:21

and that's when I be I really became eat. I didn't own it. But at 8% of the gross Yeah, that's that's so much more than whatever the profit margin would have been if I owned it, that I became an owner in my career in the creation of the business really up for six years with too much money to do anything else with a start a company. And I started I took three great people from the firm I worked with. That's a lesson for everybody. You know when I got out of working for them, forget about graduate school. If you have a specific career goal in mind, forget it. I met three people, who I took with me it would have taken me, every business professor I speak to say that would take you five to 10 years to find three great people. And you'd go through two or three before you finally had one. And each of these people stayed with me the whole journey and retired when I sold the company. I learned, I met every retailer in North America that I someday would hope to sell shoes to with a nice relationship because I was selling them through this other through the division of this company. And I had a nice relationship with them. We had a good product, so things were going well. I met the factories to make shoes for me, I met tanneries to buy leather, I did, I had such a knowledge. When I started up my company. It wasn't really a startup was a startup, but it wasn't. And you know, when you start small, you do everything. So I stayed on as CEO, I didn't need to hire anyone. I was the creative director there only three employees other than those three people I took with me there were six of us, you can do it all. And it begin began to grow little by little. And when things grow little by little, you the management of it, you adjust to you don't even notice. It's not like I doubled and I needed seven new peds to help me it grew to 10% or percent 8% 15% was a big deal. And after about seven years, wow, you you compound those percentages, we're we're gonna we're running a company. Yeah. And I never hired anyone to do it till the last five years of the business when I started to look for what to do for its future. My kids didn't want to come in, I had to find a home. So I needed to spend some time also researching who I should place this company with. And I did it. I could have sold it to a wonderful firm here in St. Louis, called Caleres.

Emily Lane  11:54

Oh, sure,

Stuart Weitzman  11:55

They offered the highest price. I decided it wasn't about the money. And I took Tapestry, which was 20% Less we're talking a lot of money 20% So Sycamore was not a happy camper. They were the people who are in it with me after I bought it back from the Jones group. So the money

Emily Lane  12:15

Where did that you were you're weighing that decision you were getting offers you were you know, Caleres is a well known company that that features a wide variety of brands that trend forward brands, what led to some of the decisions for you to select Tapestry over some of the other offers you had on the table?

Stuart Weitzman  12:37

CEO was a super salesman. He really knew how to sell what that company could do. But the reason I pushed Tapestry to begin with was they weren't Tapestry then they would just Coach because they hadn't yet bought Kate Spade either. And they were number one in medium price handbags in North America, they they wish Michael Kors came on like gang but there was still doing more business and Michael Kors in the end now they're eating their competition because they they're going to be buying Michael Kors, the Capri company. And I thought if they could be that good in a similar product, then they have the makings to run Stuart Weitzman. I just assumed that that was a logical sequence.

Stuart Weitzman  13:26

I have to acknowledge it wasn't. I found out within six months that corporate management and entrepreneurial management Yeah, live on two different planets. Totally to different planets. Yeah, they should not buy businesses like mine. Yeah, they shouldn't.

Emily Lane  13:46

Yeah, because your business is, is this inspiration is at the heart of it.

Stuart Weitzman  13:51

It's not a job. You know, when they when they were negotiating the price, the fella said to me, we're gonna have to hold back 10% Maybe 5%

Stuart Weitzman  14:04

We have to figure it out for what he says for severance pay. Your average employee has been with you 23 years. Ours is six we budget for six years severance pay. Oh wow. We own budget for four times that so if we're going

Emily Lane  14:21

That had to be a little bit of a red flag for you,

Stuart Weitzman  14:23

Well I sent him actually you should pay me more the experience these people have he's well you know they don't adjust to a corporate setting and we don't you know our history is that they're going to fly the coop or we're going to think they're not the right so it's gonna cost us alot said you forget it. I said I'm not I'm not even going to consider that you want to add some money to it because the experience i'll talk to you but otherwise, anyway, they let it drop. But that that opened my eyes. I didn't realize that these people were with me longer than the normal amount of time. They were with me like you know, like my kids are with me like my wife is with my friends, they were part of a family. And then companies like, Coach, not all of them. There are some great examples of people taking over small, entrepreneurial and making a bigger. But these people did not have that attitude. And in fact, they bought Kate Spade. Two years ago, in the last quarter comparable, Kate Spade did 400 million. This quarter, they did 246 million.

Emily Lane  15:29

So yeah, there's a cost to cutting that heart out, isn't there?

Stuart Weitzman  15:32

Yeah. So, but anyway, I don't know, the caleres would have done better for us. But I based it on logical reasoning coach was a great brand in a product is in our industry.

Bret Schnitker  15:33

So they, you know, their stories everywhere, where designers make these difficult decisions to leverage an equity group to help grow their brand. And in the end, they kind of lose their name, they lose the identity, you know, all these things DNA, they lose sometimes the DNA to

Stuart Weitzman  16:10

that's what they lose.

Bret Schnitker  16:11

How, how did you manage to control this through these acquisitions?

Stuart Weitzman  16:17

I always ran it. Okay, the deal was I continued to run it till then 100%. Even when I finally sold it all with that was Sycamore. Sycamore sold it all to Tapestry. I was still the CEO for two years, first year, totally second year, helping the new person to replace me. And two years chairman after that, but we know that's just a nice title. So I kept on with it to teach them what we do. And they let me tell you something. They're a company like that. Not necessarily Tapestry. I had six in my design group.

Stuart Weitzman  16:58

And I was the creative director and I did half the designing, and the other half got spread out. Plus little the what we call the merchandiser who helps us make wonderful themes out of what we're doing, two analysts. How about corporations doing what I'm doing? Two designers, 10 analysts? What does that tell you? Yeah, yeah. What's important to them?

Emily Lane  17:28

The numbers,

Stuart Weitzman  17:28

it's not the product is much. That CEO who sold me on coming to Coach came to Spain, to force the factories to make the shoes for less money, which I never ever did. Because I never wanted to take a penny out of the quality of the product. And he said to them, Listen, you've had your little paradise with Stuart. And now has to get more serious? We can make these shoes in Vietnam if we want to. I my opinion not true. That's what he said. But it was a threat, obviously. So you've got to work out the prices we're gonna give you not the prices you tell us they cost. I would never say that. If I love the factory's quality, I had to figure out how to design shoes that could carry the final retail price of that quality, right? I didn't say to them, I need this retail price. You got a downgrade to meet it. That's not what they did. So why would I do that?

Stuart Weitzman  18:43

And when I needed lower priced products like ballerinas slippers and things like that flip flops, I found factories that make that as well as it can be made and not to make it cheaper to compete, say with Havaianas. I mean, that wasn't my world. But they don't think that way.

Emily Lane  19:00

We have similar conversations, you know, with it with our clients, you know, having an understanding of transparency of the end product and what you want and how to design into that product, where you get the quality that you know you want to get at the price.

Stuart Weitzman  19:14

First you have to define your market. Yes. Then you design design into it. And if you can't come up with enough looks that get you that price, then you have to redefine your market. I mean, I used to my competitors in every article would be Jimmy Choo. Even though he's a little more expensive than me Blahnik not as comfortable as you. You know, we all had our thing. A little bit tan isn't as comfortable but he's the only Rockstar our industry ever had. I have to acknowledge that I admire what he's done. It's amazing, especially when he doesn't care how it feels on your foot. He cares how it looks and he's so good at it that that office compensates. He's the only one who can get away with that because he's so good at it. But

Stuart Weitzman  19:59

Those were the people we were compared to when someone when there was a sale. It would be Stuart Weitzman Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik Gucci. Now it's Stuart Weitzman Tory Burch, Cole Han. So so they're they can't stay in that market. So they have to readjust to a different market. And I don't know that that's a good philosophy but I don't run that company. So it's it's an it's not my business anymore. Although it is strange to be Stuart Weitzman, and not own your name. I will say that strange.

Bret Schnitker  20:33

we've talked to a lot of designers that have been down the path

Stuart Weitzman  20:38

someone who works for us in the house Hispanic said to be the day of week after the Wall Street Journal's headlines and the business Coach by Stuart Weitzman for such and such, you know, money. She said to me. what she said in Espanol ? She said. You You sold your name.

Stuart Weitzman  21:02

Yeah, I sold your name. She says *Speaking Spanish* from now what from today and forward I call you X. And my kids thought that was so funny for like a month they were calling a daddy X. What are we gonna do today?

Emily Lane  21:29

You found early on your specialty of this space that's becoming more popular now. But I think you're very early to the industry of affordable luxury. You know, creating a product niche I went after? Yes. And and, you know, bringing quality, together comfort and a very chic style. Was this just kind of an inherent decision? Did you do research

Stuart Weitzman  21:57

that enclose when you sit inherent? Okay, how about inherited, my dad had a house on a wonderful block in a town in Long Island. And it was probably the most modest house on the block. And none of the houses were not modest and up, but it was the most modest. And when we moved, after we were all in college, he sold it. And he was so excited about the price he got and he said let me tell you, son, he said, I came to this block.

Stuart Weitzman  22:31

I couldn't build a house that you saw three, four, or five down. So I built one as close as I could. But I knew because of the neighborhood I was in. And the association of where I was that it would be worth more in the end. And if I go into a Saks Fifth Avenue shoe salon, as the opening price point of luxury, while the women who walk on that floor know they're buying expensive footwear, and have the exact 15 brands at six to $1,200. And I'm at 450 to six. They didn't pick me up off the table because I'm 450 to six they're in there knowing they're going to spend six 20 to 12. And they just know it because that's 80% or 90% of their stock. And then when they say buyers, well our average sale per per purchase was 1.8 pair of shoes. The average sale in that salon is 1.2. Okay, so what are we what what all that did was helped me sell more units to the same woman because she could afford to buy more units. And occasionally once a year, maybe a Nine West customer would buy one pair of our shoes. Now that nine was customer a good proportion of them are not going to be Nine West customers all their lives, they're going to get a better job, they're going to marry into a well off family. And they're not going to be Nine West they may be will be now be Stuart Weitzman customers, but not once a year, three times a year. So it's a real strategy to enter the best marketplace at the easiest supportive price. And that was always a goal of mine. That's why I bought the factories. I didn't want intermediaries and you know a lot about intermediaries because you act as one. But I bought the factories, and I bought them so that there was no question about what price I was paying. Whatever the cost was. I always had a Spanish partner. They ran it. They weren't part of the Stuart Weitzman umbrella, but they were part of our manufacturing and they had their own clump company for the factory and they got their 5% Guaranteed. They knew they weren't going to lose a new sometimes they made a little more because we're reorders and business built up. But they were guaranteed 5% And if I wanted $6 a square foot leather, and the price had originally been based at four. I paid the extra two, they didn't worry. And you know, pretend they were buying the six and telling me it was, but it wasn't. It didn't matter that they liked when I raised the price, because it's 5% of the total cost, right? So the more that was the way I worked with them, and we got the shoes, I would say 20 to 25% less than they would have cost in tour retail or in any other line we competed with, because we made our own shoes. Yeah. Ferragamo does that?

Emily Lane  25:33

Yeah, yeah. It really did have a very good strategic business approach. I am curious, you know, you did go through periods of selling your company re acquisition and so forth. And in in the era where you noticed that numbers became the core focus, and there's a higher negotiation with your factories, factory partners. Did you? Did you see your sales decline as different decisions were made about your product?

Stuart Weitzman  26:03

Oh no, no, I didn't negotiate. They had their profit margin. The negotiation was for me, I negotiate against myself. Did I want that series of ankle straps to sell at 495? Or 550?

Stuart Weitzman  26:21

What material? Am I going to put it? They didn't care. They were getting there. 5%. So I never had to chisel them, let's say right as Seventh Avenue used to do when it existed. That wasn't that kind of business, not like the CEO of Tapestry, went over there and said, you know, we can make these in Vietnam for eight euros less, you better become competitive.

Bret Schnitker  26:44

Did that have an impact on the company when that happened?

Emily Lane  26:49

Is that what led you to? I mean, you've as I mentioned, you've kind of bought and sold, bought and sold, bought and sold, you know,

Stuart Weitzman  26:56

Different reasons.

Emily Lane  26:57

Okay. What What was some of the core reasons that brought you back to reacquire your company.

Stuart Weitzman  27:03

Weren't doing the job. And I wanted a lifetime of existence for Stuart Weitzman. It didn't want to end with me. You know, you hope it goes on. Some do some don't fashion world. There are a lot of names that will used to be there that aren't there today. When I started in this industry, Charles Jourdan was king. Today don't know who Charles Jourdan was. You could not get shelf space in a store that had Charles Jourdan you couldn't knock him off the shelf. Who was that good. Like you can't knock Louboutin. Or me in a certain type of product. He was the king. Whoever heard of Charles Jourdan. And today I mentioned I. Miller in New York. They had their factories in Pennsylvania and they had their stores in the key cities. No one could compete with them. They're gone because fashion.

Stuart Weitzman  27:55

I won't say it's fickle. Although it is but it's the customer who changes. Look at the casual wear today. Right? That is extended to footwear 70% of all shoes are sneaker or sneaker oriented. 70% Wow. Used to be 15 Maybe 20. And then that counted athletic and real athletic. When I say 70 I'm not talking playing tennis in tennis shoes. I'm talking about shoes you wear that are modeled off a sneaker type looks. And you get a new company like this one in Switzerland and Federer has an interest in onsies that the o n o see from nowhere seven years ago to three or $4 billion. Amazing. That's the power of the sneaker. So what that does to footwear, like you're wearing smaller market, less people like you who want to dress up that way and make a statement with your shoes. That's what puts people out. I think more than that the fickleness of fashion. They can't keep up with the changes. And I I developed a philosophy very early on. I would recommend it to any company. A certain percentage can be revolutionary. Major percentage has to be evolution.

Emily Lane  29:18

Oh my god.

Bret Schnitker  29:19

This is this is a mantra it stars and it's been from the very beginning. evolution not revolution.

Stuart Weitzman  29:24

I used to be. I used to be at 85/15 at 80/20 We're now 70/30 it anit ever getting 50/50 Because my gosh. You didn't buy that shoe because of the brand. You bought that shoe because it has an attitude right? And you don't even live in New York. We're on the subway that would be a good protective shoe. With those spikes. You bought it because of the attitude. So if someone else makes a hot shoe next year, you don't even remember who the heck that brand was. You're going to the shoe not the brand That's why you need at least 70% evolutionary

Bret Schnitker  30:05

Revolutions are bloody. So you always want to be evolving.

Stuart Weitzman  30:08

Yeah. But the revolutionary designs lead to that kind of shoot, like are sure like you're wearing. Without them. We're not freshing up if I if I make, you know, 30 or 40 in our for Stuart Weitzman outrageous shoes, and three start an attitude for me, oh, boy, was that successful? But if I don't do the 30 or 40, I'll never get the three or four. Right? So I do

Emily Lane  30:37

you know, you've you've been in the game for as we said decades, 60 years or give or take, right? Okay. 50..

Stuart Weitzman  30:45

46 in my company and five with someone else.

Emily Lane  30:48

Okay. Okay, so 50 There's still ways of grand period of time. You know, in this thought, philosophy of evolution not revolution, and and this business of fashion, how have you year after year remained relevant? And what what is your resource for inspiring your evolution?

Stuart Weitzman  31:10

Well, you probably going to like this first answer. I had 71 managers in my company, when I, when we finally planted it with Coach. I say managers, that's anyone who has someone working under them. Store Manager, sales manager, finance, etc. 71 were women.

Emily Lane  31:35


Stuart Weitzman  31:37

that wasn't by accident. Who am I selling? Right? And I am, I'm really not naive enough to think I know, the best shoes that I designed. So I wanted women around me. And first we hire smart and intelligent and nice and communicative. Right? Those are the four characteristics we have to have before anything else. But if that happens to be a cool girl, who will really understand the fashion shoes, she gets the job, or a lawyer like woman who is in smart, classic shoes, she gets the job for that category. And they're not working in that category. But their muses, aren't they or their focus groups, so to speak for me. So that's what those 71 women did. I got very lucky with the first one. She was a superstar for me for 40 years, couldn't have done what I did without her. The only person ever worked for me, I could have to say, couldn't have done all that I did without this woman.

Stuart Weitzman  32:47

So that was a mission. Now after that, I need inspiration. Right? We all need inspiration. And I said this at one of my my recent talk, I think I said at Washington U one of the mantras I've grabbed onto which is a quote from Picasso. He was asked in an interview said you're a Picasso. Do you ever copy? I don't think he hesitated to seconds. Of course I copy. Yes, I copy. I copy from poets, from musicians, from artists, other artists from nature. So what was he saying? not copy the way Webster would define it. Those were inspirational sources for things he did. More so for me, I have so many industries that can inspire me from architecture, you know, if you think about a fountain pen, someone designed that fountain pen, right? Whether it was Peretti with a cute curve on the hook. Someone designed it and if you bear that in mind, when you look at anything, that tripod, maybe there's something that was done that's inspirational for you. I don't mean make a heel like a tripod, maybe maybe the attachments in it in the middle of a stiletto heel would would if they were rhinestone, there's something you can get usually out of a great design. So I use that for inspiration. This is a very surprising tool. I doubt that. If if there there are others who use it. I don't know it.

Stuart Weitzman  34:41

Everyone looks in their own industry especially at their competitors, right. I don't and I'll tell you why I got if I'm inspired by a competitor. Someone is going to notice that my inspiration was inspired by this guy's great shoe because we're in the same industry and that you know that bushel of apples if there's a bad one, we ruins them all. And no one wants to be said, oh, oh, that was a great shoe from, you know from John Vito Rossi. Not a bad idea to make something like it. That's not a compliment. Knife in a heart. So I didn't. I didn't follow them for inspiration. Of course, I wanted to know what they're doing but not for instpiration, you know, I looked at in my industry, Doc Martin. Oh, that's you. You know the shoe. Yes. 70 years. I bought a pair. It sat on my desk for years. As it was my, my my love of his, of whatever that shoe meant. I respected it. And eventually, when I started to see college girls wearing it, not just high school girls.

Stuart Weitzman  35:57

I thought I have to make something like that. For my ladies. Yeah, I have to make a hiking boot that they would be feel cool in. And I have to you know, I had to get the right person to show it to the public side. Kate Moss couldn't get more right than Kate Moore's right? I got Kate and she loved it. Now she didn't love it. Then I didn't have the right shoe because I was after that attitude. She loved it. In fact, she said to me, when your shoe with the through the photoshoot What do you do with these shoes? They go in our wardrobe. we loan them out to magazines for hopefully for credit shoes. If you don't need this pair in black, I'd love to have it. Wow. That told me Yeah, the next year, the nicest compliment I ever got. I really I can't think of a better compliment. Chanel put the hiking boot in there like oh yeah, I've been in it ever since. And there isn't a shoe company today that doesn't have a hiking boot. Right. And not Doc Martin hiking boot. Stuart Weitzman inspired and so I looked outside of the industry for that, you know.

Stuart Weitzman  37:06

My thigh high boot? Yeah. I'm sure it would look great on you. By the way.

Emily Lane  37:13

I will have to add it to my wish list

Stuart Weitzman  37:20

we all know Pretty Woman Of course the Cinderella story, right? Yes. And even the kids and I talked to last night they everyone that seemed Pretty Woman even though it was made it before they were born. Okay. So Julia Roberts is in this black patent leather. thigh high pointed toe stiletto heel boot. It's her working uniform. Yes. Why do these girls who have only one product to sell? All wear thigh high boots. I kept. What is it about that boot. Now? I'm not a girl, I don't know. But this kind of there's something about that boot. That's their wardrobe. And Julia then wears it in this movie. And our friend had it in red. And I'm thinking someday anyway.

Stuart Weitzman  38:03

Maybe 10 years later, 15 years later, 12 years later. You g'alls are all wearing leggings. Yeah, that's all you're wearing. Right? White shirt from your daddy. Over your leggings. Like you're walking around in your underwear. Guys, you say she's out your underwear again.

Stuart Weitzman  38:22

In her leggings, and a big white shirt. Whoa, if I can make a boot that hugs like that legging. Number one, the gals are used to that attitude that look because of the leggings. Number two, no one else ever did it.

Stuart Weitzman  38:37

And I worked with DuPont and created a lycra that stretched one way and could adhere to suede. And then we made this suede in a certain way that it stretched with the lycra but then stretched back so it didn't stand out there like a saggy sock right. And I made a pair for Julia for Angelina Jolie. And I made this pair for her because she said to me, I don't know if I want one of those boots. Every boot I buy is like a sock on my leg. It always falls down on my she's skinny skinny leg. I said I have style I want to try on you I want to we're just getting going with it. And I made her this boot. She called up and said how many colors does this come in? All day long. I wore it it hasn't dropped an inch. It has a jock drawstring at the top that you tie in the back so it doesn't hurt the look that you see. Right and once it's tied elasticized it's there for good.

Stuart Weitzman  39:38

My assistant became important that when I told you about who helped me build a business, her leg is a normal leg. I put it on her fit great to amazing. We had an employee was little you know we now call them athletic legs right? fit her also. Wow. Oh my gosh. I have not just got a great style I got a functional boot that and, and it became the number one foot wear product in the industry that first year, People Magazine did a whole article on it. And at the top was the headline. We believe Stuart Weitzman created this boot. And then they talked about how it would be worn what it could be used with showed pictures of the celebrities and other gals in it. And that was inspired by the girls on the street corner. What can I tell you? Keep your eyes open? Yeah, what's for what's going on? You never know where it comes. So that's how you stay ahead. You you get inspired. And if you want to stay ahead of your competition are different than your competition, let's say differ. Don't be inspired the same way they are look for other people. I had my muses. Marilyn Monroe was my muse for award shoes.

Emily Lane  40:53

thats a great muse

Stuart Weitzman  40:55

She was before us, you know, but yeah, that picture some seven year itch with the dress some of the subway grading, voted one of the three most renowned photographs taken in the last century. With the Iwo Jima flag and number the sailor kissing the nurse in times square. Those three questions and her picture. I said I would draw up 100 sketches maybe keep going keep going keep going. Then when I'm done I look at him and look at I would circle the ones I fought Marilyn would wear and from that came some great great party shoes.

Stuart Weitzman  41:31

I did the same thing with Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy. Those were two ladies who didn't need a heel to make a statement right? Flat chic. There was so confident in everything else about a closed and didn't do it didn't matter. I had to design for that chic gal. For the girl who want tall maybe not even tall just wondered flats or low heels. And I thought of her I thought of I thought of lawyers. I made a shoe. That is one of my most prized photographs is giving this shoe to Ruth Bader Ginsburg Oh, wow. She's about I don't know how old she was when she died. But it was about three years before she passed away. She's being honored the Supreme Court and through friends and my supportive certain algorithm there. And I had seen so many pictures of her in one of our mid heel, like choked throat line tight throat line pumps, very good fitting pump, but kind of cool looking with an oval dome. And she was administering the oath of natural citizenship to 100 people at the New York Historical Society Museum in New York. And my exhibition of my antique collection was opening there and my picture was on the bulletin board. And she said to the president, oh, Louise, were his pomp. She is it on display? No, no, these are his historical shoes. But he'll be here. Tomorrow she will be back in Washington. She said if you see him you tell him that that pump I love? Why the heck doesn't he make it in red? Anywhere in red. So I go to the Supreme Court with my shoebox, I get the security and they want to know what this is they they see this red bump. I said it's a present for RBG Are they as somebody in her party?

Stuart Weitzman  43:30

Okay, the guy comes over to me and I tell him the story. He said, Let me see your table. We're gonna give them that card. So I'm moving you you're gonna sit right next to miss Ginsburg tonight. Oh, my God, my wife somewhere else. I'm sitting next to Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And I said I sure all of us at the table want to know who everyone is, of course know who you are. I'm Stuart Weitzman. Should I wear your shoe? Actually, look, I have your black one on now. Why the heck don't you ever make this red? And you couldn't have you couldn't a choreograph that better? I said, Well, I needed someone to inspire me to do that. And I opened the box and I said it was you who inspired oh my gosh, she took it out. And there's this photograph of her like a little girl getting so excited at seeing her shoe. And she grabs it out of the box and she's looking she kicks off when you're out you would do that right? Like it kicks it puts on the red shoe. She said I want royalties, because you're going to sell a lot. It was very funny photograph of

Bret Schnitker  44:39

your career since 50.

Stuart Weitzman  44:41

But don't wait. That was I don't think I don't think of women like that because we would sell hundreds of 1000s of pairs to women over 60 who wanted it to feel good. look good. So it couldn't be this height. It had to be more like that height. You know, maybe an inch and a half, two inches at the most. Michelle Obama loved my nudist sandals. And she said to me, I can't wear these heels. I'm not going to try to compete with the girls who do. Why don't you make a beautiful sandal not a dumpy looking sandal, at a heel I could wear, and I made the nudist on a block heel to tune, quarter inches, she will never took it off. I use it in my talk to your customer. So that my inspiration comes from the clientele also, not just the Muses and not just my people in our industry who are not my competitive but who have done some great ideas, or architects with their buildings in there, etc. If you keep your eyes open and use your imagination is more inspiration than you can use.

Bret Schnitker  45:59

Your career spans 50 years and you know, as you're doing all these talks, and you're meeting these wonderful kids, and then you know that are going to take our place in the industry.

Stuart Weitzman  46:08

They're inspiring

Bret Schnitker  46:09

The overall stories that they kind of see with Stuart Weitzman has this great trajectory just upward and we know as entrepreneurs, that's not exactly the case every day, what was your best day? And what was your worst day? And what did you learn from those?

Stuart Weitzman  46:22

You know, something? The words ever, and never. And most, and least Yeah, they don't exist? Because it's never the best. And it's never the worst. They're always the worst. And the best, you know, and I can't tell you like, what was my greatest shoe and tell you three or four great shoes? And I can tell you a day, or an occasion and event that was very eye opening to me. Yeah. really depressing. Because of the reality of it. And challenging because it couldn't go on? Yeah, I was at a wedding. And you know, they sit you with your friends, events like that. And I'm with four other couples in normal. One couple how to his daughter with him. And I didn't know her. So the polite thing is, Hi, I'm Stuart Weitzman, what's your name? And she said, Oh, I'm Oh, she didn't finish, Stuart Weitzman. whitespaces. I know you my mother. Where's your shoes.

Stuart Weitzman  47:36

like Mohammed Ali just punched me in the stomach. That was not a pleasant response. Of course, I hope your mother loves our shoes someday. Hope you do. sharp looking girl Stanford University student, the kind of kid I was hoping was buying my shoes. That's when I decided I had to solve it. And that's what I went after Kate Moss. Okay, that's when I changed, not changed, added to my collection, which is a very important point. I was doing $250 million with her mother. I wasn't throwing it away. Right, right. Now I have to recognize that these new generations that we older folks joked about the X and Z and what the hell are these given names. They existed, and they were real. And they were the shoppers. And I had to attack attract them to what I was doing. So Kate Moss was my vehicle to show and the product had to be something special. And that's when I created the thigh high boots, and the kneecap boots, the nudist sandal, a super cool moccasin on a thicker rubber platform with a block heel. That was cool and young. Almost the same style her mother would have worn with a thin leather sole. But just the construction underneath it made it like wow, this is attitude. And it doubled our business in four years. Amazing. So that was the worst day. It was but it was maybe the best day because it woke me up before I had already been asleep for too long. Interesting. So that woke me up. Yeah,

Bret Schnitker  49:17

so you retired in 2017. I can't see you retire.

Stuart Weitzman  49:22

This is my second life? Yeah, here is my act too. But I still I relive my career every other day. I did last night. Monday at Rice Tuesday at UT SMU on Thursday. Yeah, Sunday, next week. I mean, I always really living my life telling one of the different kinds of stories depending upon who the student body is, you know, whether it's about design or leadership or finance or marketing or whatever.

Bret Schnitker  49:48

When you love what you do, it's hard to walk away.

Stuart Weitzman  49:50

I don't want I love doing this. Yeah, I did a few of these in throughout the years while I was still full time employed. But now I do it as often. As they call me up, they want me to do it went to Carnegie Mellon, I thought, What am I? Why did they want me? So I looked up Carnegie Mellon, it's not all high tech, like you think Carnegie Mellon. They have a great design school, a great innovation program, amazing entrepreneurship programs. And I called my friends at Penn where I'm so involved that I called the award and Erica, she said, Oh, Carnegie was a great school that you should go there if they've invited you. She was these things go on, you know, yeah, at Washington University. How did I get to Washington University. I was speaking at Northwestern. And the dean there. Right before I got there is the dean here, now, and the new dean who heard my talk. So you have to find out who this fella Mazzeo is, because you should be going, he'd love to have you at your school. And through a connection, I got introduced to Timothy and others. And here I came. So it just builds up, you know, because you get to know more people and I love it. Yeah, I put people in business because of it, too. I have about 30 Kids, I'm continually mentoring, some fade off some come in, probably some kids. I said to the director last night, I said, If anyone wants my email, reach me out, they have a reason to talk to me, not just to say hello, or get a one an autograph, I'll be glad to help them with questions. And I put three people in the shoe business, all of whom are doing so well.

Emily Lane  51:26

That's wonderful. It's wonderful that you're now at a point where you get to share your share your lessons.

Stuart Weitzman  51:31

Yeah, I'm selfish. I enjoy it. You know, it's not like, I mean, I remember my father in law was a wonderful lawyer and a fine man. And I'm out to took him out to dinner. Him, his daughter, my wife, me, and I took the check. And I said, No, don't worry, no, it's okay. If I'll be able to put it on the company. And he said to me, this isn't a business talk son. HEsaid Yeah, well, you know, it's not that good. He said, he said, I don't think you should think that way. And I said, You're too honest for me. And he said, I don't think of it that way. And you shouldn't either. I don't want someone to know what I did and tell the IRS about it. So I would never do that. Just because I want to sleep at night. Think of it that way. Well, was that a good lesson? Yeah. And every time I was there, I'm tempted, I want to be able to sleep at night. So you'll learn things from a lot of people throughout life, and you pick them up, and you really have to grab on to the good ones. And if you do, then you'll have a wonderful life. And you'll know how to make friends with good people, instead of hanging around people that only give you anguish. So I don't think it's that hard. And I tried to tell the students it's not difficult. If you want if you The hard part is having a goal, know where you want to go. The easy part is figuring out a very cool and fun way to get there. The hardest part is the goal. So don't just take the easy path to that goal, like, like nine tenths of the people do and you won't stand out, do something in another way, engage other people to get there, and it will pay off for you. You'll have fun doing it. You'll teach your employees to think that way. Also, every talk I give the let the ending of the talk, whether it's about business or design is on the road less traveled. Thank you, Robert Frost, for that wonderful poem, which I memorized in high school. And it always struck me his you know, his last, the last line of that poem, Two roads diverged in a wood. And I I took the one less traveled by.

Emily Lane  54:03

That's wonderful,

Stuart Weitzman  54:04

and it's so much better. You know,

Emily Lane  54:09

I love that. I love that philosophy. You know, you've mentioned it a few times in our conversation today about about really keeping yourself open for life's journey. Keeping your eyes open,

Stuart Weitzman  54:22

No blinkers you know, blinkers is for horses, not for people.

Emily Lane  54:26

Yeah. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. It was really wonderful to get a little bit more insight into what inspired your journey. And gosh, congratulations on a the success that you've achieved. And now here you are able to share your story and inspire others who want to be the next Stuart Weitzman.

Stuart Weitzman  54:48

I think they should be there next whoever they are. Don't worry about Stuart Weitzman. Thank you.

Emily Lane  54:54

Thank you. Don't forget to subscribe to stay apprised of upcoming episodes of Clothing Coulture.

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The Entrepreneurial Journey with Shoe Icon Stuart Weitzman