Ruthie Davis designs some of the most exquisite shoes in the world. A seasoned veteran in the fashion industry, Davis went on to start her own shoe company in 2006 and hasn’t looked back. Due to her business savvy and vision, her shoes are now available in the finest retailers around the globe. In an exclusive interview Ruthie Davis talks to me about the growth of her company, importance of social media and advice to those looking to get into the fashion business.
Q: Tell me about your upcoming Spring/Summer Collection. What inspired it?
A: Spring 2012 is about loving life. Colors are warm and bright with nouveau pastel neons in bubblegum and coral and a hardcore glam edge. It’s rich with warm, yellow golds, reminiscent of an afternoon in St. Tropez, interweaving the 70’s feel of a sun-kissed Farrah Fawcett with her voluminous golden hair and tiny orange maillot. Spring 2012 is a hot palette, a Palm Springs mirage, a desert moon, and a hard rock fantasy.
Q: You launched your company in 2006. Looking back, what do you think is the key to your success?
A: The key to my success is a combination of absolute passion for what I do combined with hard work and skills. I waited to launch my own brand until I had the resume of skills and an MBA in Entrepreneurship to back up running a start-up business. I also eat, sleep and dream shoes 24/7. My father was also a CEO and instilled within me the absolute necessity of being honest, hard-working and dignified in my life and my business affairs. I’ve found this concept has been keystone of my life across the board.
Q: How did you start your company?
A: I had worked for larger shoe brands with the dream always in my mind of starting my own brand. I wanted to gain the necessary experience that working in these larger companies would afford me. Then, one day while working for Tommy Hilfiger my husband asked me, “Do you want to work for Tommy Hilfiger or be Tommy Hilfiger?” That was when I decided to start “Ruthie Davis.” I always believe that product is king, so I started with the product and went to Italy to make my first collection. Once that was done to my liking – the next step was sales. And unfortunately, being a new brand and getting into high-end stores was not easy at all. I was lucky that Jeffrey New York believed in supporting up and coming independent designers and they bought my first collection. That was all I needed to get started!
Q: Being a big designer for celebrities you get a lot of photographs taken of your product on people like Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and countless others. How has the celebrity fashion game changed over the years from a designer’s perspective?
A: There was a time when the celebrity-obsessed culture was taking off and having a famous person in your shoes on a red carpet was a major coup. Now, the celebrity world is so overloaded with reality TV that the celebrity endorsement has been watered down a bit. I do think that recently the tide has begun to change to where there is more emphasis on the actual quality and design of the product and less on the hype and publicity. However, a gorgeous shot of an “A” lister like Beyonce or Penelope Cruz in my shoes is always going to be a plus.
Q: How has your company evolved over the years with the rise of digital and social media becoming a standard business practice as opposed to back in the early years of your company when Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc weren’t as important?
A: Social Media has become a vital part of growing a brand. Within the last year, I’ve brought on a Social Media Director and it’s become an integral part of my company’s daily operations. In the past, a fashion label would be forced to rely on classic marketing to get their product to the public. Now, we have a literal army of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest Fans who are the heart of our public. They’re an interactive cheering section, an arsenal of critics, and our invaluable touchstone.
Q: All of your products are made in Italy. Why did you choose Italy as the location to manufacture your products?
A: For luxury leather items, there simply is no other comparable location. Italy has such a history of artisan ship. Italy is all about gorgeous food, wine, women, and shoes! It’s a way of life that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. And buyers and customers in exclusive high-end boutiques and stores demand that the shoe reads “Made in Italy” on it’s leather out sole.
Q: Ruthie Davis shoes and bags are available in many upscale locations around the world. Would you ever consider opening up your own store?
A: A Ruthie Davis flagship boutique is certainly part of my plan. But, as is my way, it will have to all be executed perfectly and timed perfectly. When it’s right, I’ll be ready.
Q: Besides being an incredibly successful designer, we don’t see many pictures of you on red carpets or at events. Why is that?
A: I’m a designer, a CEO, a teacher, and a student. I wear a lot of different hats. I didn’t get into designing to become a “celebrity”, per se. I did it to express myself and try to bring a vision to the world. On an average night, you’ll find me sketching, looking for inspiration, or working on production spreadsheets. I do go out, but you probably won’t find me at the “step and repeat.”
Q: What’s your biggest fashion indulgence?
A: Watches are my ultimate accessory. I’m a big “over-sized” men’s watch person. I find they can lend a quality of the unexpected to a woman’s look. I love extremes; a tiny handbag, with a large men’s chronograph. On a woman, that sort of juxtaposition seems uber-chic to me.
Q: What were some of your ups and downs in the early years of your business? Any advice for young people looking to start their own business?
A: I think a lot of people go into the fashion business thinking they can be an overnight success. It is a long and arduous process that requires hard work, time and money. The designers you read about who graduate from design school and are an instant hit are fairy tales. Anyone wanting to start a designer label needs to know that it is a minimum five-year time frame before things start to take hold. You have to have a long haul mindset with a lot of determination and passion.
Q: It’s been noted that one of your inspiration is James Bond movies. An element that you can definitely feel in your collections. What is it about James Bond heroine that you love?
A: I love the mystery, beauty and strength of a Bond Girl. She’s always one step ahead. She’s plotting her next move while you’re falling in love. Who isn’t inspired by a woman like that? I love a glamorous, hot woman who is sporty and active at the same time. To me, this is the ultimate combination.
Q: What is your favorite food?
A: I’m really into appetizers, actually. I’ll sit down to dinner and order two appetizers and skip the main meal. I love to eat clean and raw, but my absolute favorite indulgence is truffle fries. Give me a salad, truffle fries and a glass of champagne and I’m a happy camper!
Q: What’s an average day like for you?
A: No day is typical or like the one before it, really… and that’s one of the reasons I love waking up and doing what I do. But a more normal typical day would be waking up to breakfast and answering e-mails from Italy on my laptop. Then, a run on NYC’s Hudson River; a walking commute to my office in Chelsea’s Art Gallery District with my two Italian Greyhounds, Desert and River; meetings with my team in my office; some sketching in the studio area; a meeting or two in the city, followed by meeting a friend or my husband for dinner.
Q: What does the future hold for Ruthie Davis?
A: The sky’s the limit. I’ve expanded to designing handbags and sneakers in addition to shoes. Eventually, I’d love to continue to produce my aesthetic in a number of ways. Watches? Home decor? Hotels? Automobiles? Private jets? I’m game.