Ciara, Tori Kelly and Allison Williams will play up their multidimensional lifestyles beyond Keds’ spring advertising.
Part of the newly formed Keds Collective, a cadre of women that includes Jamie Chung, Billie Whitehouse and others, their involvement is experiential. Williams, for example, has also directed two short videos for Keds’ site and will host the Feb. 10 “100 Years of Keds” event being held with Refinery 29. Ciara will perform at the West Chelsea event and she is also said to be crafting customized Keds for the brand’s collaboration with Topshop, due in stores in May. Hong Kong-based stylist and blogger Tina Leung and i-D magazine’s Julia Sarr-jamois are also expected to do the same for Keds.
To get a better handle on today’s customers, Keds quizzed 5,000 women in eight countries for qualitative research. Keds president Chris Lindner said this spring’s ad campaign, created by Kirshenbaum Bond Senecal + Partners, is “in the millions.” The company is spotlighting women who work in a variety of fields, and ramping up its e-commerce with D.I.Y. Keds and other initiatives. Tapping Wearable Experiments founder Billie Whitehouse for the Keds Collective seems to encapsulate both of those objectives. After being named chief marketing officer in August, Emily Culp lined up Whitehouse, who will help Keds reimagine some products, though wearables are not planned at this point, according to Lindner.
Owned by Wolverine World Wide, Keds plans to start making American-made goods for the first time since 1983 by using its parent company’s manufacturing facility in Big Rapids, Mich. In May, Keds will introduce Made in the USA goods — “product that is 100 percent down to the aglet, eyelet, box tissue, stuffers, etc.,” Lindner said. Today there are 100 staffers in Keds’ corporate office in Lexington, Mass., outside of Boston and about 35 more around the globe in Wolverine’s offices.
At its peak, the company sold 25 million pairs internationally each year. Founded in 1916 as an offshoot of the U.S. Rubber Co., Keds sneakers were worn by American icons like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Katharine Hepburn, Jacqueline Onassis and Yoko Ono, who wore a pair on her wedding day. “It wasn’t as though the brand was providing endorsement agreements with these women back in the day. It was just inherent in what they did and what they wore,” Lindner said.
In the last few years, Keds has seen a compound growth rate in the midteens in North America, Lindner said. Its Asia-Pacific business has more than quadrupled due to key countries like Korea, Japan and now China is “coming on board as a major part of the company’s growth story.” Taylor Swift, who partnered with the company in 2012 and remains a brand ambassador through this year, has helped rejuvenate interest. Keds’ alliance with Kate Spade is also going forward. And the brand has teamed with Malhia Kent, a European mill with historic ties to Coco Chanel, for textiles that will be introduced in April.
With retail distribution lined up in Topshop, Colette and Galleries Lafayette, Keds is counting on the European market for additional growth, and Latin America. Brazil is particularly strong, where the company has 35 style selections in multiple stores, maintains production there and has not seen any immediate impact from the Zika virus, according to Lindner.