Why Keds Is Putting the Spotlight on Up-and-Coming Female Entrepreneurs

Putting females first has been part of Keds’ mission since it started making sneakers for women more than 100 years ago. Today, the brand, which boasts an entirely female leadership team, is looking to reinforce the message of women’s empowerment through initiatives inside and outside the label.

Keds last year launched “Ladies for Ladies,” a collection of capsule collaborations spotlighting female creative entrepreneurs.

“We felt like there was an incredible angle to highlight up-and-coming women,” said president Gillian Meek. “It’s the idea that you can celebrate women and their craft and that you can be part of their journey. You never know what these small entrepreneurs are going to do in such a disruptive environment. It’s about being there in the beginning and being part of the conversation in an authentic way.”

Keds Gillian Meek
Keds president Gillian Meek.
CREDIT: Doug Levy

The initiative will launch three to five collaborations throughout the year. While Keds has had much success with its ongoing partner- ship with fan-favorite Kate Spade, working with emerging businesses and influencers pushes the brand’s message of championing women in a distinct way.

Meek said collaborating with Kate Spade and another partner, Rifle Paper Co., is meant to drive sales and traffic through shared equity — and, in some cases, shared distribution.

Keds’ “Ladies for Ladies” collection aims to create fresh content and connect to the label’s consumers.

“These collabs absolutely sell shoes. We wouldn’t do them if they didn’t,” Meek said. “[But] it’s more about telling a story and reinforcing that female empowerment message, which then leads to a larger share over time. It’s a brand builder around our message.”

Its latest tie-up? A line with Bri Emery, the lifestyle blogger behind DesignLoveFest, an Instagram account with nearly 800,000 followers. Keds tapped Emery to create a collection that Meek said is differentiated and unexpected for their usual consumers.

keds designlovefest
Keds x DesignLoveFest
CREDIT: Courtesy of Keds

“Keds is all about highlighting women, and they were open to my ideas and gave me free rein with creativity and design, so I ran with it,” Emery told FN.

Filled with slides, a sneaker style and an espadrille, Emery’s line is focused on refined basics, simple silhouettes and materials such as perforated leather and suede accents.

With each capsule, Keds is finding that its customers are responding to stories about people who are paving their own way.

“Having unique and individual women highlight our brand under that message allows us to bring freshness through each partner while [forging a consistent consumer] expectation that we will be a resource for female collaborations,” Meek said.

Other past collections have come from Forestbound, a made-in-America handbag company based in Somerville, Mass., launched by Alice Saunders in 2007, and Portland, Maine, bag designer Alaina Marie.

As the retail landscape continues to shift, Keds sits at the forefront as a women’s advocator and is looking to remain there with a consistent voice.

“How you tell your story is important to be in the conversation,” Meek said. “The ‘Ladies for Ladies’ idea is entrepreneurial for us in and of itself. It’s not about going to a big-name celebrity or big-name brand [in this case]. It’s starting from the ground up, so we are learning and adding to it, and amplifying as we go.”

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