By Anna Lardinois
“The right man for the job may be a woman.”
The statement is more than just a motto emblazoned on one of Xena Workwear for Women’s best-selling t-shirts; it is the concept behind the whole company. And company founder Ana Kraft is the embodiment of the idea.
A native of Kazakhstan, Kraft’s family moved to Germany when she was a child. In Germany, she found a greater level of freedom and opportunity for women than in the central Asian country of her birth. It was there she developed an interest in STEM-based careers. That interest eventually led her to Wisconsin.
Kraft arrived in the Badger State to complete a manufacturing engineering internship at Walter AG in Waukesha. It was then she developed an affection for Milwaukee. Of the city, Kraft says, “Milwaukee is a hidden gem. I love it a lot.” After the completion of her studies, Kraft returned to the United States, and made the city she fell in love with her new home.
It was while working as an engineer that she realized women in STEM and manufacturing were not being served by the companies making the safety equipment required in these traditionally male-dominated fields. To perform their duties, women were forced to wear ill-fitting boots, and poorly fitting clothing that lacked basic functionality like pockets for tools and PPE. Kraft saw an opportunity to improve the working conditions of women in STEM, while making the field look more inviting to girls interested in pursuing careers that require personal protective equipment (PPE).
In response to this need, Kraft launched Xena Workwear, a company focused on the safety needs of women in STEM, promising customers “beautiful styles that don’t compromise function” in 2019.The company’s first steel-toed work boot for women rolled off the assembly line in May of that year. Kraft emphasizes the comfort of Xena products, noting they do not fall along the lines of traditional products made for women that employ a “pink it and shrink it” approach. Instead, Xena Workwear is designed to fit the proportions of a woman’s body, while looking like a stylish, contemporary boot. Albeit one with steel toe reinforcements and soles that can protect the wearer from electrical shocks of up to 18,000 volts. Across the country, people are recognizing Xena’s unique offerings; New York Magazine named Xena boots “Best Chelsea Boots for Women” in 2021.
Xena boots are made in North America. The cost of manufacturing footwear in the United States is prohibitively expensive, she said, leading her to explore partnerships in Asia before establishing a partnership with a manufacturer in Mexico.
“I decided to go to Mexico because we think that we would have much better quality control in Mexico, and we’re in the same time zone, so the communication is so much better, helping deliver what we actually need,” she said. “It’s also easier for us to travel there and establish a relationship with the manufacturing partner. (They are) a third-generation footwear manufacturer, who are located in Leon, which is the shoe capital of the Western hemisphere.”
In 2020, the company added flexible, machine-washable blazers to their offerings. The blazer has all of the features of a traditional utility jacket, including extra-large pockets to hold the equipment necessary for use on jobsites. Designed to move from the boardroom to the factory floor, the jacket has been popular with customers.
Unlike the boots, the blazers are manufactured in Chicago.
“Initially the plan was to make blazers in Mexico as well, but during the pandemic, it was difficult trying to guide a manufacturer through the manufacturing process, ” Kraft said. “Our pattern maker connected us with a company in Chicago, which is also women-owned, and is delivering amazing quality. The challenge is to find manufacturing in the U.S. in general.”
Still in their seed funding stage, Xena Workwear plans to launch two new models of work boots in 2022. The company will also continue its commitment to making a positive financial impact on the lives of women in 2022. With her focus on charitable giving, Kraft is as dedicated to expanding her philanthropic reach as she is expanding her brand. Most recently, the company offered a donation to Dress for Success for every sale on their website. The non-profit organization provides support to women entering the workforce.
To follow the rise of Xena Workwear and their efforts in improving the professional lives of women, connect with them on their website.