Stuart Weitzman, founder of the luxury shoe company by the same name, explored on April 18 how Georgetown students can take first steps toward building a brand while speaking on his own entrepreneurial experiences.
The McDonough School of Business (MSB) and the Georgetown Retail and Luxury Association, a student-run organization that creates professional spaces for engagement with high-end industries, hosted the event. It took place as part of the Stanton Distinguished Leaders Series, which connects Georgetown students and alumni with prominent leaders across various industries.
Weitzman’s primary advice for students was to seek out experiential learning opportunities. Weitzman said many of his formative educational experiences occurred outside the classroom.
“The education you get outside sometimes can dwarf what you’re learning inside,” Weitzman said at the event. “Education really will take you from one to 100. There’s no question about that if you do it well. But things like your imagination and experience can take you to infinity.”
Weitzman said preserving a child-like imagination is vital to entrepreneurship.
“We all grow up with a great imagination, and we lose it as we get to school,” Weitzman said. “You don’t want to stand out, you don’t want to take a risk or you don’t want to seem silly. And you begin to not think about some clever ways to do things.”
Weitzman emphasized throughout the event the importance of market opportunities, and said he achieved much of his success through occupying a unique space within the luxury shoe market.
“Find your niche in the market,” Weitzman said. “Understand what you really want to do and how you think you can achieve it. And when you get your mind on that, make sure that whatever product or service you offer, you keep your promise.”
Weitzman said that when choosing business partners, he advises against working with close friends and family members and encourages finding smart and communicative individuals outside of one’s personal social network.
“It’s kind of risky to go in business, to start something with a family member or a best friend. It certainly can work and often does,” Weitzman said. “But when it doesn’t, you lose your partner, you lose your friend or you lose your brother or your sister. So think of that carefully before you decide who you want to do something with. It has more failures than successes.”
Weitzman said he still embraced a certain degree of risk when starting his business — but ensured he had emergency exit routes available in the case of failure.
“I took risks in my business. I saved some money working elsewhere, and I had enough to start a company,” Weitzman said. “There were so many shoes on the shelves, and those companies had been there so long before me that I absolutely had to know what I was doing and find a place for it.”
Weitzman said that once he had envisioned the concept of an innovative luxury shoe, he partnered with several celebrities to launch his brand.
For example, in one of its first marketing campaigns, Weitzman’s company created personalized shoes to match the dresses that women were planning to wear at awards shows. When a celebrity won an award, they would showcase their shoes and thank Stuart Weitzman for designing them.
Weitzman said that creating a visionary and innovative brand was essential to helping his business thrive. The brand draws fashion inspiration from television and movie icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, according to Weitzman.
“You don’t want to look necessarily at the competitor next door — you want to look where others might not be looking into your field,” Weitzman said. “And I had no trouble seeing great ideas at other levels of fashion and footwear. Editors and writers of fashion love inspiration. They love to know where an idea came from.”
Weitzman said building a business based on values, rather than rules, is crucial to ensuring long-term success.
“You want to create iconic items. You want to create that because then you own it. You base your branding on values, not on rules, because things change,” Weitzman said. “If you’re stuck with rules, you’ll kind of be frozen to it like a horse with blinkers — you may not want to go where you should.”
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