There are few people in the world who know more about shoes than Stuart Weitzman.
Now the renowned footwear designer and Haverhill native is bringing his expertise to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design with a six-session course called “Sole Connection: Footwear Design.”
The one-of-a-kind class puts shoes in the spotlight, Weitzman said in a phone interview.
“Never say never, but as far as I know, there’s no other school [in America] that gives a full-semester course in footwear,” he explained. “It’s usually a design course that covers footwear, clothing, jewelry, and other aspects of fashion.”
The MassArt class, which began Feb. 1, allows 26 students to build and market shoes through one academic semester.
Students learn to create patterns and lasts, the two essential elements that make a shoe comfortable and wearable, Weitzman said. They are trained to create designs that can be produced and sold to a specific demographic: “The young market, the Millennial market, my wife’s market, the comfort market,” Weitzman said.
Two faculty members assist Weitzman in leading the course, which is taught both online and to small groups in person.
The aspiring student designers will also craft a mini-collection for the Stuart Weitzman brand and submit an individual final project. All materials were sent to students’ residences before the class began.
“Ninety-five percent of designers go to work somewhere, and it usually isn’t at a company that’s doing what they think they’re best at,” Weitzman said. “So I’m teaching them how to adapt to that company’s DNA and build into that brand while being creative themselves.”
In May, Weitzman will award scholarships to selected designers.
The class is a perfect fit for Weitzman, who spent decades creating shoes for consumers and some of the country’s biggest celebrities (think Beyoncé and Taylor Swift). In 2015, Coach acquired the luxury footwear brand for a staggering $574 million. Now Weitzman focuses on philanthropy and education in retirement.
“When you retire, you have to figure out what you’re going to do every day,” he said. “And then someone asked me to give a talk on my entrepreneurial experiences. It was very, very successful and encouraged me to teach in some way.”
Since then, Weitzman has spoken at colleges like Brown, Dartmouth, and the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater, where the design school bears his name. He also visited a large crowd at MassArt pre-pandemic.
This year, Weitzman also started roller-blading and devoting time to tennis and skiing in the Berkshires to fill time during the pandemic.
For the course, he touches on stories closer to home. He grew up in a cluster of Massachusetts “shoe towns,” like Haverhill, Lowell, and Lawrence. His father and his brother both built shoes, too.
“There were 200 factories in the area, which was about 80 to 90 percent of all the shoe-making in the United States,” Weitzman said. “It goes back to the 1800s, when shoes were made by cobblers during the Industrial Revolution. ... When I grew up there, if you weren’t making shoes, you were making ornaments for shoes, or soles, or heels, or supplying the leather.”
Weitzman hopes to continue the course next semester. More students want to take “Sole Connection,” he said, and he is not one to turn down a chance like that.
“The course was oversubscribed this semester,” Weitzman said. “And that’s wonderful.”