Fashion designer Steve Madden speaks with CollegeFashionista Founder Amy Levin during Monday's event. (Photo courtesy of

Fashion front and center as iconic designer visits UF

To hear Steve Madden describe his love of ladies shoes is curious, at first. Even he admits it sounds a bit strange.

But it’s a genuine affection that has inspired him to create one of the most iconic fashion brands in the world. An enthusiastic crowd of approximately 300 UF students greeted Madden on Monday in Norman Hall as the renowned designer shared his thoughts on fashion, the solitary life of an entrepreneur, mistakes along the way, and the evolution of the Steve Madden brand in an event hosted by the UF Retail Society and

“I instantly fell in love with ladies shoes.”

Tired of lugging around golf clubs as a caddie as a teenager—and receiving the paltry tips that came with the gig—Madden began working in a shoe store in New York.

The job switch was an epiphany for him, and helped establish the foundation for his company.

“I instantly fell in love with ladies shoes,” Madden said. “…For some reason, it was a magical moment. I was very interested in what made a shoe popular.”

“Being an entrepreneur can be lonely.”

Madden cautioned students about the toll starting and succeeding at a business can have on your personal life. He said it takes an intense focus to bring your vision to reality, and oftentimes that vision isn’t shared by those close to you.

“Nothing is more important than the project, and that includes girlfriends and boyfriends,” Madden said. “Being an entrepreneur can be lonely. You have to be ready for an all-out war, and it doesn’t mix well with wonderful relationships. If you’re going to succeed, it could be a lonely journey…That sort of happened to me in a way.”

“Just trying to survive”

The worst of times for Madden came in 2002 when he began a 2 ½ year prison sentence after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering and securities fraud.

The episode was chronicled in the 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street” starring Leonardo DiCaprio as finance mogul Jordan Belfort. Belfort and Daniel Porush, Madden’s childhood friend, ran the investment firm Stratton Oakmont, which took Madden’s company public in 1993. According to a 2013 interview with The New York Times, Madden “flipped Stratton Oakmont shares for a quick profit, and shared his take with executives at Mr. Porush’s company.”

“When you’re in prison, you’re just trying to survive,” Madden told UF students Monday. “You’re not really thinking about the outside. You’re trying to get stronger mentally, physically, and learn from your mistakes.”

Surprisingly, Madden doesn’t look back on his time in prison with disdain. It’s the events that led up to his sentence that he laments.

“I regret the mistakes that I made that led to incarceration,” he said. “I don’t regret the time in prison. It was an adventure that made me stronger.”

“I want to get better at it.”

Despite the immense success of the Steve Madden brand, which also includes accessories and a music division, Madden still sees room for improvement.”

“Mostly, we’re still trying to figure out the shoe business,” Madden said. “I want to get better at it.”

Madden also touched on the plight of retail stores in the age of e-commerce.

“It’s really tough for [brick-and-mortar] retail right now,” Madden said. “Stores are so important to fashion, and I’m worried about the future of stores.”