Interview by Melanie Gropler

Keds’ iconic style, the Champion, is often named as the first model that has become important in terms of commercial selling for the brand. This year Keds celebrates its 100th birthday. Here, Keds president Chris Lindner talks about why Keds still serves Ladies first and how the brand wants to remain attractive for them.

How important is 2016 for Keds? After all, the brand celebrates its 100th anniversary this year
This is a momentous year for Keds. Very few brands have 100 years of history. As one of the first accessible, fashionable footwear options created for women, we feel that we have a lot to celebrate with our consumers. We just kicked off New York Fashion Week with a remarkable event and judging by the response we received from consumers, influencers and the press, we’re confident this is going to be an incredible year for the brand.

What were the brand’s milestones in its history?
In 1916 Keds was founded as a brand dedicated to providing footwear to let ladies go where they want to go and do what they want to do. In the late teens and early ’20s the shoe became known as the “Shoe of Champions” due to its adoption by so many people and great athletes of the day.
The brand eventually named their key model, the Champion. The ’50s were another key era for the brand as exemplified by the adoption of stars like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Katharine Hepburn wearing Keds at play.
In the late ’80s and early ’90s the brand saw its commercial peak, selling over 25 million pairs.  The brand was propelled by an exciting cultural moment when Keds were worn by Jennifer Grey in the breakout coming of age film, Dirty Dancing.  At the same time, Keds were featured by Donna Karan on the runway leading to the brand’s fashion credibility.
Over the recent years, the brand has found resonance again with its Taylor Swift partnership. The Ladies First Since 1916 platform launched in 2015 and has provided the brand with a vehicle to drive the brand into its centennial year.

Putting ladies first: Keds' anniversary imagery
Putting ladies first: Keds' anniversary imagery
Of course, there are a lot of traditional sneaker brands with a long history existing. But Keds’ iconic style, the Champion, is often names as the first one that really has become important in terms of commercial selling. How important is Keds today compared to its competitors?
Being a 100-year-old brand, the brand’s heritage is unlike any of its competitors. We take pride in our sole dedication to our female consumers. Whether it’s through the designs of our shoes or the marketing and storytelling we put behind our products with our Ladies First Since 1916 platform, everything is focused to connect with our ladies. Our commitment to our consumers is undeniable.

How will Keds remain important among its competitors?
Keds has several components that differentiate itself from its competitors including timeless seasonal collections. We’re also committed to an omnichannel marketing model which allows us to stay connected with our consumers on a consistent basis. Additionally, Our “Ladies First” campaign has provided us with a platform to connect with our consumers on a deeper level and has allowed us to strike mass appeal with today’s female consumer.

Keds announces several events on the occasion of its anniversary. What are the plans for market platform Ladies First and Keds Collective for 2016?
To mark our 100th year, the brand is introducing its own group of leading women, the Keds Collective, a curated group of celebrated female tastemakers. Members of the Collective include actress Allison Williams, award-winning singer Ciara, and Grammy-nominated breakout musical artist Tori Kelly, as well as other women from the fashion, music, art, and technology sectors.
Along with these innovative women, Taylor Swift will continue her role as a brand ambassador.
We are dedicated to empower each member of the collective and we will work with them in a variety of different ways. We believe members of the collective mirror the individuality and everyday triumphs of the women who wear our sneakers.

How will Keds draw attention to the iconic Champion style?
Over the last 100 years, the classic white Champion has become a staple in women’s closets. We’re celebrating that with a global campaign, in-store activations at retailers and through the content we’re sharing with our consumers on social media and our e-commerce sites. Our consumers are always hungry for style inspiration and new ways to wear their Champions. We use #kedsstyle to share that inspiration and encourage another 100 years of the Champion in the wardrobes of fashionable women.

Keds' most iconic style, the Champion
Keds' most iconic style, the Champion

For summer 2016 Keds announces the launch of Made in the USA collection. Can you tell us more about the line?
We’re excited to bring the production of our iconic Champion back to the USA for this collection as this is where the style was originally produced 100 years ago. The US Champion is 100% designed, sourced and manufactured in the USA  which very few brands can say. We believe this is an authentic way to celebrate our heritage.

How will the anniversary appear at POS? For the German speaking markets Keds plans a special anniversary merchandiser tour. Will that also multiply in other markets?
To celebrate the centennial year, our POS visuals are centered on a graphic of the number “100” made out of images of the Champion. The phrase that accompanies the graphic is “Timeliness. Classic. Style.” We believe this is a clean execution that clearly communicates this milestone. We’re a global brand with a retail presence around the world and this visual treatment will used throughout all markets.

Keds emphasizes Ladies First. What are the main icons for this strategy? Think of brand ambassadors that should carry and push the brand’s image…
Women like Allison Williams, Ciara and Tori Kelly truly believe in female empowerment and what the Ladies First platform stands for. Their genuine passion is the reason why we partnered with these amazing women. We also consider our consumers an extension of our collective and ambassadors of our brand. Our hope is that our consumers are able to connect and relate to the collective of women we’ve enlisted and feel a closer connection to our brand and platform as a result.

And are there any future plans to enter the male target group? Currently menswear is having a really good run…
This year we are relaunching our PRO-Keds business. We take pride in listening consumers and we heard a lot of requests to bring the brand back. The Keds brand will always be dedicated to women but relaunching the PRO-Keds business allows us to reach a new consumer and unlock its rich history as well.
The relaunched PRO-Keds
The relaunched PRO-Keds

In the ’50s Keds also offered real sport shoes/sneakers. Why did the brand stop the production of sport sneaker?
Keds was once one of the best women’s performance sneakers on the market but we're now celebrated as a lifestyle brand. Today, our consumers look to our brand to provide them with fashionable footwear to take them from class to date night, an important meeting to girls’ night out. We love being a lifestyle brand that is versatile enough for her to wear throughout her day.

And how interesting is the sport segment for Keds in the future?
Our brand is committed to our consumer and providing her with fashionable footwear. We’re dedicated to providing her with the products she wants so you never know where we may go from here!

What are the main challenges in designing and selling sneakers today?
One of the main challenges of designing and selling sneakers to women is centered on how much the fashion space has evolved over recent years. Consumers now expect instant access to trends that they see on the runway or on their favorite celebrities. There’s no longer the lag time for brands to be able to catch up. Being a fashion brand, Keds has had to adapt to these changes to ensure we’re offering our consumers the products she craves.

Keds iconic Championstyle in metallic look
Keds iconic Championstyle in metallic look

And how does Keds react to these challenges?
We’ve reacted by adjusting our lead times for fashion styles and allotting more resources to quick strike opportunities. Having the flexibility to react to trends quickly forces the whole team to be entrepreneurial.
We’re also partnering with other fashion brands to make products that excite our consumer. We have a curated assortment of styles made with fabrics from high-fashion French textile mill Malhia Kent and Liberty Art Fabrics in the 2016 collection.