While many aspiring activewear executives like to say they grew up in the industry, Kassia Davis truly did.
Her parents, Jim and Anne Davis, turned the Boston-based New Balance sneaker company into a global player and respectively serve as chairman and vice chairman. Kassia Davis also worked at the brand in different capacities over the years. But instead of moving into a senior leadership role, she ventured into a start-up and has since gone in another direction.
She is the founder of KADA, a sustainable direct-to-consumer collection of elevated essentials that quietly made its debut earlier this year. Last month Davis acquired PF Flyers from New Balance and took on the role of executive chairwoman. The classic American sneaker brand will be relaunched next month.
In an interview, Davis declined to comment about what she paid for PF Flyers. But as one of the few women leading an established sneaker company, she discussed her coming-of-age experience, future plans and challenges.
During her eight- to nine-year run at New Balance, she worked in apparel, sales (including acting as the lead liaison with Nordstrom), d-to-c merchandising and e-commerce. These experiences were designed to make Davis more equipped to be part of New Balance’s senior leadership team. She said, “What I didn’t know at the time was that this experience would also be great for me as an entrepreneur.”
Growing up with parents who were immersed in the industry, Davis said her father advised “to always prioritize the quality of the product and don’t compromise the quality of the product for anything else.” In turn, her mother “taught her that the company culture and brand values are just as important as the product,” she said. “These are two golden rules that guide me every day.”
Describing PF Flyers “as an American classic with so much history and authenticity,” Davis said the impetus for the deal occurred one night over dinner with her father. After he mentioned plans to sell PF Flyers to a larger retailer, she said she enthused about the brand’s potential. Her father suggested if she had the resources to acquire the brand then that was an opportunity that she should capitalize on, Davis said. “And the rest is history.”
Next year PF Flyers apparel will launch, as well as a collaborative PF Flyers and KADA line. She declined to specify where PF Flyers footwear will be manufactured.
As for how Davis plans to navigate the male-dominated athletic industry, which has been known to have a sexist reputation at times, she cited her experience. “Being a female in this industry certainly comes with its challenges. The pendulum is certainly shifting to allow for more inclusivity in the industry. It’s finally starting to swing in our favor. Instead of focusing on the negative, my hope is that I can focus on the positive and show other females in the industry that it’s possible to be a leader. I really want to empower and inspire other females to show that they can do it, too,” Davis said.
The name KADA is a riff on the Spanish word “cada,” which means “every.” Davis wanted to relay the brand’s product strategy of catering to each and every woman’s needs. To personalize her label, she opted for a “K” and fittingly used the first two letters of both her first and last names.
KADA’s four-piece collection of “elevated essentials for women” was launched in April. The assortment was kept compact in order to finesse the design process, production and business strategy, Davis said. All of the fabrics are made from recycled yarn and all products are designed and manufactured responsibly, she said. The company works with GreenPrint to offset any water or carbon damage that was done during its manufacturing.
“We pay them a fee per item sold and they reinvest those dollars in water conservation projects around the country,” said Davis, adding that KADA buys back dead stock from the fashion industry and recycles them into its collection.
Dealing with the challenges of COVID-19, Davis said, “We really wanted to make sure that we could build a brand that we felt comfortable pushing nationwide before making a strong announcement in pushing all of our PR and marketing initiatives.”
Instead of September, fall items such as a funnel-neck tunic, a long-sleeved top and leggings will be introduced in October and November and then a holiday capsule collection will follow. The plan is to have the timeline back on track next year.
Two years ago, Davis cofounded the “ath-luxury” label Fierce + Regal. She and the cofounder agreed to part ways and last year during COVID-19, the company disbanded.
The fall core PF Flyers footwear styles will be offered, and new styles will be introduced 12 to 18 months from now. Building on its heritage, the brand will evolve it into a more relevant one for today’s consumer with design being more female-focused, Davis said.
“It’s been one of those brands that treats women as an afterthought. For the most part, women have only been offered men’s styles in smaller sizes. I have always been very passionate about women supporting women. I am so excited to be able to offer women versatile products that can be personalized and worn every day,” Davis said.
Creatively, Pensole, led by its founder D’Wayne Edwards, will oversee the creative direction for the first year. After the one-year mark, Edwards will serve on PF Flyers’ advisory board and the brand will hire a full-time designer. After returning to the marketplace with d-to-c this fall, the company is considering working with select retailers moving forward, Davis said.
PF Flyers hasn’t introduced any new products in two years and the prior team faced layoffs. Davis plans to hire a female chief executive officer with input from an advisory board. Other leadership positions in marketing, business operations, finance and human resources will be filled later. Five hires are planned for the coming year, Davis said.
Working remotely for the time being, she recently bought a 10,000-square-foot industrial office space in Brighton near the New Balance headquarters. That will be a shared space for KADA and PF Flyers that she expects to move the team into in early November.
Aligning with athletes is something that is being explored. PF Flyers’ heritage as an established athletic brand lends itself to such connections, Davis said. Emphasizing that PF Flyers and KADA are more fashion-forward brands, she said both will hire everyday lifestyle influencers to relay more of an off-the-court and lifestyle spirit. “These items can be worn every day, no matter where the day takes you. They can be personalized and stylized based on your preferences,” Davis said.
Plans for philanthropy will be implemented into both brands’ strategies, but nothing has been finalized yet. With hopes to expand her portfolio beyond KADA and PF Flyers, Davis said, “I don’t currently have my eyes on any brands. I do hope to grow my portfolio in the future. Additional brands that I launch or acquire will be from any industry that I feel passionate about and not limited to footwear and apparel.”
Interior design and restaurants and hospitality are interests. “It’s less about the industry and more about what the brands stand for that’s important to me,” Davis said.
All in all, whatever the day may bring, the executive said she liked to remind herself why she started in this business, what she’s passionate about and that she never gives up. “The days that are hard and the days that you make mistakes really become the turning points in your career. Because if you can turn them into positives, you really learn to grow from them and develop as an entrepreneur. I constantly remind myself to just have patience, trust the process and never give up.”