Keds Redefines What It Means to Be a ‘Lady’ for International Women’s Day

With International Women’s Day fast approaching on Friday, March 8, Keds has been getting the conversation started about female empowerment.

On Monday, the 103-year-old women’s sneaker brand hosted a special event in New York hosted by “Project Runway” judge Elaine Welteroth, discussing the importance of finding your voice. And in the coming days, it will initiate more conversations with fans and friends and custom activations with Goop, The Skimm and other popular digital platforms.

In addition, Keds has debuted a playful new version of its “Ladies First” brand platform that literally walks all over the traditional dictionary definition of the word “lady.” The imagery is appearing now online and in stores, and a cheeky video is airing on YouTube — together the ads continue the label’s message of strength and inclusiveness, while also highlighting its heritage Champion sneaker.

Recently, Keds president Gillian Meek sat down with FN to talk about the new marketing campaign and what it’s like to run an iconic female-focused brand in today’s “age of the woman.”

Why did you want to explore this new message?

GM: “When we turned 100 in 2016 we re-platformed and our tagline ‘Ladies First’ started there. We’ve done some additional consumer insights work since that timeframe to hone in and make sure that we’re validating that idea. We still call our target consumer the ‘leading lady.’ But now it is about redefining what it is to be a lady today. For us, being a lady is not that historical view. It means you’re helpful and supportive, but it also means you have an opinion and express it.”

Keds Spring 2019 Campaign
Keds’ spring ’19 ad campaign continues its empowerment message.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

In the past, Keds has worked with celebrities on campaigns. Could we see that again?

GM: “Nothing is off the table, especially because we have a new head of marketing. But what we’re finding now is that [our customers are] certainly influenced by whoever is on the cover of a magazine, but they’re equally influenced by their peer group and by micro-influencers — people who have a decent following online and are promoting product, but also are a little more organically connected to their lives. So in 2019, you’re not going to see a major actress wearing Keds, but it’s something that we could go back to if it was in an organic way.”

Internally, you’ve spearheaded women’s leadership in your organization. How do you think the shoe industry overall is doing with inclusion?

GM: “I am an eternal optimist in this space. I think we’re doing OK. I certainly have benefited in my career in working for incredible women, and I think we have some pretty great established leaders in the footwear business, like Diane Sullivan [at Caleres] and Wendy Yang [at Deckers Brands]. At Keds, we have a unique opportunity: Because we are so focused on women and only making footwear for them, we obviously over-index. We have an all-female leadership team and the entire product development team is female. I think we’re in an interesting time, but it’s natural for this brand. People come to work for something because they believe in your mission and your vision.”

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

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing now?

GM: “The blessing and the challenge of being authentically embedded in this conversation of female empowerment is that everyone has been coming there. And that’s great for the conversation. The challenge of it is how do I make sure that people my message and understand how genuine and original it is. We’re doing a lot of testing with this new campaign and we will learn. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the pace of change, for all of us. It is unrelenting — it’s so fast. My history is in product creation, so I always think about what are we doing that’s new and fresh and innovative.”

Speaking of product, your collaborations with Rifle Paper Co. and Kate Spade have been very successful. Will collabs continue to be a focus?

GM: “Our collaboration strategy is evolving. What’s great about Rifle Paper, for example, is that at the time it launched in 2016, it was planned really small and now it’s a big part of our e-commerce business. We continue to look for those undiscovered or being-discovered opportunities, whether it’s an artist or entrepreneur. We haven’t done a musician yet, but it wouldn’t be off the list. [Last week], we did a very small collaboration with graphic artist Ellen van Dusen of Dusen Dusen. So we’ll do [collabs] at a really big scale with Rifle and Kate and in smaller, interesting ways with people who have a lot of shared values with us. We have a few of those in the mix for 2019.”

Check out FN’s conversation with Gillian Meek about her own career path.

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