We had the good fortune of connecting with Ana Kraft and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ana, what do you attribute your success to?
At Xena Workwear we make stylish, comfortable and responsibly made safety shoes and apparel for professional women so they can feel confident in any work environment. What makes our startup successful is that we are solving a small but real problem women in STEM and the trades have been facing for many years. Working in manufacturing facilities or construction sites requires the proper use of PPE such as safety boots, safety glasses and high vis vests. The problem is that most of those products are designed for men’s bodies. Too many companies still apply the terrible “shrink it and pink it” concept. While I loved my job in manufacturing I always hated to wear my clunky manly work boots that made it impossible to dress professionally for my important meetings. What you wear has a major impact on your confidence and other job related factors like performance, promotability and long term career success. After years of frustration I decided to do something about this and designed the first stylish safety boot women would actually want to wear. Our Xena safety boots allow women to transition seamlessly from the board room to the manufacturing floor. That’s how Xena Workwear was born. We serve daring women around the world who are not afraid to change the status quo. It is already difficult enough for women to fin into male dominated fields and I wanted to remove the challenge of having access to proper workwear. We always listen to women’s needs and while we have a very small team we push really hard to deliver the products they need to perform their jobs.
To sum it up I would say that we’ve build a successful brand because we are:
- Solving a problem in a niche market
- Listening to customer needs
- Developing purposeful products using the best materials
- Providing superb customer service
- Building strong community of women
What challenges have you faced while building your startup and how did you overcome them?
Starting a business is never easy. There are so many ups and downs and you have to be ready to fail along the way. I want to share about some of my challenges that made me stronger afterwards.
1. Figuring out the Unknown: The first hurdle I had to overcome is to develop a safety shoe without any experience in the footwear space. I had to learn a lot about American safety standards and find the right partners to execute the design I had in mind. After multiple prototypes I was finally happy with the result.
2. Overcoming rejection: Another huge challenge was to raise funding. Only 2.8% of VC funding goes to female founders. I was pitching to over 100 mostly older men who were less than excited about my workwear for women concept. I had to keep accepting rejections until we found the perfect investor who believed in our mission and saw the potential of our brand.
3. Setting healthy boundaries: The biggest struggle during this whole startup journey was when I hit my personal limit. I reached a complete burnout in February of 2020 that I needed to overcome. At the top of a mountain in Colorado I reached the low point of my life. After weeks of stressful work and international trips I accepted the offer for a ski trip that resulted in a massive panic attack. The problem was that I did not set healthy boundaries for myself. I had to learn how to listen to my body and adapt a much healthier routine and diet that helps me to start my day positively and have a lot of energy. I am sharing this because I felt alone with this feeling and want to help other people who are going through similar experiences. Today I feel better than ever – full of energy and ready to tackle whatever 2021 may bring with my amazing team that supports each other.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Milwaukee is a hidden gem! I would start the day with a coffee and a small bite at Colectivo Coffee on Lincoln Memorial Drive and go for a walk along Lake Michigan. The view is stunning! Then I would take my friend to the Milwaukee Art Museum which I admire not only for its art but also for the gorgeous architecture. Afterwards we would need to stop at a few of my favorite breweries: Lakefront Brewery, Milwaukee Brewing Company or Third Space. The perfect place for lunch is the Milwaukee Public Market that offers something for everyone. My favorite place for dinner is a tiny restaurant in the Walker’s Point area called The Noble. They have about ten tables and their menu changes daily. Ping me on LinkedIn if you will ever need a Milwaukee tour guide. Before I moved to the US I lived in Kazakhstan, Germany and traveled all around the world and with all those experiences I have to say that Milwaukee is one of the best cities to live in.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
We would not be here without the amazing support of our customers and the strong women’s groups that share our common mission to help more women succeed in male-centric industries. I would like to give a shout out to SWE (Society of Women Engineers), WiM (Women In Manufacturing), NAWIC (National Association of Women in Construction) and AWMI (Association of Women in Metal Industries). On the business side, there are many founders I admire. Yvon Chouinard and Elon Musk inspired me to be mission driven and showed me that you can transform whole industries as long as you stay the course with your own values. Sara Blakely taught me that it is ok to fail as long as you see your mistakes as a learning opportunities for improvement. Tony Robbins and Oprah Winfrey taught me that I can accomplish anything as long as I create the right mindset.
Photo credits: Xena Workwear