“If you think these big companies have it all figured out, they don’t,” said Ruthie Davis speaking to students of Faces and Places in Fashion lecture class this Monday. Davis is now a leading American shoe designer with collections in top retail stores worldwide. She was referring to Reebok in the 90s. It was her first major job and she saw some surprising fashion disconnects.
“People wanted their shoes to hook-up with their outfits” said Davis. “At Reebok the apparel was on one side of the street and the footwear on the other. They didn’t cross-pollinate.” Davis ushered in some fashion-conscious teens for a brainstorming session with Reebok higher-ups. “It’s like the shoe people aren’t talking to the clothing people,” one teen blurted out. Bingo.
Another time when Reebok heads were stumped about why Reeboks weren’t selling abroad, Davis booked a trip to the Netherlands. She discovered they liked brown running shoes over there, not white ones.
When you feel like a “peon” at a big company, said Davis, think bigger.
When you’re fresh out of the gate, working for a big company can be a strategically good move. “Learn on someone else’s dime,” she said. It’s nearly impossible to graduate and start a successful business right away. “It’s better to take time to learn, save money and plan before jumping headfirst into your own collection.”
Accessories Design chair Vasilios, who had a front row seat, has known Davis for a long time and has followed her career closely. “I’m proud to say she’s America’s leading female footwear designer. She’s stomping down the doors for others to follow,” he says.
Photo used with permission