Designer Stuart Weitzman Keeps the Iconic Alive
UCLA Anderson graduate students and undergraduate Bruins in UCLA’s Undergraduate Business Association were treated to an intimate presentation by shoe designer Stuart Weitzman. A footwear industry mogul, Weitzman is known for building, running, selling and even buying back companies. His personal identity sparks interest among admirers that include celebrities, business leaders, collectors and, yes, business school students. He is Jewish and a philatelist, a 1963 Wharton School graduate and an evangelist for experience over education.
He is, above all, the consummate entrepreneur who anted a chunk of his savings to buy a factory in which he could manufacture “one-of-a-kind” women’s shoes, starting with the bridal market. Indeed, he came up as an apprentice under his shoemaker father, so his talent and experience were substantial — but Weitzman also navigated imaginative and risky territory on his own, launching his namesake brand in 1986 to produce designs encrusted with jewels and costing as much as a million dollars. His devotees include Beyoncé and Taylor Swift.
How did this leader in the luxury retail market appeal to his UCLA audience? Undergraduate Samuel Li (B.S. ’24) said, “Weitzman stressed the critical importance of building a diverse and capable team consisting of intelligent, communicative individuals with varying perspectives, encouraging us to invest in top talent, no matter what it takes. He touched on the significance of managing perception and achieving repetitive successes to establish a strong brand identity. As a parting piece of advice, he left us with a reminder, ‘You must love your career. It needs to make your heart sing.’”
Weitzman’s advice and observations struck the MBA students in the audience as universally applicable to good business and a bold approach to life.
“Stu-isms”: Lessons for Success in Retail
By Sid Suresh (’24), President, Retail Business Association
Stuart Weitzman is responsible for some of the most innovative and iconic women’s footwear designs of the past half-century. You may have seen his designs on celebrities like Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, and Jennifer Aniston. However, at this event, we learned about the man behind the brand — namely through truisms he believes have led to his success. Stuart’s long-time VP at Stuart Weitzman Holdings LLC, Barbara Kreger, calls them Stu-isms:
- Don’t be afraid of risk: You can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.
- Imagination is the difference between you and the competition. Make people notice and, most important, make people remember.
- Inspiration: What’s the story? The story is what drives people in. Never think you’re too good or big for something to inspire you.
- You can’t do it alone: The people around you propel you to further heights. Hire people that are smart, nice and communicative. Treat them with respect, and they’ll be with you forever.
- Solve a problem: Think of those who invented the zipper, the button and the mousetrap. Their contribution to society will be remembered forever.
- The tipping point: There will be a moment in your career that can change everything. (For Stuart, it was the million-dollar pair of heels worn by Laura Harring at the 2002 Academy Awards. Those shoes opened doors for the brand all over the world.)
- Take care of your brand perception. It’s your image, your face. When you create something, make sure that it aligns with or enhances the brand.
- Be part of the community: Learn and love to give back. It can be a win-win-win for everyone.
To illustrate “you can’t do it alone,” he described the moment he hired famed architect Zaha Hadid to create a fantastic new space for his boutique store in Hong Kong. Stuart had trouble breaking into the Asian market and finally landed a spot at Hong Kong’s premiere IFC mall. He wanted to make a splash and asked Hadid to create a space unlike any other store in the mall, making shoppers gravitate to its spectacle. Their one-of-a-kind retail shopping experience generated intense demand and allowed Stuart to open several more stores across Asia. When talking about perception, he told us about creating shoes based on the glass slippers he designed for the 2013 Broadway production of Cinderella. He initially priced them $160 cheaper than the leather version of the shoe, but they weren’t as successful as he’d hoped. However, when he priced them at $160 more expensive than the leather version of the shoe, he found that they were exactly as successful as he hoped. The cheaper price combined with the shoe didn’t align with the brand, but the more expensive price was precisely aligned with customer/brand expectations.
Stu-isms are great lessons for success in the retail industry. They are also great lessons for life. Stuart is a man who, by following his passions, has created art that means so much to people of all ages all around the world. As he reflected on his career and his life, it was clear he was experiencing the same emotion that his work has brought to so many: satisfaction.
The “Tipping Point”: When a Solution Becomes a Market Necessity
By Priyesh (’24), President, Entrepreneur Association
As the president of UCLA Anderson’s Entrepreneur Association, I’m in constant pursuit of bringing learning experiences to campus that transcend traditional education and venture into the boundless realm of hands-on experience. Stuart Weitzman’s talk was a testament to the belief that while education might set the foundation, it is practical experience that catapults us toward infinity.
Stuart underscored the significance of working in an environment that aligns with one’s career vision. It was a reminder that to truly excel, we must immerse ourselves in the fields we aspire to lead. He spoke candidly about risk, referencing a product he created that, initially, no one could afford. Through strategic stylist partnerships, he transformed that risk into a high-fashion staple. It’s a lesson in the power of innovative collaboration and the courage to invest in one’s vision.
His approach to advertising is particularly striking — for instance, eschewing traditional marketing for imaginative campaigns like his series with Gigi Hadid. It prompts us to consider how MBA students can similarly innovate at Anderson, particularly as we work toward launching a venture through the Business Creation Program capstone. Since the talk, our team has been investigating how we could, perhaps, adopt a campaign that relies not on direct advertisement but on the evocative power of narrative and iconography.
Stuart’s insights on inspiration were also enlightening, emphasizing that inspiration and competition often come from the most unexpected places. This notion of “indirect competition” is a crucial takeaway for budding entrepreneurs, who must look beyond their direct market rivals for disruptive ideas and untapped opportunities.
The emphasis on teamwork resonated deeply with me. “Hire smart, nice and communicative,” he said, echoing the ethos we aspire to within the Entrepreneur Association. “Building on the shoulders of giants” stands not only as a metaphor for learning from the best but also for seeking the best when our expertise reaches its limits — as Stuart did when he sought out architect Zaha Hadid to design his flagship store in Milan.
Addressing the concept of solving a problem, he articulated the “tipping point,” that critical juncture at which a solution becomes a market necessity. It’s about keeping the iconic alive, as he put it, through repetition yet always with an eye on shifting perceptions. His mention of the impressive gender ratio in upper management — 71 out of 73 members are women — speaks volumes about inclusivity and diversity as cornerstones of a forward-thinking enterprise.
Stuart’s narrative is not just a story of his journey, it’s a roadmap for the Entrepreneur Association. We’re not just learning to navigate the business world, we’re becoming equipped to redraw its boundaries. As we continue to engage with leaders like Stuart, we’re not only inspired, we’re also challenged to elevate our collective ambitions to new heights.
Emphasis on Community and Meaningful Careers
By Arielle Younai (’24), President, Jewish Business Students Association
The stories Stuart Weitzman shared highlighted the importance of taking risks and finding inspiration in your work. Personally, his final “Stu-ism” stood out the most. He expressed that at the end of the day, “you can’t do it alone.” He did not just build a shoe brand, he also built a tight-knit team of advisors, confidantes and hard-working colleagues who were willing to communicate contrary opinions, push him to think bigger, consistently innovate, stay motivated and create the highest quality products. He spoke of his team with such high regard, emphasizing the group effort by his employees, many of whom had extremely long tenure with the company. As he joked with Barbara Kreger, who was sitting in the front row and has been working alongside Stuart since the beginning of his career, it was apparent that the Stuart Weitzman brand was a family and a community.
As a fellow Jewish person, I found this piece especially meaningful. In Judaism, there is a huge emphasis on community, and also giving back to the community. Stuart Weitzman described some of the efforts he has taken to give back over the years, such as creating a campaign for ovarian cancer research, or supporting young entrepreneurs. He observed that when you are successful, it is not just important to write a check, but to really be a part of your community. As we in the Anderson student body embark upon our exciting professional journeys, I hope we can keep these teachings in mind to create purposeful and meaningful careers.