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After a Century, What’s Next for Keds?

The word “iconic” gets tossed around a lot. But Keds’ original canvas-top shoe design, the Champion, truly is an icon of footwear—the world’s first mass-marketed sneaker, for its rubber soles which allowed for “sneaking around” easily.

Still as relevant as when it first debuted in 1916, Keds’ Champion is taking a much-deserved victory lap this year, celebrating a century as a style icon. This is emphasized in Keds’ “Ladies First Since 1916” campaign, which draws the connection between modern stars such as Taylor Swift, Allison Williams, and Ciara; and famous women throughout the years who have worn Keds, including Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and Yoko Ono.

With the normcore trend of a few seasons ago and a continued thirst for simple “basics” in the marketplace, it’s easy to argue that Keds is hotter than ever. But for Emily Culp, Keds head of marketing, the brand is far more than just basics.

Vamp spoke with Culp on the initiatives Keds is taking to shake-up its iconic silhouette—including collaborations with the likes of Kate Spade—and on what’s new for Spring ’17, as the brand debuts two new collections inspired by its American sportswear heritage.

VAMP: When so many brands come and go, what does it take to have true longevity in the footwear market?
Culp: We are extremely proud of our long history and we value the loyal customers who engage with us year after year. We stay true to our heritage while incorporating new styles that we think women will love. We are dedicated to bringing fresh eyes to the brand by collaborating with influential ladies, designers and companies such as Malhia Kent and Flora Stationery in order to delight our consumers.

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VAMP: Simple white sneakers are in style. Is imitation the sincerest form of flattery?
Culp: We’ve been around for 100 years, longer than most brands, so we’ve been able to blaze trails along the way. The iconic Keds Champion has always been part of our DNA and it is often the style that comes to mind when consumers think of us. We have found consumers continue to come to Keds because of the iconic American style we’re known for. While “basics” are on trend right now, we consider our Champion a fashion staple that has been able to withstand the test of time. We are also thrilled to be introducing inspiration from our archives like the new Ace silhouette.

VAMP: Tell us about your “Ladies First” campaign and what Keds mean for women.
Culp: The “Ladies First Since 1916” platform honors our legacy with a modern twist. Our brand is fueled by a passion to put ladies first and provide fashionable sneakers to allow them to go where they want to go and do what they want to do.

VAMP: How was it working with Taylor Swift and the women of your Ladies First campaign?
Culp: Relaunching the brand in 2012 with our partnership with Taylor Swift was a tremendous way to get our brand back on the map with ladies. Taylor has been a great partner to the brand. We were also excited to expand this year with the Keds Collective, a group of women that speak to our multidimensional consumers. We’ve partnered with amazing women such as Ciara, Allison Williams and Tori Kelly.

VAMP: Keds is also notable for its many collaborations, such as Eos and Malhia Kent. How does Keds decide on its collaborations?
Culp: We partner with brands and individuals who organically align with our brand philosophy. Being an iconic brand, we frequently have the privilege of receiving collaboration requests from influential brands and individuals. We will continue with several collaboration partners throughout next year including Kate Spade New York and Malhia Kent. We also have new partnerships in the works with amazing entrepreneurial women that we can’t wait to share with our ladies.

VAMP: Could you tell us more about the Keds Custom Studio? Are consumers looking for increased customization in their footwear?
Culp: We decided to launch our Keds Custom Studio in conjunction with our 100-year celebration of female empowerment. We are tapped into our consumer and observed her organically customizing her Keds via Pinterest and Instagram for special events like her wedding. With this insight, we were inspired to launch the Custom Studio. Making a personal style statement is something we love at Keds and have found our customers respond to very positively. Nothing gets us as excited as seeing Keds ladies add their own unique twist to our classic styles.

VAMP: What have been your biggest sellers this year?
Culp: We’ve seen a lot of success with our Triple and Triple Decker silhouettes. Ladies have loved the added height these styles give them. Additionally, we’ve seen strong sales from our modern sport styles like the Kickstart, our lace-to-toe option, and the Triumph. We offer them in classic canvas, as well as perforated leather, chambray, metallic and quilted jersey.

VAMP: What’s new for Spring ’17?
Culp: For Spring ’17, the brand is declaring “Game On” with two new collections inspired by our American sportswear heritage. The all-new range of styles captures a fresh take on the classic, feminine aesthetic that the brand is known for. Court classics are reimagined with a feminine touch for a collection made with a sport-inspired palette and simply detailed materials. The secondary collection for the season features a play on pastels, with a sportswear interpretation of a very feminine palette. Soft, muted hues and a minimalist vibe nod to the growing trends towards modern simplicity in American sportswear.

VAMP: What sorts of silhouettes should customers expect?
Culp: New silhouette introductions include the Ace, a sporty cupsole lace-to-toe style. The Park, another new silhouette, pairs an EVA wedge for a more stylized look and lift with the rubber outsole the brand is known for. The low-profile Chillax gets updated this season with the introduction of the Chillax A-Line, a twin gore slip on, and the Chillax Mini, a skimmer silhouette interpretation of the favorite Chillax style. The Triple Origami has all the height of the original Triple, with the added feature of a pleated fold closure that allows easy slip-on and slip-off.