by Emma Burstiner
“Some of the best things in life happen by surprise,” shares Stuart Weitzman. Stuart Weitzman is a world class shoe designer: he has stores all over the world and designs shoes for celebrities. His brand is known to be high-end, in vogue, and comfortable. Weitzman currently lives in Greenwich and his daughters attended Greenwich High School.
Weitzman attended the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate. This year, the University of Pennsylvania Design School is being named after him.
The epitome of a successful designer, Weitzman shares that he didn’t expect to be a shoe designer. Going to Wharton, his original intention was “to go on Wall Street” and be “a financial wizard.” As a hobby and passion, Weitzman enjoyed painting and drawing, but he never expected he would be able to have his passion manifested in a career.
At the University of Pennsylvania, Weitzman had a friend who lived in Brooklyn and this friend’s father owned a shoe factory. Weitzman explains that the father “buys ideas from designers,” and these designs are then produced in the factory. Weitzman’s friend suggested that he “sketch shoes and [his father] might buy them.” This would be the beginning of a dream career.
Weitzman wanted to see the catalog of shoes produced by this factory – he explained he “wanted to design to mold into what [his] friend’s father was doing.” Bringing 20 sketches to his friend’s house during a school break, he spread the designs out on the table in front of his friend’s father.
Weitzman recounts the friend’s father “picked up a design, looked at it, looked at [him], and said I want to know who you copied this from.” Because Weitzman had not copied the design, he describes his reaction as “taken aback.” He explained that he simply “looked at the catalog and followed the style.”
As the friend’s father still did not believe Weitzman, “he put [the design] under the light, and stated that it was traced.” Weitzman, repeating that he did not copy the designs, began to scoop them up. In response to this, the “friend’s dad tore [the design] up and threw it on the ground. He then flipped [a different design] over, picked up a pencil, and said ‘that one, draw it again.’”
Acknowledging this as a challenge, Weitzman explains that he sketched it out. After being able to do this, he was offered $20 per sketch. Immediately he made $380 dollars; Weitzman remembers thinking: “that took me 40 minutes and all of this money!”
This was the beginning of a legendary career. Weitzman decided he was “going to work in the shoe industry for a while.” He thought: “maybe I would like it.” He loved it. His career made his “heart sing.” An early example of this feeling was when he “saw one of [his] sketches in a shoe store window on Fifth Avenue recreated into a design. The design was reordered because it sold so well.”
As Weitzman’s career flourished, he employed skills he learned at school. The skills learned at Wharton were extremely useful in running a successful business, but Weitzman recounts that he was most influenced by the sociology course all Wharton students were required to take.
Weitzman shares: “The one thing I have taken with me my whole life is an experience from that class.” On the professor’s desk there was a basket of tennis balls. The professor pointed to one of the students in the front row and said, “See this basket of tennis balls and water jug, I want to you fill that jug as tight as you can with these tennis balls. [It] should be so tight that if you unscrewed it the top ball would come out.”
As the student did this and finished, the professor pointed to another student who confirmed that the job was complete. Instead of being satisfied, the professor poured sand into the crevices that the tennis balls left. To further his point, he then poured water in. The professor explained, “that jug is like your life. Those tennis balls are like the courses you’re taking at Wharton. The jar is not full until you put in the pitcher of sand and this is your community, charity, hobbies, and sports. [Finally,] the water is your family and friends – without that you won’t have a full jug of life.”
Weitzman shares this story to explain not only his greatest lesson from school, but also in life. This class at UPenn acted on him in such a way that he saw the importance of keeping your passions in line with your career, so he continued to pursue the fashion industry.
Weitzman has had an extraordinarily successful career working with celebrities such as Gigi Hadid, Kate Moss, Jennifer Aniston, Blake Lively, and countless others. His work has shaped the fashion industry while becoming a defining symbol of the current era’s vogue. With his unique designs and business skills, he lead his own prosperous enterprise. He recently sold the company to Coach, yet the brand maintains his namesake.
Currently, Weitzman has become an “executive in residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Additionally, he has spoken to students at Yale, Princeton, and Harvard. He is also expecting to speak at Brown and Cornell in the next semester. Weitzman shares that he is able to bring “what you do not get in a classroom: outside experience.” Additionally, Weitzman is now one of three to have a school named after him at the University of Pennsylvania. He has also been asked to give the commencement address to this year’s graduating class at the School of Design at UPenn.
When asked to share advice to current high schoolers, Weitzman expresses that his best advice would be never to lose imagination. “Imagination is something you have to take with you,” he shares. “There is a lot of excitement in imagination…you have to hang on to that imagination in your career and in your life.”