Female-Forces Behind The Keds Collective

When Keds looked to kick off its centennial year with a spunky and fresh new campaign, the team turned to the past for inspiration.

The iconic label channeled its roots as a brand for women, founded in 1916 as an alternative shoe to the typical turn-of-the-century heeled boot. That heritage story became the starting point for its latest marketing success: the Keds Collective.

Just a few months into the job, chief marketing officer Emily Culp said she was learning about her customer when the idea struck her — to highlight the brand’s beginning through powerful, personable and empowering women.

“One day [our consumer] might channel looking like Audrey Hepburn, and the next she’s Yoko Ono,” said Culp. “[We wanted to] create an amazing and dynamic group of entrepreneurial women who reflected and captured the moxie and spirit of our consumer.”

Culp and the Keds team, along with support of Refinery 29, tapped actress Allison Williams, singer Ciara, fashion blogger Jamie Chung and emerging singer Tori Kelly, among others, to star in the first grouping of women to represent the brand.

“It was one of those rare instances where I didn’t have to give it much thought because I like Keds,” said Williams. “I like what they stand for, and I like the shoes. In a time when we still have a long way to go in terms of male and female equality … it’s refreshing to see a company that makes no secret of its support and love for women — and women of all ages.”

The goal of the Keds Collective is not just to highlight celebrity fans, but also to create meaningful stories with women who embody the Ladies First Since 1916 tagline. The brand searched for women who shared similarities with its customer base — creative personalities, with a focus on both fashion and technology.

Through social media posts, digital and print spots, and a Keds birthday bash ahead of New York Fashion Week, the Collective aims to raise the brand profile with the story of an empowered female.

Small- and silver-screen exposure are also in the mix: Williams said she’s been wearing Keds more frequently, and they’ve appeared in her projects such as the HBO series “Girls” and the upcoming movie “Get Out.”

But what has made the project so successful, said Culp, is that Keds searched for women who genuinely love the brand.

“Allison could tell us the first pair of Keds she wore, and she knew about the U.S. Rubber Co. founding us because she’d done a report when she was little,” Culp said. “This is stuff you can’t make up. You get a sense if they authentically love your brand, and to me that is far more important than paying [a] person to wear our shoes.”

Williams said working with the brand has been a wonderful experience, especially because Keds has gone the extra mile to support her creatively and philanthropically. In particular, she said Keds was quick to provide financial support for Horizons, one of her favorite educational nonprofits.

“Companies don’t stick around for 100 years by some happy accident. It indicates that it’s not only well run but well consumed and well regarded and has avoided so many of the pitfalls other companies have had over time,” said Williams. “I liked celebrating that.”

For the future of the Keds Collective, Culp said she’d bring in new faces and a few familiar old ones with every new edition. There will also be robust mobile-first content with videos, social posts and more.

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