At a recent press preview, designer Ce Ce Chin of 80%20 voiced a mild beef with the industry: There are so few female leaders in the footwear industry, she mused—and that’s a pretty astonishing fact given the number of women in fashion overall. A resilient businesswoman who has built up her own brand from scratch, Chin said she’d love to see more women leave impressions as lasting as men like Kenneth Cole or Steve Madden.
The Two Ten Footwear Foundation may be answering her call. At last month’s FFANY show, it launched Women In the Footwear Industry (WIFI), an initiative to support women in the trade. “Just as Two Ten has served for 60-plus years as a crutch for shoepeople in need, WIFI seeks to promote women and foster collaboration throughout all sectors of footwear,” committee co-chairs Carol Baiocchi, vice president and DMM of Kohl’s Department Stores, and Diane Sullivan, president and COO of Brown Shoe Co., said in a statement. Through mentorships, conferences, workshops and more, Two Ten hopes to foster deeper ties between industry women, looking to create a robust generation of confident business leaders.
The effort can be traced back to 2008, when members of the industry asked Two Ten to address specific market sectors. It responded by introducing the Young Professionals and Human Resource Leadership communities, as well as the Women in Footwear group. That group began holding informal gatherings in Boston, where local professional women networked and discussed topics such as the emergence of social media and achieving work/life balance. A feeling of unity developed, and this spirit was something Two Ten wanted to harness, Baiocchi and Sullivan noted.
The initiative landed in New York with successful market week meetings filling to capacity. According to Baiocchi and Sullivan, the huge interest made the need for an officigal group even more apparent. Last year, Two Ten asked 25 women to hammer out a mission and goals, structure a mentoring program and plan a launch event. At WIFI’s official kick-off party in July, Two Ten President Peggy Kim Meill welcomed the crowd, the co-chairs laid out its plans for the future, and Susan Lyne, CEO of Gilt Groupe, gave a highly anticipated keynote speech, reminding everyone in the room the importance of taking time out for herself.
“We encourage every woman working in the footwear industry to become involved with Two Ten WIFI, as it is meant to be your organization and can be molded and changed as needs dictate,” Baiocchi and Sullivan said. The co-chairs noted that WIFI plans to form an advisory board and are hoping individuals will volunteer to become ambassadors, holding regional gatherings to spread WIFI’s work beyond the Northeast. Anyone interested in becoming a mentor or mentee is encouraged to participate in WIFI’s program, which is helping to form meaningful relationships that will advance the careers of women leaders. The group is also planning a half-day conference, with hopes of including a full program of speakers and a host of networking opportunities.
“With your help, Two Ten WIFI will become the premier group for women in footwear, working together to strengthen our industry as a whole,” Baiocchi and Sullivan said. To find out more about WIFI or learn how to get involved, visit Twoten.org or search for “Two Ten WIFI” on the groups section of LinkedIn. —Leslie Shiers