Our women designers series is an on-going project to highlight innovative designers across the world. In this installment, we’re highlighting Ana Kraft, founder and CEO of Xena Workwear for Women, a company that creates fashionable safety shoes and functional apparel for women in STEM and the Trades. We asked her to share with us the importance of making workwear for women and how she’s set her company apart from others in the market.
What are the benefits of wearing steel-toe shoes? Why are they necessary?
Steel Toe shoes (or more generally, “safety shoes”) are helpful in preventing foot injuries and keeping the wearer safe from a variety of potential hazards. With the right pair of boots, you can decrease the risk of injury from falling objects or prevent slipping on contaminated surfaces. The most common environments where safety shoes are worn are manufacturing facilities, construction sites, and warehouses. Beyond the work setting, steel toe boots have begun to rise in popularity for activities such as motorcycle riding, horseback riding, and DIY home remodeling work.
How are safety shoes for women different from safety shoes for men? What special needs do women have when it comes to safety shoes?
On a biological level, men and women have different foot anatomies, with a woman’s foot tending to be narrower in the heel area and wider in the toe area. For cost-cutting purposes, legacy PPE manufacturers have historically applied the “shrink it and pink it” concept when releasing women’s work boots. This involved taking men’s boots, making them smaller, and adding stereotypically “feminine” elements such as pink accents. The result has been footwear that women find largely uncomfortable, unsafe, and aesthetically unappealing.
What makes a steel-toe shoe comfortable for women?
The principle comfort element is for the shoe to be built with the female foot anatomy in mind. Next, it is important to make sure there is not too much excess space in the shoe. Making a larger, bulbous shoe is cost effective for manufacturers because more shoes fit different foot shapes and sizes, but this often results in women feeling like they are walking in clown shoes that don’t provide enough stability. Another aspect is the usage of a comfortable and durable insole. Contrary to popular belief, memory foam is notoriously poor for long hours of standing as it compresses fairly quickly, leaving you with no cushioning, later in the day. A polyurethane mixture combining just the right amount of softness and stability is our preferred approach. The upper material is another important component. We tested different types and thicknesses and selected a full grain leather and a high performance vegan material that are both durable enough for the job but provide the necessary flexibility and breathability for long work hours. Lastly I would like to mention the use of high quality zippers that make taking the shoes on and off very quick and easy.
Why did you decide to start your company? What differentiates your safety shoes from what was already available on the market? What problem are you trying to solve?
It wasn’t as if I grew up fantasizing about starting a safety shoe company. This crazy journey began because working in manufacturing I was incredibly frustrated with the safety shoe options available to me. The existing PPE companies were predominantly focused on the male market, so I decided to do something about it myself. Our safety shoes are designed, first and foremost with women in mind. They are made to fit women’s feet and have a timeless fashion to them, making it so that women no longer have to dread wearing their work boots. Rather than being bulbous and looking like hiking boots or sneakers, our shoes are designed with class in mind, giving women the option to dress professionally for important meetings and be safe for the shop floor or job site. With our shoes, we are solving a common stigma that boots cannot be both safe and stylish at once. With our designs, this is no longer the case.
How did you make your safety shoes more fashionable than what was available?
We decided to focus on creating boots that women actually enjoyed wearing outside of work including: ankle cut booties, Chelsea-style inspired boots, and riding boots. These are styles found in traditional footwear but hadn’t made the transition to the safety shoe space. In addition, we made sure that the shoes were nicely molded and tapered so that they would hug the contours of the foot and look natural, rather than out of place. Lastly, we were committed to using rich, full-grain leathers which are traditionally found in high-end footwear.
What did you look for when choosing zippers for your steel-toe shoes?
Our main priority when choosing our zippers was durability. We knew that YKK was a household name but had no idea whether it was known as a long-lasting brand. When consulting with our manufacturing partner that had decades of experience in the safety shoe industry, the question of zipper recommendations definitely came up. Their answer was unequivocal – you NEED to use YKK if you’re looking for good quality. The rest is history!
What are some pros and cons of boot zippers?
Boot zippers make for a controversial topic among footwear enthusiasts. On the plus side, they make putting them on and taking them off super simple. Zippers are also a beautiful stylistic element that makes for a much cleaner design than laces. The down side is that zippers are a moving part that can fail, and they don’t allow for customization of fit tightness the same way that laces do. With most safety shoes being lace-ups, we believe they are a very under-utilized element that we are excited to introduce.
What are 3 qualities every female entrepreneur needs to have?
- The knowledge that it is “ok to fail” along the way and to use failure as a learning opportunity.
- The confidence to not compromise on your core principles no matter the outside pressures.
- The goal should not be to compare ourselves to others because if you do, you will never “have enough” or “be enough.” Instead, we should work on becoming the best versions of ourselves by pushing our personal limits and setting higher standards for ourselves as we grow.
Ana Kraft is the Founder and CEO of Xena Workwear – a company that creates fashionable safety shoes and functional apparel for women in STEM and the Trades. This new category of workwear helps professional women be safe and feel confident in any work environment. Transitioning between the office, to the construction site or manufacturing floor has never been so easy. Ana holds a degree in International Project Engineering from Reutlingen University in Germany and currently resides in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The causes that drive her include sustainable development, education and maximizing opportunities for women.
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