10 Questions for Ruthie Davis

For Ruthie Davis, spring is all about bling.

The New York-based designer, who honed her skills at top design jobs with Reebok, Ugg and Tommy Hilfiger, launched her namesake collection in 2006 and has since been building a following with her sky-high stilettos distinguished by pops of neon and unique hardware embellishments.

But for spring ’10, Davis is taking a new approach by partnering with British jewelry designer Fiona Paxton to create a sandal adorned with intricately beaded baubles. “We’re both up-and-coming, celebrity-driven designers,” said Davis, who counts Beyoncé and Rihanna among her fans. “You don’t often see two smaller brands coming together. This is a new way to jazz things up.”

At $795, the sandal fits neatly within the $600-to-$900 price range for Davis’ main collection, which is sold at Kitson in Los Angeles, Gregory’s in Texas and other independents.

Davis — who credits her MBA degree as a key factor in her brand’s success — also made big changes to her collection for fall ’09 by segmenting it into two labels, Davis by Ruthie Davis and Ruthie Davis. Davis, priced between $698 and $798, is built around a two-for-one combo package consisting of a pump and a takedown flat in the same colorway. The Ruthie Davis collection, meanwhile, will continue to feature a broader offering of heels.

The designer, who broke the seven-figure sales mark in 2008, recently sat down with Footwear News to discuss running her own company and staying loyal to Italian manufacturing.

1. How is your design background reflected in your brand’s aesthetic?

RD: I’ve always liked mixing sporty stuff with fashion. When I was at Reebok [and Ugg], I tried to make the shoes more fashionable. It was the same at Tommy Hilfiger, where I tried to make [the line] like what “Gossip Girl” is now — preppy with a twist. All those [experiences] played into the mix [with my own brand]. Sporty doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing a sport; it means you’re moving. Sporty is futuristic, and [my collections] feed into that.

2. How did your background prepare you for creating your own line?

RD: I got street-smart [at Tommy Hilfiger] because it was a licensing situation, and it was New York. It was a good reality check. You always have to sell people on your ideas and you have to fight. The fashion industry is a tough industry, and there’s a lot of [the same challenges] when you do your own brand. You have to be tough because you get knocked down a lot.

3. What is the most challenging part of running your own company?

RD: You have to be very creative, [and not] just when you’re sketching a shoe. You can only do really cool things if you have a sound business foundation. Your sketches are better because you don’t just sit down and start drawing shoes — you have a formula. Once you get your template, you’ve got your structure. Then you can sit back and do the daydreaming.

4. It’s been a tough year at retail. How is your brand holding up?

RD: You take steps back, but as long as I’m ultimately moving forward, I’m happy. There are always new accounts, and [every season] I launch a new construction or two. [Because I’m a younger brand], every year gets better, and 2009 is already my best year yet — economy be damned.

5. Have you felt pressure to lower your prices?

RD: Of course, but I never would. I’d rather offer something like the [Davis by Ruthie Davis] combos and give [retailers] another thing to buy. Once you walk away [from a price point], you can never go back. I’m building a brand, and I’m not going to compromise because the economy is having problems. [When this downturn passes], I’ll be glad I didn’t cave in.

6. Were the combos a response to the recession?

RD: [The concept] started because it was something I needed. I always wear heels, but I wanted a flat for when my feet hurt, or when I’m taking the subway. So I [decided] to do a killer ballerina. It started looking really cute, and I wanted to do heels in the same colors. At first we thought we could sell them separately and the retailer could offer them together at a discount, but then we thought [it would be better] to put them in the same box and sell both shoes for [about $700].

7. Has the economy affected the way you design?

RD: Not really, but I am focusing more on what works and on being true to my brand mantra. I don’t want a lot of filler or to waste money on anything. Some of the bigger brands have these huge [initial] collections they have to cut down, but I have to be super edited from the get-go.

8. How have women’s shopping habits changed?

RD: They’re buying two pairs now instead of 10. But they’re always going to want a couple of great new shoes every season. They might not go on trips or will take the subway instead of a cab, but they have to have those shoes. It makes you feel put together and confident.

9. Why are you such a champion of Italian-made product?

RD: The craftsmanship brings the shoes to life. That’s what Italy is known for. I’ve had the luxury of [working for companies] that make shoes in other places, and I just prefer Italy. But being [there] doesn’t mean the shoes will be great. There are different levels of quality in the factories.

10. Some Italian factories are closing. How do you safeguard your brand
from that?

RD: I’m at two factories. It’s like an investment portfolio — you need to diversify. If something happens to one factory, I have the other. Some people only have one, and that’s a little risky. I’m also lucky to be at a factory where the son taking it over is pretty young, and the father is still pretty young. The grandfather is still there, too, so you know it’s a better scenario.


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