Keds Brought Together Female Execs From Companies Like S’well and SoulCycle to Talk Gender Equality

Event celebrated Women's Equality Day

Brooklyn Decker, Whitney Casey, Anu Duggal and Melanie Whelan participate in a panel hosted by Keds and Lola. Getty Images
Headshot of Sami Main

On Wednesday, Keds gathered a panel of women entrepreneurs and leaders to answer questions about their journey to the top. The event was in honor of Women’s Equality Day, which takes place Aug. 26.

This is a cause important to Keds, a company founded in 1916 in order to “empower women who wanted a more comfortable shoe while playing sports,” said Emily Culp, the company’s CMO.

“Today, we create shoes that take women wherever they want to go,” she said. “Our shoes are a path to freedom, and we like days like today where we can celebrate what we’ve stood for for over a century.”

Culp and Gillian Meek, president of Keds, were present to give insights from the other end of the entrepreneurial perspective. As a company, it “walks the walk in order to talk the talk,” according to Meek; the company’s support of women is evident in the past century of its history and continues to propel its decisions both internally and externally.

“It’s not on purpose, but our leadership is mostly women,” said Meek. “We attract women to this brand because of what we stand for. And we take fertility and maternity benefits into consideration, and work-life balance, as those are topics important to our staff.”

S'well CEO Sarah Kauss and Keds CMO Emily Culp
Getty Images

The panel was hosted by Keds in partnership with Lola, an eco-friendly feminine hygiene delivery service, and included executives from female-focused companies. It was led by moderator Jo Ling Kent, a news correspondent for NBC.

The panelists were actress and model Brooklyn Decker with Whitney Casey to represent, a company they founded to help women save time getting dressed every day; SoulCycle CEO Melanie Whelan; founding partner of the Female Founders Fund, a venture capital company that invests in female-led startups, Anu Duggal; co-founder and CEO of IT Cosmetics, Jamie Kern Lima; and founder and CEO of S’well, a reusable and charitable water bottle company, Sarah Kauss.

These women, all at different points in their entrepreneurial careers, answered questions from Kent about being women in such high-powered leadership positions.

Lima told the audience that once she started IT Cosmetics, she didn’t pay herself for three years and felt that her first success came from seeing real women post before-and-after photos online of how her products changed their lives.

“Do not let hearing ‘no’ make you doubt your own passion and beliefs,” she said.

The panel also discussed how they continue to face new risks day after day.

“You have to have an appetite for risk if you’re starting a company,” said Kauss. “There are challenges facing you every minute, but you can acknowledge that every one of them has a silver lining. Every risk you thought would be the end of the whole company … we always solved it and became better for it.”

Whelan mentioned a surprising source of information: a “millennial mentor.” Instead of always asking her peers or mentors of her own for advice, she sets up monthly meetings with her millennial mentor to make sure she’s up to date on new apps or trends and see “what the cool kids are into.”

Jen Mussari, a Brooklyn-based artist, custom painted white sneakers for attendees of the panel hosted by Keds and Lola.
Getty Images

Most panelists acknowledged that the most that’s at stake when you’re asking someone for help or advice is that they’ll say no.

“The most that’s at stake, really, is just your pride,” said Casey. “And get ready for a lot of people who won’t help you.”

In order to anticipate those risks and the worst case scenarios, Whelan and her team at SoulCycle end every conversation by asking themselves “What if it doesn’t work?”

“If it goes well, then we’re all pleasantly surprised,” she said. “And if it doesn’t then we’ve basically rehearsed how to handle it.”

The event helped audience members, who were mostly aspiring female entrepreneurs, get a sense of what it’s like to build a business that puts women at the center, ask for help along the way and use their time in the most effective way possible.

Attendees could also sample products from some of the company’s represented at the panel such as Lola’s pads and tampons, IT Cosmetic’s most popular sellers, custom painted Keds sneakers and specially branded S’well water bottles. They also left with sneaky pieces of advice from the panelists.

Kauss betrayed one of her biggest secrets at the company: she schedules meetings with herself in order to block off time on her calendar from any other meetings.

“I needed help prioritizing things, and I wasn’t accomplishing what I needed to get done,” she said. “Some of my team’s here, though, so maybe it won’t work anymore!”

@samimain Sami Main is social editor for Adweek, where she posts Adweek content onto social platforms and looks for creative ways to communicate what's new.