As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kadian Langlais of Renfro Brands.
With over 20 years of experience across the retail marketing, e-commerce, buying, planning, and consulting spectrum, Kadian Langlais is the Chief Marketing Officer of Renfro Brands, the leading manufacturer and marketer of the world’s preeminent sock brands. In her role, Kadian grows consumer engagement across Renfro Brand’s direct to consumer platform, Loops & Wales, and the company’s brand portfolio, inclusive of Hot Sox, Dr. Scholl’s, Merrell, among others. Through Renfro’s global consumer connectivity initiative, Kadian ensures that end-consumer insights are reflected in every aspect of the business to expand brand and customer value propositions.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
In college, I majored in Economics with the intention of going into Investment Banking. After working in the field, I quickly realized that my passion for business and fashion outgrew my curiosity for the finance industry. I was deeply intrigued by the consumer and while in college I pursued internships to build my experience in the field.
My first one was with Ralph Lauren on their buying team. It was through this experience that I realized how interested I was in the decision process at the company and how it ultimately impacted the consumer — both directly and in-directly. At that time, online and digital wasn’t as much of a focus as it now so after college I decided to focus on the buying-side of fashion. I started out in Lord & Taylor’s executive buying program focusing on contemporary dresses and fashion and got an understanding of all the different aspects of retail.
Through understanding all faucets of retail, I realized there was an emerging opportunity with e-commerce. This led me to my next journey at Kayser-Roth where I developed and created their e-commerce and digital department. As online moved to the forefront, other brand leaders started to notice our digital strategy and recruited me to consult with them. That’s when I took the step to start my own consulting business where I worked with emerging and legacy brands, which really prepared me for the position that I’m in currently with Renfro Brands.
I landed at Renfro Brands thanks to the inspiring message and vision that CEO, Stan Jewell, has around opportunity, inclusivity, and creativity. He was eager to turn a heritage brand into one that is synonymous with innovation and in speaking with him, I realized that I wanted to help in this pursuit. I started with the brand as a Vice President of Digital Interactive Consumer, and as my responsibilities grew and I helped launch Renfro Brand’s newest digital platform — Loops & Wales — I was promoted to SVP and Chief Marketing Officer of Renfro Brands.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
When people think about a disruptor, they often first think about technology or innovation — basically creating something that didn’t happen before. From my perspective at Renfro Brands — a legacy company that’s been in business for almost 100 years — I find “disruptive” within change. For a brand with a history, what we’re really doing is changing the mindset, the culture, and priorities of Renfro Brands to be more consumer centric and think about how we use technology to tell brand stories. Disruptive innovation needs to be tangible, and a lot of brands our size and experience are starting to think about how to bring their innovations to life, while Renfro Brands already has a plan of action on how to get there.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was starting at Lord & Taylor as an assistant buyer within their bridal department, specifically for mother-of-the-bride dresses, I would go to the showrooms, pick out styles, and review trends within the market. I did all of this without getting to know who our consumer really was, which was a very particular target audience. As a young 20-something-year old professional starting out in her career, I couldn’t understand why we were choosing such old-school, not “my cup of tea” type of dresses, and how some of the selected styles could be named as our bestsellers. I hadn’t thought through the needs or perspectives of my consumer. Lesson learned! Do your research and make sure you put yourself in the shoes (or dress in this case) of your target audience, before your own perspective as a 22-year-old living in New York City. Taking yourself out of the equation and removing biases is what I think about on a weekly, if not daily basis nowadays.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Now, I would say my biggest mentors are Shawn Outler, Chief Diversity Officer at Macy’s. Our paths crossed when I started working at Lord & Taylor and working with another African American woman in that environment was rare, especially as a head buyer at that time, who then became the DMM at the company. I was so young and one of those active go-getters, who would always speak their minds without a filter. It was Shawn who pulled me aside one day to explain how to properly read the audience, and how to tactfully be bullish. Advice that was instrumental at that early stage of my career, and now. Watching her grow within the retail industry helped me navigate my way through it by following in her footsteps — to this day, she’s a great inspiration to me as a woman of color in the corporate world.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disruptive, especially nowadays, is positioned as a positive thing, but there are times when you have created a strategy that you think is disruptive, and then you change it or someone else comes around and adds a point of view that can disrupt your disruptive strategy! That said, making sure that you stay the course is critical because being disruptive is not just a moment in time when your innovation or disruptive idea comes to life — it’s a whole process and you must be careful about other things that can disrupt your process. In a digital age, we’re all getting information from so many different sources and platforms, and various influential people. To stay the course and keep your end goal in mind, it’s important sometimes to know how to block out those moments that can disrupt you on your journey.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We have a lot in the pipeline at Renfro Brands! As a teaser, you’ll see a lot from us when it comes to how we infuse technology and creativity to blend something that we can own. Renfro Brands has a natural storytelling aspect based on our history, but we’re talking about brand building now and how we utilize technology to integrate our consumers into an immersive experience. Socks are more than you think — they’re that finishing touch that completes the entire ensemble! With that, we have so many fun ideas of how we plan to blend creativity, fashion and technology.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
In my personal experience as a “woman disruptor” who has a family, and who has to balance being a mother — especially during COVID — one of the biggest differences I saw with some of my male counterparts, is that they look forward to leaving the house. For me, it was oftentimes trying to balance being there for both my teams and my kids — that means integrating tools so I can make sure that my kids are logged in and signed on for digital learning, while also logging on to create and innovate with my team at Renfro Brands. It was about integrating my two families — one at home and one at work to make sure we achieve our top results. Having to find the golden middle isn’t always something that I found my male counterparts facing during challenging times such as a global pandemic.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I love the podcast How I Built This with Guy Raz because he interviews entrepreneurs who built a business and empire, and their stories around how they emerged, the challenges they faced and how they dealt with those are super inspiring to me. Understanding how other people were able to creatively face challenges and pivot, especially with COVID or any kind of industry disruptor, is something that I can listen to on a daily. I let those examples and stories marinate in my head until I find opportunities that can translate into my daily solutions both at work and at home. I often listen to the podcast during my commute from Atlanta to North Carolina, so I get a good dose of information to think about!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
Instilling confidence in people! believe that when we are equipped with confidence, and we truly believe in ourselves, we perform at our highest — we start to think about things differently. For example, I’ve had great influencers and mentors in my life, and even in 4th grade my teacher was one of them. I’m Jamaican, and I came to the U.S. when I was seven and naturally had an accent that the rest of my 4th-grade class made fun of. So, when my teacher asked me to stand up and recite a poem that she loved, I was so embarrassed! Instead of silence, my teacher empowered me and made me feel confident about how I expressed the poem without focusing on my accent. That confidence boost made me feel powerful and truly made me believe that I can accomplish anything, no matter what my peers thought of me. Today, I always make it a point to talk to young people to reinforce how great of a job they’re doing to give them that confidence boost. Seeing them change and walk a little bit differently than before, with their shoulders standing up straight, and gracefully moving with confidence, is such an incredible feeling. Nurturing that confidence into our youth really can change the trajectory of their outcomes, and ultimately lead to a better and more proactive society in my opinion.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken-winged bird that cannot fly.” — Langston Hughes
Langston Hughes is one of my favorite poets. His words shaped my childhood and adulthood. I’ve been dreaming boldly for 33 years since Mrs. Walker’s class, and I continue to dream boldly as CMO for Renfro Brands.
How can our readers follow you online?
Learn more about Renfro Brands at Renfro.com and our newest digital platform Loops & Wales. Also, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.