Fashion icon and entrepreneur Stuart Weitzman shares lessons for building a brand, pursuing an idea

Stuart Weitzman speaking at Northeastern University Global Entrepreneurship event.
11/15/23 – BOSTON, MA. – Fashion icon and entrepreneur Stuart Weitzman inspires members of the Northeastern community during a conversation on the eighth floor of the EXP building in Boston on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Stuart Weitzman, a fashion icon and entrepreneur best known for his designer shoes worn by countless A-list celebrities, had some advice for Northeastern University students.

“You have to take risks,” the renowned shoemaker said during a presentation Wednesday at the newly opened EXP research complex on the Boston campus. “If you want to be an entrepreneur, if you want to be creative, if you want to innovate — you have to take risks.”

“This is an entrepreneurially-minded group,” he said. “It is an exciting world to be in — the entrepreneurial world. But it’s a challenge, and you really don’t learn all of the aspects of it until you get out and do it.”

Weitzman’s visit to Northeastern was part of the university’s Global Entrepreneurship Week. celebrations. The event was co-hosted by University Advancement and Mosaic, Northeastern’s student entrepreneurship hub.

Weitzman, CEO and creative director of the luxury brand of shoe stores that bear his name, began his talk by condensing decades of entrepreneurial wisdom into several memorable lessons and principles. 

Among them, Weitzman — who got his start by designing shoes for his father’s business before taking it over after his death — emphasized the importance of taking risks, committing to an idea, cultivating a child-like imagination and relying on others when pursuing a business venture.

A marriage of creativity and business acumen, Weitzman spent his early life apprenticing for his father in Haverhill, Massachusetts. After attending the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, he said he used about one-third of his savings  to purchase a factory to manufacture “one-of-a-kind” designer shoes. 

It was a decision, he told the students, he knew wasn’t going to pay dividends in the short run.

“It was kind of ridiculous to take that much money and build something” that wasn’t going to sell at first, he said. “But I had this idea. And, you know, that was a big risk.”

The idea was born out of some combination of niche-seeking and red-carpet intrigue. A student of fashion, Weitzman noted how, in observing red-carpet events, all the women wore designer dresses — and that no two were alike.

“But so many of them had the same shoe on because nobody was making custom shoes,” he said. “I thought, if I could do in footwear what they’re doing with dresses — maybe that is an entree that didn’t exist before.”

After every anecdote, Weitzman offered concise nuggets of wisdom — or “Stuart-isms.” (“Take risks; solve a problem; never do it alone,” etc.) 

“The best advice I can give: work somewhere else first,” he said at one point. “The odds are well in your favor if you can learn something from someone else before you try to do it on your own, like run a major division of a company on your own.”

Sejin Park, a fourth-year nursing student who is interested in potentially working in fashion and beauty, said Weitzman’s talk helped her to think about making a career switch a reality.

“I found the most inspiring part to be: just follow your passion,” Park, 21, said. “As someone who is a nursing major who is trying to do something creative now, that part really spoke to me.” 

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Park said she can see herself doing something entrepreneurial in the future. 

Weitzman and Park spoke briefly before the event. 

“I know that fashion is really cutthroat, and it’s hard industry to break into,” she said. “I think after hearing his talk, it was a little bit more motivational to really chase after what I want to do in the future. I really believe if you put your mind to it and take the risk like he did with his business, you can achieve the things you want.” 

As Weitzman’s brand grew, so too did the demand for his shoes from celebrities and non-celebrities alike. Indeed, the list of collaborations with celebrities is seemingly never-ending, including the likes of Beyoncé, Kate Middleton, Meghan Markle, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lopez, to name a few.

David Donoian, a third-year marketing student with a fashion minor, said that heading into the talk, he knew about the brand but virtually nothing about Weitzman himself. The 21-year-old, who likes “clothes and movies,” enjoyed the event.

“I’m pretty set on doing marketing and fashion in some form,” he said. 

Donoian was part of a group of students who got to have dinner with Weitzman following his talk. He forwarded his resume and several questions he had for the fashion icon to receive the opportunity. 

“I think it was really cool that he wanted to make his own product under his name,” Donoian said. “To me, I saw this talk as a fashion opportunity. When I learned the context was entrepreneurship, and after hearing everything he said, it just added another dimension to things.”

Alluding to the growth and trajectory of Northeastern’s global network of campuses, Weitzman offered some parting words for students.   

“You are going to be successful like you won’t even imagine,” he said. 

Tanner Stening is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at Follow him on X/Twitter @tstening90.