What image comes to mind when you hear the words, “safety shoes?" If you’re like most people, then you probably pictured a bulky hiking-boot style behemoth of a shoe. It performs its one function (safety) and that’s all there is to it…who cares how you look in it, right? Founder and CEO Ana Kraft begs to differ. With Xena Workwear she set out to challenge the stale, male-oriented personal protective equipment industry and show that one brave woman can single-handedly shake-up the status quote and deliver a fresh, innovative perspective.
Ana was born in Kazakhstan and spent her formative years in Germany, where the rich manufacturing history and respect for STEM drew her to pursue a degree in International Project Engineering at Reutlingen University. “Out of a class of 35 there were only 6 girls and we definitely felt like we needed to prove that we belonged,” said Kraft. This motivated her to finish near the top of her class, which led to an exciting opportunity overseas with Walter USA. Immigrated to America - check!
Five years of working in a field predominantly occupied by men, Ana noticed a few interesting trends. First, the women who work in these roles tend to form strong affinity groups. Second, that most of these women encountered a familiar problem that shockingly no one was addressing. In the Manufacturing and STEM fields, safety shoes are a common work requirement. Some women wear them daily while others wear them when they need to go on the floor or in the field. Yet, regardless of use frequency, every. single. woman. hated her safety shoes.
Safety shoes help prevent injury, which is vital. But who decided that safety shoes have to be so…ugly? As a young female professional with a business professional dress code, Ana found herself feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable. Her professional wardrobe clashed harshly with the clunky safety boots, but dressing casually made her feel unprofessional. A business meeting would often transition to a walk around the factory and to a networking event afterward. This left Ana with two subpar options: 1) dress-down and feel less confident; 2) carry around a change of shoes and try to swap them on the go. At a time when she needed to feel her best, Ana felt far from it.
Physical appearance may seem trivial, but we all know that when you look good, you feel good and a sharp work outfit helps you be your most confident self. It’s also no secret that confidence can lead to more opportunities and success. At a time when people are questioning salary disparities, removing this small barrier for women is a step that needs to be taken. Ana explains:
”The idea was born out of my own frustration. I was tired of having to wear huge, ugly work boots, and dressing down to match them. What you wear has a major impact on your self-confidence, which in turn affects other job-related factors including performance, promotability, and long-term career success. Professional women should feel confident when they’re moving from the shop floor to the boardroom. They deserve to have the confidence to take a seat at the table”
With that frustration-fueled passion, Xena Workwear was born. Ana listened to the specific needs of women working in industries where safety shoes were a requirement. Then, inspired by the candid crowd-sourced feedback, she sketched and envisioned what the first pair of shoes would look like. Ana then went through five rounds of prototypes and subjected all shoes to rigorous testing from the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM).
“Our first design, the low-cut Gravity Boot, is stylish, comfortable, and responsibly made. It is ASTM 2413 certified, impact and compression resistant, slip-resistant, chemical resistant, and heat resistant. It has an odor-eliminating antimicrobial insole, stacked heel, and is made using responsibly sourced LWG-certified leather. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this is currently the most fashionable safety shoe in the world.”
Women have always been underrepresented in the STEM field and even though we make up almost half of the overall workforce, we only account for 29% of the science and engineering jobs. Fortunately, these numbers are slowly shifting. An increasing number of women are studying STEM in college - in 2009, around 140,000 women graduated in STEM fields and by 2016, that number had grown to over 200,000! We want to help all of these amazing ladies to look and feel their absolute best.
Ana and her team at Xena Workwear are attempting to redefine a stagnant industry by creating a new category of workwear for women … all while building a community of female leaders who want to rock great-looking shoes 😉.
Thank you for joining us on this journey!