Interview

RUTHIE DAVIS

05.28.12

Ruthie Davis is the mastermind behind her eponymous shoe label. Building her career at companies like Reebok and UGG she has transitioned to designing shoes that have an emphasis on silhouette, color and innovative materials.

Interview

How did you make the transition from everyday comfy shoes to sexy glamorous stilettos?

It’s really not that tough a transition from UGG to Ruthie Davis. Both have a very distinct brand identity, so whether it’s sheepskin boots or high heels, you know what the DNA is. I think that’s the most important thing.  I like products that are authentic and high quality, whether UGG boots or high heels. What I did at UGG and what I do now for my own brand is to add the “sizzle to the steak”. I like to dial up the product, and make it on trend and fashion forward. Also, the same girl wearing UGGs on the weekends wears Ruthie Davis when she dresses up!

Did you specifically want to design for a more upscale market?

I knew I wanted the highest quality shoe. Traditionally the best are made in Italy, so that’s where I went. In order to get that quality, the Italians charge top dollar for leathers, components, and production. Any shoe designer will tell you that most of the price is dictated by Italian production, so then of course you end up with a luxury product and selling to a much higher-end customer. In addition, I put a lot into the lines and shapes of the heels and platforms and many details into the upper that make the shoe expensive.

How has your retail base changed since your launch 6 years ago?

I think more importantly the world has changed since my launch. The 2008 crisis really hit everyone hard, and retail was horribly affected.  When I began, it was all about a boutique business…which was so much fun. Different stores in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami, etc. all carved out their niche in the marketplace, and they had their customers who were loyal and shopped with them constantly. It was like the customer had a built in stylist because they trusted their salespeople and the buyer of their favorite boutiques. Now so many of those great smaller stores I started with are either gone or have completely evolved away into only selling “risk free” product.They carry the same brands as every other store and are really losing their identities. At the same time, the customer, at least for shoes, has certainly turned back to department stores or to online shopping. Ruthie Davis has grown every season since the beginning, but I have to admit that it’s a bit sad…that personal boutique touch seems to be missing as the world moves on.

Do you have a contemporary whose brand growth has impressed you?

I tend to really try to play my own game. The press writes about new designers left and right because it’s interesting and it’s new. The reality is you never know who is actually selling well.  Who is actually retailing to customers? I am one of the few fashion designers to also have an MBA, so I think about these kinds of things constantly. Success and growth to me is the bottom line…gross margins, retail sell-throughs, customer demand and most importantly customer satisfaction.

Who are some of your biggest celebrity followers?

Female performers. I am an American woman designing shoes for women, and that is something extremely rare. Stars like Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Fergie, and Alicia Keys love my shoes because they are flattering, unique, sexy and comfortable. They can sing and dance and perform and move in my shoes. I really attribute this success to the fact that I am a woman, and I get it. I’m just lucky it caught on with such amazing women so early on.

Do you find that you get inquiries from people who are surprised by your shoes price point?

Of course there are always people surprised by the price point. To the general public the shoes are extraordinarily expensive.  To the educated designer customer, my shoes are actually quite competitive with other brands.  People are fascinated by shoes, yet they know very little about them. A single high heel shoe may have 40 components to it.  If all those are made in Italy instead of China, and with Italian labor, and with the exchange rate between the Euro and the Dollar, they are just going to be expensive. I want the best for my brand, and that’s what it costs. And what is really interesting is that my best sellers are always the most expensive styles. So I guess some women are fine with the prices…lol

What is your strategy for targeting the right customers?

My strategy is simply to target women of all ages who want amazing shoes that make them feel confident and successful and sexy and empowered. This is a customer who finds you. She knows what she wants and she gets it. I guess our target demographic is “cool girls” of all ages. We sell to teenagers, we sell to 70 year old women, and we sell to every age in between. However, there is no doubt that my customer is a fashion forward woman who primarily lives in the top urban centers globally.

Are there plans to open a stand alone store?

We have discussions constantly about expansion in different directions…retail, product categories, etc. My philosophy is slow and steady wins the race…and I’m a marathon runner, so I take that very seriously. Expand when it’s time, and when that time comes, I think we’ll know it. A stand alone store would be amazing and is for sure in the plans, but I don’t race unless I’m going to place. I need to make sure it’s right for us, and for the customer. But, stay tuned because we may surprise you…

The average heel on your shoes is 5″, what inspires you to design such high shoes?

My first inspiration is architecture. I know that’s such a standard answer for designers these days, but it’s really true for shoes. These are little buildings. They are completely engineered. They are the foundation of a woman.  They hold us steady and keep us up, and if you ask me, the higher the better. I live in New York City, so I’m surrounded by beautiful architecture and modern skyscrapers all day long.  How could I not be inspired by that?  My second constant inspiration is the woman, the muse. She’s a James Bond girl.  She’s a supermodel.  She’s the Glamazon all sleek and sexy and streamlined and modern. It’s about the lines and the curves and the way the shoe accentuates the body and elongates the leg. What woman doesn’t want to feel taller, sexier, more confident? It inspires me every day. Oh and also, I was the youngest and smallest of six kids, and when I got my first pair of Kork-Ease platforms, I was finally as tall as my older siblings 🙂

How tall are you when barefoot?

5’7″