Keds’ All-Female Leadership Team Found Company Culture ‘Magic’ With Women at the Helm

Every day in June, FN is showcasing female leaders across the industry for our Women in Power series.

At Keds, the future is definitely female. With 88% of the company comprising women, the firm’s “Ladies First” mantra is being brought to life internally as well as externally, from its storytelling to its shoes.

Here, the brand’s president, Gillian Meek, VP of global product Holly Curtis and VP of marketing Lisa Lewis discuss how their company culture is Keds’ winning ticket.

Is it empowering to be part of an all-female leadership team?
Holly Curtis:
“Part of what drew me to Keds [in 2014] was the opportunity to join the leadership team, which was primarily men, as one of the first women. There’s a big piece of magic that happens when women talk to other women about product they love. When we brought more on, that magic grew, and it snowballed.”

Gillian Meek: “The obvious answer is that it feels great. The difference is thinking about how we plan our business for 2020 focusing on female empowerment. We know that the time is right. It’s not even a movement; it’s life as we know it. We’ve focused so much on our legacy [around this idea], but now we want to reintroduce ourselves. Because we are women making shoes for women.”

Does the consumer know that?
GM: “No. We know it matters, and it’s going to be a big part of how we talk to her going forward. As a brand, for us to be modern, we have to reflect how our consumer looks. We’ve always talked about being an inclusive brand, and we’ve done it with product. Now we need to do it with investments in storytelling.”

What are some ways you might lead differently than men?
GM: “Our development team, which is the group making the shoes, is entirely female. They are thinking about themselves; they understand how their anatomy works.”

HC: “The conversations that happen around product are, ‘What if you wanted to wear this high-top with
a dress? What does that do to what your leg looks like?’ Those conversations, in my experience, are very hard to have in a male-dominated space. They don’t necessarily resonate.”
Lisa Lewis: “Being unapologetically feminine is something we have and other brands don’t. To be able to be an authentic brand in that space and not have to create something like some of our competitors are doing just to establish relevancy — that what’s makes us different, and that’s what’s going to beat everyone else.”

How important is company culture, and how are you shaping it?
GM: “It starts with me. We have a high level of collaboration. For me, that’s a positive. There’s a youthful energy. For us to do better and win, we need to lean in when someone needs a hand, and you find that here. It’s competitive; we are all here to make the brand No. 1, but it’s not [about] winning and leaving a wake behind. It’s [winning] together.”

HC: “Because we are so many women, we truly can be competitive with others in the industry without feeling like we have to compete with each other for those top spots.”

LL: “It’s about helping each other when it comes to being a mom and coming to work when you’ve only slept for four hours, and having someone who gets that. It’s about being real. That’s how women want to be talked to. So that’s the differ- ence of what this group provides versus it being a group of men who are trying to sell a women’s sneaker.”

How specifically do you plan to engage with your consumer audience?
GM: “We spent a lot of time in the last year and a half working to understand the consumer beyond the demographics. She wants to vote with her dollars. It’s important that brands she invests in stand for what she believes in. She will see right through you if she thinks you’re just paying a person to wear your stuff.”

Are you planning to tackle social issues in your messaging?
LL: “It’s part of our future. In the first 90 days of coming here [this year], it was important to me to home in and sharpen the fine points that these ladies have done in the previous years and create a space to be a thought leader in conversations that matter to us and, more importantly, matter to the consumer. That will play a huge role in how we move forward from a social perspective and the content that we create.”

HC: “From the product side, we want the iconic Champion styles to become a badge of female empowerment. Part of the things we will do is leverage our collaborations to make sure we are conveying that message that when you vote with your dollars, you wear brands that support women, and you can wear it with pride.”

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