June 7, 2022

Kamik CEO Gillian Meek Talks Leadership Tactics, Sustainability & More

Gillian Meek’s latest career move is taking her back to familiar territory. A native of Canada, Meek joined Montréal-based Kamik in February after previously serving as president of Keds. She is now focused on capitalizing on the family-owned company’s made-in-America heritage and sustainability story to build a year-round business.

While 70% of Kamik’s products are already made in North America, Meek said the brand is continuously looking for more environmentally friendly ways to reduce its carbon footprint. For instance, its Montréal factory runs solely on hydroelectricity, and all of Kamik’s plants rely on renewable energy — no fossil fuels are used.

Plus, circularity is at the forefront, according to Meek.

The brand now recycles and reuses over 100,000 pounds of needle-punched felts annually. In addition, 100% of rubber rejected during the manufacturing process is recycled and used in new products. This results in 360,000 new black rainboots made from scraps each year.

With more than 20 years of experience in the shoe industry, Meek shares with FN her leadership tactics in this new role and how she’s evolving the brand for the opportunities ahead.

Compared to past roles, what is it like working within a family business?

Gillian Meek: My career has been historically in publicly traded, enterprise- style environments — big companies with heavily resourced back ends. So this is completely different, which is one of the reasons I wanted to do it. The family is amazing. They are third and fourth generations [who are] actually in the business. When I was looking for what’s next, I wanted a situation where there was incredible brand equity, but also an opportunity to reintroduce it to a whole new generation of consumers.”

What has been the biggest challenge and opportunity so far?

GM: The biggest challenge and opportunity is transforming into a consumer-led, brand-focused company — and transforming to think about the consumer first and foremost. When you do that, [it impacts] everything, from account growth, where you sell, how much you sell to e‑commerce and international growth. The biggest challenge for me is evaluating all of those various opportunities and breaking it down into smaller pieces that we can be successful in, one win at a time, as we transform.”

In this new role, what are some leadership tactics that you’re implementing?

GM: This is my first time as a CEO. Having worked at Keds, that experience was all about empowerment, from the consumer all the way through the team. It’s the same thing here — empowering the team to take everything they know about the brand and apply that to thinking about how to connect with the consumer. And teamwork. That’s been another really important element of me coming into this environment: how do you take a family, keep the culture, all the special sauce that they have as a group and have developed, but also point it in a direction of high growth? It’s about investing in the people who are already there and their talents and giving them tools to expand.”

Kids’ boots perform well for Kamik. What other categories are you looking to grow?

GM: We’re really focused on building a full-family assortment. Women’s is a huge opportunity for us. That’s kind of my wheelhouse, if you look at my background. And not just in boots, but in fall, non-insulated, non-waterproof products — and for spring/summer, not just rainboots but [styles] on the performance or the lifestyle side. There’s also tremendous opportunity in men’s, too.”

In terms of retail distribution, where are looking to expand?

GM: We have a ton of opportunity with the customers we already have. We are seen by many as a seasonal brand, partly because they just haven’t been exposed to all the great products we make for the rest of the season. So when I look at our top 10 accounts [such as DSW, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Famous Footwear, Bass Pro Shops] in the U.S. and in Canada, I see a ton of growth opportunity to focus on digital. We’re really focused on making our key accounts bigger, so it means that 12 months of the year, product should be on store shelves, but also on the digital store shelves.”

What is your approach to the global markets?

GM: Two-thirds of the business is done in the U.S., and we have a huge opportunity internationally to grow. If you think about the foundation of the brand, we have a great European business that’s developing. Asia has a longer-term horizon for us. We still have so much we can do closer to home.”