“Design Warrior,” a collection of Mulan-inspired shoes created by Ruthie Davis ’80, is on display in Loomis Chaffee’s Richmond Art Center and online, and Ruthie spoke with students about her experience as an entrepreneur in the fashion business during a webinar on December 11.
“I’m not the typical designer who went to art school,” Ruthie told the group of more than 30 students gathered online for her presentation. “I’m a practical problem-solver,” she said, explaining that she designs shoes in response to the desires and purchasing trends of the people for whom her personal brand relates.
At Loomis, Ruthie said, she was “into sports,” including field hockey, tennis, and skiing. She said she put together stylish, sporty outfits — that were more about looking cool than being warm — to wear to ski team practices that were held on winter evenings at a nearby ski resort.
“I used to freeze every night, … but I didn’t care,” Ruthie said. She didn’t know it at the time, she said, but her passion for sports and fashion eventually would lead her to career success.
Ruthie continued playing sports at Bowdoin College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English and liberal arts, and then earned an M.B.A. in entrepreneurship from Babson College. She cut her teeth in the fashion industry working first for sports brand Reebok then footwear brand UGG and fashion brand Tommy Hilfiger before taking what she’d learned working in the industry to launch her own brand, Ruthie Davis, in 2006.
“I always knew I didn’t want to just design shoes. I wanted to create my own brand with a purpose and a meaning,” she said.
According to Ruthie, her brand represents creativity, inclusivity, and open-mindedness, and her shoes, many of which feature towering heels and platforms, are structurally sound and made of high-quality materials so that they are “comfortable and can move and give the wearer a feeling of empowerment.” Her shoe designs have been worn on the red carpet by trend-setting celebrities and social influencers including Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.
True to her passions, Ruthie says her brand aesthetic is both sporty and fashionable.
“Imagine if Manolo Blahnik and Nike had a baby — that’s my brand,” she quipped and explained that she designs for people like herself — people who are confident in themselves, are fun-loving and youthful in spirit, and like to stand out.
The Mulan Warrior Collection, inspired by the titular character from Disney’s Mulan, celebrates female empowerment and is one of several lines Ruthie has created in collaboration with Disney.
During the year-long process of creating the Mulan collection, Ruthie worked with a group of design students from University of Delaware, where Davis is a part of the fashion advisory council. She said she enjoyed mentoring the students because of their positive attitude and willingness to learn.
Ruthie also spoke to the Loomis students about her experience as an entrepreneur, the challenges posed to her business by the COVID-19 pandemic, and where she hopes to go next with the brand.
At the end of her talk, students asked Ruthie questions about her design inspiration, her advice for breaking into the fashion industry, her experience collaborating with Disney, and her views on the fashion industry’s responsibility for preserving the global environment.
Connect to the “Ruthie Davis – A Design Warrior” online gallery to view the Disney X Mulan Collection, and to view a recording of her webinar for students.
For more information or to shop online, connect to the Ruthie Davis website.
Connect to the Visual Arts website page more about arts programming at Loomis Chaffee.