We recently spoke with Anastasia Kraft, co-founder and CEO of Xena Workwear.
Q: What is Xena Workwear?
A: Xena designs and manufactures stylish steel-toe shoes and apparel so professional women can express their true personality and feel confident in any role. Xena has a mission of empowering women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) and the trades to lead by example and become role models for the next generation of girls considering non-traditional careers.
Q: How was the idea for Xena developed and started?
A: What led me to this business venture was my work in project management, working on multimillion-dollar construction, manufacturing and event planning projects. While I loved working with my teams in the manufacturing environment, there was one aspect I truly hated—my bulky and manly steel-toe boots. After years of frustration, I decided to solve this issue by designing and manufacturing fashionable steel-toe footwear for women so we could finally dress like the professionals we are! After a year and a half of development, multiple prototypes, and rigorous American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) testing, we were finally able to launch the first stylish, feminine steel-toes in May of 2019.
Q: Who are your key customers and where do you see growth opportunities?
A: Our customers are primarily professional women in STEM and the trades who spend part of their time in an office setting and part of their time on a job site or factory floor. Women all over the country are wearing our shoes at companies such as Rockwell Automation, GE Healthcare, Boeing, Maker’s Mark, NASA, Harley-Davidson and Johnson Controls, to name a few. We’ve also delivered products internationally to women in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
We will continue to expand our offering of stylish steel-toes and will be moving into the apparel space, releasing workwear that is both fashionable and purposeful. Currently, women in demanding fields do not have access to clothing that is functional, fashionable and versatile enough to fit different work environments.
Q: In your opinion, why is Xena’s business model successful in the marketplace?
A: Our key differentiator is creating ASTM-certified products that women actually want to wear. We have successfully invented a brand-new category of footwear and apparel that combines elements of style and safety. More and more women are moving into these demanding careers and seeking workwear options to bring their whole self to work. We are actively listening to the needs of the women in these spaces and engineering products that will cement us as the go-to for both functional fashion.
Q: What are some resources that have contributed to Xena’s success?
A: We were very fortunate to have been selected for gener8tor’s gBeta spring cohort in 2019. This accelerator focused our efforts and connected us with an amazing network of individuals which eventually led to the funding of our seed round in July of 2019. It is difficult to say where we would be without the wonderful support of the growing startup community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Q: What stage is the company at today, and what have been some milestones along the way?
A: Xena is still in the seed stage, growing sales and followers on a daily basis. We launched our first product in May 2019, closed a $750,000 funding round in August 2019, and have generated more than $80,000 in revenue over the past six months. The launch of our latest safety shoe and apparel are slated for December 2019, and 2020 is looking incredibly promising!
Q: How does Xena benefit from being located in Wisconsin?
A: Wisconsin is a hotbed of manufacturing, engineering and construction. There are world-renowned companies that call Wisconsin their home and have been incredibly supportive of our efforts, including but not limited to Husco International, Rockwell Automation and GE Healthcare.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge for you and your team? What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs facing similar challenges?
A: The biggest challenge has been finding enough time in the day to complete the overflowing to-do list that entrepreneurs face. The startup environment means wearing every possible hat and being ready to react quickly to changing circumstances. It is important to have a strong support network, including friends, family and reliable mentors. If you are able to find an accelerator (such as gener8tor) that is willing to work with you, it can serve as a powerful asset to connect you with the resources that you might need, including legal, IT or financing.