Have you ever been in a situation where you were meeting clients and then had to immediately visit the manufacturing floor or a job site? Increasingly more and more women work in environments that require transitions between the office and the field, yet our workwear isn’t designed to live-up to these demands.
Working as an Engineer and Project Manager, Ana Kraft personally felt this frustration of having to wear clunky safety boots that that made her feel uncomfortable, underdressed and unprofessional. After five years of constantly having to switch shoes and complaining about the lack of more professional and versatile options, Ana created a new segment of footwear for women by designing safety shoes that are fashionable & functional.
Ana’s inspirational story of discovering STEM and starting her own company spans three continents and cultures:
“I was born in Kazakhstan, a country with conservative values where most women did not drive cars and were mostly groomed to be housewives. After moving to Germany at the age of 10, I realized that gender-roles were not set in stone and that if I applied myself, the world would open itself to me. I wanted to make a positive impact on the world and have a well paying job so that I wouldn’t have to rely on anyone financially.”
Ana embraced the European values of ‘gender equality’ and ‘doing social good,’ deciding to pursue a meaningful career in STEM. She received a unique “International Project Engineering” degree from Reutlingen University in Germany which balanced general engineering education with advanced business practices. The program allowed her to visit the US for multiple internships at a Wisconsin steel-cutting-tool manufacturing facility where she fell in love with the American culture. In 2015 she took a leap and made a permanent move to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Ana began working as a Project Management Consultant focused on working with manufacturing clients. Traveling from client site to client site, she experienced a recurring issue:
“Leading project planning sessions with groups of 5-15 engineers, I was typically the only woman and I really struggled with the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements. The men on the team could easily coordinate their safety shoes with business casual wear while I was stuck looking like I was about to go on a hike. What you wear has a major impact on your confidence and my bulky boots were not helping.”
Frustration often leads to motivation and while Ana never planned on manufacturing her own safety shoes, that is exactly what happened. The PPE industry has a long list of idiosyncrasies and steep barriers to entry, but Ana was determined. She was armed with a burning desire to make a difference for women in manufacturing, engineering, and construction. Ana found her calling and founded Xena Workwear in order to give women the ability to dress professionally, express their true personalities and feel confident.
( Check out our WE19 Facebook Live video with Ana! )
It took over two years to learn the American & Global safety guidelines, master the science of safety shoe construction, create an initial design, find a responsible manufacturing partner, build multiple prototypes, pass the rigorous regulatory testing (ASTM), and to establish a great customer experience. Xena Workwear officially launched in May of 2019 and delivered an innovative steel-toe design that shipped directly from Ana’s Milwaukee home. Since then, Xena has expanded their fulfillment and product offering, having shipped their stylish safety boots to 40 States and internationally to Canada, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand.
“Women in STEM have been waiting for legacy PPE companies to take our needs seriously yet there were no solutions on the horizon. When I launched Xena, it was overwhelming to receive supportive messages from women all over the world, who were thankful that someone finally tackled the professional safety shoe problem.”
Xena’s mission is to help professional women feel confident and express their true personality by creating stylish, comfortable and responsibly-made safety footwear. Ana is using her experience from the Manufacturing sector to design products that address existing pain-points and solve the specific needs of women. Based on customer requests, Xena will also be launching several apparel solutions in the coming months.
Ana’s long term goal is to support the growing community of female leaders that inspire the next generation of girls to explore STEM and the trades as a career. Assisting future generations is something she already has experience with. Being an active board member of a Milwaukee non-profit called Feeding Mouths, Filling Minds (FMFM), Ana is using her engineering training and project management skills to enact meaningful change. The FMFM team has successfully built sustainable food/water sources in Africa and in 2019 they completed their most ambitious project, having successfully built a college in Sierra Leone!