Keds President Gillian Meek Says the Brand Is Working to ‘Be More Inclusive, More Open and More Relevant’

In the age of Instagram and Snapchat, what consumers most want is authenticity, concurred the Bad Ass Business Executives (B.A.B.E.) panel onstage at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology on Thursday, Dec. 5.

Panelist Jennifer Edwards, mindset director at trend forecaster WGSN, added that “people are emboldened and empowered to be themselves,” rather than to try and be perfect.

“We’re a generation living in a time when people are more educated than they’ve ever been,” Edwards explained. “They have the ability to be themselves. And what’s really going to shine through is authenticity.”

Heritage sneaker brand Keds is making strides toward greater authenticity by looking back at its history. The label made a commitment in 2016 to “talk the talk and walk the walk” by homing in on women’s product, according to president Gillian Meek.

Melissa Walker, Fran Hauser, Katie Kitchens, Jen Edwards and Gillian Meek.
(L-R): Moderator Lynette Brubaker Harrison with panelists Melissa Walker, Fran Hauser, Katie Kitchens, Jen Edwards and Gillian Meek.
CREDIT: Courtesy of B.A.B.E./Sarah Merians

“We decided in 2016 that we were going to focus on our women’s history to be authentic,” Meek said. “It’s important for us to have a different point of view than who we compete against. With any consumer products, you have to be different. Otherwise, why would you buy my brand?”

Going into 2020, the brand has rolled out a “Women Made” platform, which Meek said means “don’t put me in a box, don’t define me, I can be a thousand different things on any day.”

But the exec said Keds, which was founded in 1916, has “a lot of work to do” still to remain relevant.

“Our consumer, we’ve spent a lot of time listening to her over the past year, and she is pushing us to look more like her today,” Meek said. “For me, we have to be really careful; we have to be really honest. We can’t change our history, but we certainly have to be more inclusive, more open and more relevant to what our consumer is looking for.”

Co-panelist Katie Kitchens, founder of subscription box service FabFitFun, said her consumers are also looking for authenticity, which is something she’s strived to find with her influencer marketing.

“We really look for women and men showcasing their most authentic selves across their social media networks. It’s OK to see everything isn’t perfect,” Kitchens said, explaining that she looks more for strong engagement than for high follower counts.

“When Jennifer Aniston tells me to go buy vitamin water, that’s fine. I mean, a very talented, beautiful, amazingly rich actress is telling me to do that,” Kitchens added. “But frankly, when Lisa Rinna tells me to do something, I’m like, ‘Oh hey, friend, I totally loved what you were doing last weekend and believe that I deserve this FabFitFun box.'”

Other panelists included investor Fran Hauser, author of “Myth of the Nice Girl,” and singer Melissa Walker, founder of Jazz House Kids. The Accessories Council hosted the panel.

Below, Gillian Meek explains how her career led her to Keds.

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