Lavetta Willis '94


President & CEO, LL International Shoe Company

Lavetta Willis '94 successfully competes against such monoliths/giants/ shoe moguls as Nike, Reebok, and New Balance. She is president and co-owner of LL International Shoe Company, which includes the ever-growing line of DADA Footwear. Below her laid-back persona lies a motivated and ambitious woman whose hard work has landed DADA athletic shoes in national chains such as Foot Locker, Lady Foot Locker, and Footaction.

Willis holds an engineering degree from University of Notre Dame, but she came to Los Angeles to pursue her dream of becoming a sports and entertainment agent. "I went to law school because I wanted to be an agent. And then after my first year, I tried to get an internship," she explains. A talent agent with whom she had spoken about an internship explained that women often encountered great difficulty breaking into the sports industry. He suggested that Willis explore the athletic apparel world.

Although Willis initially reacted with shock and dismay, she recognized the potential market for women's sports apparel. Harkening back to her days as a basketball star at Notre Dame, Willis remembers, "I had never been really happy with my Nike gear because the sweatsuits were always made for guys. For the women, they make the same sweatsuit, but they make them in pretty colors. They never fit or didn't fit right [because they were made for men]. No one actually made any kind of athletic anything that fit women."

Early attempts to market women's sports apparel were less than successful, but Willis persisted -- and eventually met with success with clothing brands such as Nation and P.O.C. Her reputation led Willis to Damani DADA, a fledgling sportswear company. Store representatives routinely asked about the possibility of a shoe line coming from DADA, and Willis was tapped to co-found a spinoff shoe company. In April 1998, Dada Footwear shipped its first line of shoes, and it has become one of the most successful new brand introductions in recent athletic footwear history.

When Willis left Loyola in 1994, she left pursuing a career that would more likely be pursued by someone just graduating from business school. But, Willis does not regret pursuing a law degree at all. "You never waste a law degree. You use it everyday of your life."