Take fashion entrepreneur Ruthie Davis’ picture, and she’ll have an important question for you: “Did you get the shoes?”
Indeed, it is all about the shoes for Davis MBA’93, the entrepreneur, founder and designer behind the eponymous shoe brand favored by A-list celebrities such as Beyonce, Ariana Grande, and Lady Gaga. Davis’ shoes are bold, beautiful, and distinct, the kind of eye-catching designs that make you wonder how she came up with them in the first place.
But Davis is quick to point out that having a vibrant fashion brand is about so much more than just designing show-stopping shoes. “The thing that is tricky is keeping the brand valid in the marketplace,” she says. “In fashion they say, one minute you’re in, the next minute you’re out. It’s a real challenge to keep fresh. I am constantly marketing every single thing I do, in some way, shape, or form.”
That means attending red carpet events and fashion weeks. That means having her picture taken continually and making sure that, yes, the shoes are in the photo. That means always posting to social media and communicating with the brand’s fans.
And that means seeking out high-profile collaborations. In recent years, Ruthie Davis has become a licensee of Disney and collaborated with them on the Disney Princess x Ruthie Davis shoe collections based on various Disney Princesses. Her latest collection goes beyond the Princess franchise and is launching this month in tandem with Disney’s newest movie, “Frozen 2.”
“One of the ways to increase your relevance is to do these high-level collaborations,” Davis says. “Working with Disney has been like a dream.”
The first thing you might notice about Davis’ shoes is how high the heels are. She is constantly asked by strangers how she manages to walk in them, but Davis, frankly, likes her shoes that way. “As a woman, I like to feel strong, and I like to look at a man eye to eye,” she says. “I’m 5-7, and so with my shoes, I’m pretty much the height of most guys.”
Her shoes, she says, aren’t just about looking good. “It’s about empowering the woman who wears them to feel confident and strong,” says Davis. As a proud Babson alumna, Davis has remained involved with the College, and with many of its students interested in fashion entrepreneurship, she offers internships and takes time to meet with them and answer questions. That message of empowerment is something she passes on. “A big part of the Ruthie Davis brand is about giving back, inspiring people to go after their dreams, to think big,” she says.
In a meeting at Disney, Ruthie Davis was told, “You’re like a modern-day Disney princess, working hard to go after your dreams.”
Davis is certainly thinking big by collaborating with Disney. Seeking to sell adult fashion, Disney was interested in working with Davis, not just because of her distinctive shoes, but also because she is a rare female shoe designer and fashion entrepreneur. “They loved the idea of the Ruthie Davis who’s a woman designing for women,” says Davis. In a meeting at Disney, she was told, “You’re like a modern-day Disney princess, working hard to go after your dreams.”
Davis’ previous collections for the company have included shoes inspired by Disney princesses Snow White, Mulan, and Jasmine from “Aladdin.” In March, Davis is planning to release shoes tied to a forthcoming live-action “Mulan” movie.
While she is working with iconic movies and characters, Davis still strives to have her brand’s spirited personality come through in her shoes. “I have the Ruthie look,” she says. “I bring that to Disney.”
For its part, Disney also is mindful of its own brand. Through many meetings, calls, and emails, the Disney team will offer Davis input. “There is a bit of back and forth,” Davis says. “It’s very important to them that I get the feeling behind the character, what her personality is, what she is trying to achieve in the story.”
The end result is shoes that are very evocative of the characters that inspire them. For the footwear inspired by Snow White, for instance, one pair of boots features an image of the Princess on one foot and the Evil Queen on the other, while another includes the words “fairest of them all” emblazoned across the sole of the sneaker.
With the crystal stilettos, glittery ankle boots, and platform sneakers of her new “Frozen 2” collection, Davis is hoping to evoke the film’s two main characters: snow queen Elsa and her younger sister, Anna. “They are going after their dreams,” Davis says of the characters. “I try to create shoes that give you that feeling. These shoes are no wallflowers.”
The same could be said for Davis herself.
Posted in Entrepreneurial Leadership