Ruthie Davis, high-fashion and footwear designer, CFDA member, AAFA’s 2014 Designer of the Year and president of her own label, spoke at New York’s Luxury Law Summit on a panel entitled “What’s in a name? Eponymous Fashion Brands” - a subject of which she is clearly fluent.
After graduating from Babson’s Olin Graduate School of Business with an MBA in Entrepreneurship and tenure in executive design positions at Reebok, UGG Australia and Tommy Hilfiger, she launched her footwear brand Ruthie Davis in 2006 and has since expanded into apparel. Her shoe designs, known for their architectural aesthetic and worn by Beyonce and Lady Gaga, have led to high-profile collaborations with Disney, Universal and Swavorski. We caught up with her to get her views on mastering the art of strategic collaboration.
Luxury Law Alliance: What trends do you see in that fashion sector that have a significance within the luxury law space generally?
Ruthie Davis: To create excitement and newness in the luxury category, strategic brand collaborations are a trend that is not going away; the idea of two brands coming together to make something new, by creating special, one-of-a-kind, limited-run, highly curated products with increased visibility. Some of the best examples include: Moncler x Palm Angels, Vetements x Reebok, Uniqlo x JW Anderson and Disney x Ruthie Davis. This concept also translates to retail as experiential retail now includes multi-brand pop-ups where brands team up to maximize a store’s visibility on social media and to draw more customers. These collaborative partnerships can take many forms, be they short-term or long-term and can be set up financially in a myriad of ways. Lawyers are critical in helping with these contracts, and in many cases, spearhead these collaborations.
LLA: What legal issues are you currently dealing with that you see as challenging?
RD: If you are an eponymous brand, the way to keep your name fresh and valid in an ever-changing marketplace is to put your name on brand-extending products. This can mean licensing your name to new categories, collaborating with other brands or making custom products for celebrities. It is important that I have a lawyer representing me who is fighting for my position; for strength and benefits in these relationships and contract agreements.
LLA: Are there particular opportunities within luxury fashion right now?
RD: The greatest opportunity is in the protection of designs, ideas and technologies. The luxury fashion industry is pivoting right now, and everything is geared to new, youth, tech, and digital. Processes in production, sales, marketing and design are all changing and these new ideas need to be protected. For example, the Allbirds sneaker brand that just sold for $1.4 billion; they’re made of trees and sugar cane – this is why they are special. How do you protect that and preclude others from copying their idea? How do you protect digital ideas or innovation in product or on-line sales in luxury fashion?
LLA: How did you end up in your role?
RD: I grew up loving fashion and visual arts, but my father was a corporate guy and that was what I thought I needed to be. I’m one of few luxury designers with an MBA. I worked for Reebok, UGG and Tommy Hilfiger in senior executive positions – but I always had the dream of owning my own brand. It was between trips to China and Brazil where we made the shoes at Tommy Hilfiger when my husband asked, “Just checking in…is your dream to be President of Tommy Hilfiger or Tommy Hilfiger?” He stopped me in my tracks, I paused and responded, “Tommy Hilfiger.” He looked at his watch and responded, “Well, you better get busy!” Within six months, I launched Ruthie Davis.
LLA: How would you define ‘luxury’?
RD: Luxury is aspirational. Luxury is limited. Luxury is high quality. Luxury guarantees good lines and well-fitting product. Luxury is sexy. Appreciating luxury requires knowledge and sophistication. For me, luxury does not mean more is more – in my opinion it means less is more.