Tyler Talks Fashion: Stuart Weitzman’s Entrepreneurial Journey on the Road Less Traveled

By Tyler Martin

For Stuart Weitzman, shoes are more than his passion. They serve as a source of inspiration for an artist driven by his creative vision. This past Thursday, February 15th, Stuart Weitzman graced SMU’s campus to share his innovative approach to the business of fashion, which he refers to as his: “entrepreneurial journey on the road less traveled.” After selling his company in 2019, Weitzman has spent his time touring different college campuses to lend his valuable advice and wisdom to aspiring entrepreneurs. During his visit to SMU, Weitzman walked the crowd through his life and career highlights as depicted through his monumental shoe moments. For those who couldn’t attend, here are some of my takeaways:

Rise to Stardom

Weitzman quickly noticed a pattern occuring in Hollywood: while he never saw actresses wearing the same dress, he observed that multiple women were all wearing the same basic shoe. When these actresses were on the red carpet, interviewers always asked about their dress but never paid any attention to the footwear. Weitzman recognized the gap in the market for custom, unique footwear for A-listers, and knew it was his time to shine.

Weitzman began creating custom, unique footwear for actresses and sent the shoes to celebrity stylists in the hopes that they would be worn by the right person, helping him gain recognition. Eventually, he got in touch with Aretha Franklin’s stylist, who said she would style his shoes to compliment the dress she would be wearing at the American Music Awards. That evening, Aretha Franklin won an award, and in her speech, to Weitzman’s surprise, Franklin specifically thanked Stuart Weitzman for making her such incredible shoes. That night, everything changed. 13 million women and every stylist in Hollywood watched Franklin’s speech. Within one month, Stuart Weitzman became known as the “shoemaker to the stars.”

Drawing Inspiration Everywhere

For someone as iconic as Stuart Weitzman, you might look at him and think he is constantly generating never-before-seen ideas, but even someone of his stature and success needs sources of inspiration. Weitzman referred to a quote from Picasso where the artist said, “I copy all the time.”

Weitzman expanded on this idea, saying, “I never looked at my competition, but I looked outside of that competition.” For instance, one unexpected source of inspiration Weitzman found was the popular Teva sandal, known for its ankle strap, which inspired the design of his gladiator sandals. Similarly, the classic Doc Marten boot influenced him to create his infamous hiking boot. For those of us interested in fashion, I think this is an important reminder that we should take style inspiration from everything around us but remember the importance of making it our own.

The Art of Problem Solving

One challenge Weitzman faced was when the actresses he designed for made last minute outfit changes, necessitating a last minute change in footwear. To solve this problem, Weitzman designed a shoe that could be dyed any Pantone color. This innovation ensured that the actresses could wear his shoes, regardless of how many times they changed their red-carpet look. This anecdote, for me, emphasized the importance of persistence and determination when faced with challenges.

Cultivating Community and Camaraderie

Weitzman used incredibly unique business strategies to get his products into the hands of the right people at the right time. When Jennifer Aniston was the newest it-girl, Weitzman wanted her to wear and love his shoes, but Jennifer only wanted to shop for shoes at her go-to spot. This didn’t discourage Weitzman, as he says, “There’s always another way.” He successfully sold his shoes to the store Jennifer shopped at in London, ensuring they would conveniently land in her lap and, most importantly, make their way into her closet.

At the beginning of his talk, Stuart explained that upon beginning his first job, he met three people he worked extremely well with. When it was time for him to start his own brand, he asked those same three people from work to join him on this journey. Weitzman says without in-person connections, you cannot start a business and that it is impossible to find these people through sites like LinkedIn. He continued on to emphasize his belief in the importance of working for someone else to form valuable relationships before beginning your entrepreneurial journey, because you never know how your connections could assist you in the future.

Power of Perception

One of Weitzman’s insightful lessons was about the power of perception. Weitzman released a plastic-heeled shoe reminiscent of Cinderella’s glass slipper. To his dismay, the shoe failed because it did not feel as luxurious as his leather shoes. A few years later, Weitzman remade the shoe with a few modifications: he renamed the plastic material to “transparent leather” and upped the price. Suddenly, the consumer’s perception shifted, and the shoes became a huge hit. This anecdote reinforces the importance of taking risks in fashion, as even the smallest changes can create a major shift in someone’s overall perception.

Embrace Giving Back

Weitzman ended his speech by emphasizing the importance of being a part of the community. He mentioned several times that the Stuart Weitzman brand goes above and beyond to give back, whether it be through fundraisers, ads or actual collections. Weitzman mentioned one example of when he designed a line in collaboration with Gigi Hadid back in 2017. The proceeds of this collection went towards building schools in third world countries, and her simple promotion of the shoes on a late night talk show resulted in the line selling out. Stuart Weitzman is the living example of when you do good things, good things come back to you.

Photos by Professor Melissa Chessher and SMU Daily Campus Member Mikaila Neverson

Tyler Martin

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