Every so often, the stars align and the perfect entrepreneurial opportunity reveals itself to just the right person. They spot the perfect niche, have a spark of inspiration, and after a tremendous amount of hard work, a stellar business is born.
In today’s case, that person is Ana Kraft, and that stellar business is Xena Workwear, a company that’s redefining workplace attire for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers.
Until now, women working in the manufacturing, engineering, construction, and even film industries have suffered from something Kraft calls the “shrink it and pink it” mentality. Women’s protective footwear was just a smaller version of the men’s product, despite fundamental differences in men’s and women’s feet — not to mention, stylish options were completely absent.
While the style component may seem unimportant to some at first, it’s important to remember that many women working in STEM careers wear multiple hats, frequently going back and forth between an office (professional attire) environment and shop (PPE required) environment, meaning dozens of footwear changes in a day. Or, in some cases, these women are forced to dress down if they’re in traditional-looking work boots most of the day, as that style of boot looks out-of-place when paired with other business attire.
“How you present yourself and what you’re wearing has a major impact on your self confidence. It’s already an uphill battle for women to fit into certain industries and a lack of confidence caused by awful workwear is an unnecessary barrier,” says Kraft. “Professional women deserve to feel their best when they’re on the job.”
And it’s true — Xena Workwear boots really do look great. If you weren’t told they were fitted with steel toes and other safety equipment, you’d have no idea it was even there. They just look like a stylish women’s boot, and Ana is proud that the boots can be worn from the shop floor right to happy hour without skipping a beat.
Kraft developed the product after years working in manufacturing herself, which is how she spotted the need in the first place — she lived it, day in and day out, and had hundreds of conversations over the years with women in her industry experiencing the same woes.
On today’s episode of Working Without Waste, we’ll learn more about the story behind Xena Workwear, and take a deep dive into how this creative business went from concept to design and finally, production.
Before actually designing the footwear, Kraft learned everything possible about the safety standards her company would have to meet. After a ton of detailed research, she finally found the perfect designer for her boots, working with a freelancer she’d found on Upwork before finding the perfect manufacturer.
Once all the right people were in place, the product was developed over a period of six prototypes, getting critical customer feedback through focus groups along the way. Milwaukee proved to be the perfect place to incubate this business, as there are many women working in manufacturing careers here.
The women they worked with in those focus groups were from companies like Harley Davidson, Rockwell Automation, John Deere, and more, and they served as a strong proof of concept for the business, with about 95% of them strongly disliking their current work boots.
Along the way, Kraft put her business through gBETA, a program ran by the folks at Gener8tor, a nationally renowned startup accelerator. There, she was connected to a network of mentors that helped her solve problems, grow the business, and establish connections with investors. After the program is over, it’s up to the business owner to maintain those relationships, but accelerators like gBETA are fantastic ways to get a great idea off the ground.
Kraft’s dedication to her business is apparent — she actually quit her job before entering the gBETA program because she wanted to give it 100% of her focus. In the end, that was a great decision, as Xena Workwear landed $750K in seed round money from investors. Now, her business is launched, and her products are receiving fantastic feedback from the women that are using them. We certainly can’t wait to see where it goes from here.
If you’d like to check out Xena Workwear for yourself, head to xenaworkwear.com to read more about the company, check out their products, and get inspired by their series of fantastic blog posts focused on empowering women and being yourself in the workplace.
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