In the Spotlight: Anastasia Kraft, Xena Workwear

By Colleen McBride

As part of her work in the manufacturing world, Ana regularly went from a meeting room to the manufacturing floor but, unlike her male counterparts, had to excuse herself to change from office shoes into bulky work boots that never fit quite right. For Ana, the existing work boot options were uncomfortable, unprofessional, and unappealing. Today, Ana is the CEO of Xena Workwear. She serves as a Committee Board member of ASTM International, advocating for the safety needs of women in STEM and the trades, and is also on the Board of FMFM, a non-profit building stable food and water sources in East / West Africa.

Xena’s products are especially helpful because they are fashionable and durable, working well for women in demanding industries. Was the idea to create a more suitable PPE born from your personal experience working in these industries, or from someone you knew?

Yes, it came from my career in the manufacturing industry. I never planned to go into footwear or apparel production but my inspiration was born out of my frustration with the existing women’s PPE available. Before starting Xena, I worked in the manufacturing industry as an engineer. I was responsible for leading multi-million dollar project-planning sessions where I needed to dress professionally. However, as soon as those meetings would wrap up one of the guys would suggest going out on the manufacturing floor to check on a project and I was the only team member who had to run back to my desk to take off my professional shoes and put on the clunky uncomfortable steel-toes. At the time, the existing “shrink it and pink it” strategy was used to make women’s workwear, and this is what I came across when I looked for suitable products for myself on the market. The strategy is exactly how it sounds: male workwear was shrunk and made into pink or purple shades to make their gear “women friendly” and save money in the process.

I know that you have been guided by the belief that women should have access to affordable, fashionable, and high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE) on the job, but how was your mission/belief changed over the years? When did you start, and how did your business model evolve over time??

Xena Workwear is a very young company; we launched in May of 2019. So far, the concept hasn’t changed too much—we began our company with safety shoes because they’re the biggest pain point for women. Over time, we got so many additional requests that we expanded into functional clothes to address many of the same issues. One of the most frequent complaints we got was that women’s apparel for these fields wasn’t machine washable and had fake pockets. Most recently, we’ve created blazer sets with pockets, and it was important to us to make them machine washable, so they could work in all the same environments our customers do. After all, who has the time to drop their clothes off at the dry cleaners? Our mission has stayed consistent throughout this; however, to empower women to step into any role of confidence by removing the hassle of providing well-fitted clothing so women can focus on their jobs.

How has the workplace (specifically for women in male-dominated fields) changed since you were in school? Do you think that gender roles in the workplace will ever completely fade?

There has been so much progress in recent years to expand women’s involvement in male-dominated fields. I’m not sure if we’ll ever get to a 50-50 split percentage of women-men in the workplace, and there’s so much work that remains to be done. Industries like manufacturing have done a lot of necessary work to become more inclusive, and this needs to be done in other industries too. I’ve noticed this in the construction business most recently, and a huge part of expanding opportunities to women in these fields is providing them with proper, fitted equipment to do their jobs. Providing women with PPE and getting them involved in these fields is a great first step in this direction.

How did your business model change during the COVID-19 pandemic? What sorts of changes did your clients experience?

2020 was a difficult year for a lot of companies, and for our customers, it was no different. I noticed that a lot of engineers that were used to spending time on-site or in the office were suddenly at home, which was a difficult adjustment. Now that we are returning to in-person events and companies are going back to manufacturing facilities, I’ve noticed that the “new normal” seems to be established where many of our customers are returning to more on-site or office work. We are a small company so we work from home and still do. It was a challenging time but there were also opportunities to connect with the larger network out there and find new ways to get things done. From the beginning of Xena, we worked in a coworking space and did the rest of the work at home. During the pandemic, we transitioned to a completely online business with ordering and free shipping/easy returns. Now that COVID-19 is dissipating, we may expand to stores at some point, but for the next 2 years, we don’t have a plan to.

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