Keds was the first to make an affordable, comfortable women's sneaker 103 years ago - here's how the company stays relevant today

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  • Women's shoe company Keds, which launched 103 years ago in 1916, is synonymous with the Champion Originals white sneaker ($39.95).
  • As an accessible, versatile, and comfortable sneaker, it inspired women "to be who they want to be and go where they want to go."
  • Today, this silhouette is still beloved and iconic, but the brand is also evolving by offering limited-edition collaborations and expanding its styles to further address the needs of modern women.

Jennifer Grey laced up these bright white shoes in "Dirty Dancing." So did Yoko Ono on her wedding day. At some point in your life, you, a friend, your mother, or your grandmother probably all did at some point, too.

We're talking, of course, about the iconic Keds Champion sneakers.

American culture is peppered with shoes that have stood the test of time, from Air Jordans to Converse All-Stars. Keds is one of those beloved few.

The shoe company has a rich history, going all the way back to 1916, when the US Rubber Company consolidated its 30 footwear brands under one name: Keds. That year, Keds introduced a canvas-topped, rubber-soled shoe and stamped it with its blue label.

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Why the Keds Champion was and is so important

Today, a canvas, rubber-soled shoe isn't much cause for celebration, but its introduction then was nothing short of revolutionary. Because it was one of the first women's footwear options to be simultaneously accessible, fashionable, and comfortable, the Keds Champion stood as a symbol of mobility: If a woman wanted to do something or go somewhere, she could with a pair of Keds.

The company's roots in blazing a path for women are still central to how it conducts business today. Keds has an all-women leadership team and an all-women product development team, and the company as a whole is 88% women. Worn by athletes, actresses, and First Ladies alike, it has never prescribed specific behaviors that its fans and customers should abide by. Its only mission, from the beginning, has been an open and empowering one of "Ladies First."

Its most popular and recognizable silhouette, the Champion Originals, hasn't changed much since it first entered the American consciousness 103 years ago, and its popularity even today is a testament to the simplicity, versatility, and forethought of this design.

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How Keds continues to innovate

Though it probably could ride on the success of the Champion Originals alone for the next hundred years, Keds continues to find new ways to keep the brand fresh and interesting.

Its full collection of styles includes lace ups, slip ons, flats, and boots in a variety of materials like wool and leather. You can get a fresh new pair of white Champion Originals, but you can be more adventurous with tall platform sneakers or glittery shoes if you want. The company is also experimenting with stylish athleisure options with its Studio collection of lightweight sneakers.

Collaborations with other brands are best-selling favorites as well. The Rifle Paper Co. collection of pretty embroidered and painted floral patterns is the much nicer execution of all those times you tried to paint your own canvas shoes, while the Ladies for Ladies collection currently features the work of a handbag designer who uses the same marine-grade material as lobstermen's bait bags.

Beyond comfort and variety, Keds is the ideal brand for the value-conscious shoe lover - most of its styles cost around just $50. In fact, the three styles we tried from the brand, which perfectly capture its range from classic to modern silhouettes, cost $40 to $60.

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Keds, then and now

More than a hundred years ago, Keds snagged the first-mover advantage with its game-changing Champion sneaker for women and set the wheels in motion to change the way women walk, run, skip, and dance.

Gillian Meek, the President of Keds, says, "Keds has stood the test of time by staying true to our roots, making the best sneakers for women. In today's environment, our classic Champion sneaker is our icon that empowers women to be who they want to be and go where they want to go. The Champion is and always has been a versatile, feminine and accessible style to women of all ages and lifestyles."

To learn more about our experiences wearing the Champion Originals and two other Keds styles, keep reading below.

Shop all Keds sneakers here: Keds, Amazon, Nordstrom, Zappos

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Champion Originals

Champion Originals
Keds Champion Originals, $39.95, available here: Keds, Amazon, Zappos

Before realizing that Keds was a women-specific brand, I associated it with the women in my life. My mom, my grandmother, my sisters, and my cousins have each, at one point or another, been recorded in my memory running around the backyard or watering flowers on our home's sunny porch in slight white sneakers. I enjoy thinking of them while wearing my own pair. And I'm happy to know that, unlike most companies, Keds team is comprised of mostly women.

As an adult, the things I love about Keds haven't changed much since being a kid. They're versatile enough for any outfit, cheap enough to regularly re-up if they're worn into the ground, and there's something wonderful about functional, rubber-soled sneakers that are simultaneously so lightweight and feminine in style. They're the perfect choice for sundresses, loose jeans, and everything in between. —Mara Leighton, Insider Picks reporter

Studio Jumper

Studio Jumper
Keds Studio Jumper, $59.95 (originally $89.95) [You save $30], available here: Keds

Keds' foray into athleisure-esque styles through its Studio Collection is a successful yet underrated part of the brand that I wish more people knew about. The intersections of style, performance, and comfort are best highlighted in the slip-on Studio Jumper sneaker, which comes in four attractive colors: white, peach, light pink, and light gray.

I opted for the gray one, and it has become the easiest shoe to pull on in the mornings — the light color goes with everything, they look casual but they're also more sleek than a full-on running sneaker, and I can walk for miles in them with no complaints.

The stretch knit uppers give a sock-like fit that mold to your feet, but are also breathable, and elastic bands wrap over the fronts for an additional layer of support. Despite the close fit, you can still wear socks with your usual size since the material is stretchy. Meanwhile, the foot beds and soles are made from lightweight, cushioned foam, plus Keds adds neoprene padding at the heel for even more comfort. Because they're so light, they make a great travel or summer sneaker. —Connie Chen, Insider Picks reporter

Double Decker

Double Decker
Keds Double Decker Perforated Suede Sneaker, $49.95, available here: Keds, Amazon

As much as I love sneakers, I never had tried a pair of Keds until recently — I was always more of a Converse girl. After learning more about the company's history, though, I’m excited to rock my new pair of Keds. Keds released the first ever women’s sneaker in 1916 — and you can still find that classic Champion style worn today.

While I loved learning about how Keds puts their motto, Ladies First, into action, there’s got to be more than just a great mission to keep a business running for over 100 years. It’s all about the product, and Keds really are great. They’re doing well at making simple, cute styles that are comfortable and affordable.

I didn’t realize, though, that Keds had so many other options besides their classic Champion style. I tried the Double Decker Slip-Ons in a nice light gray color that’s perfect for spring. They have a perforated detail on the suede that adds some interest, and the inside of the shoe is super comfortable, thanks to Keds' new Dreamy Foam cushioned footbed. If you’re between sizes though, I would choose the bigger one, as I did find them a little tight. But, I think the suede will stretch with wear, so I’m excited to bring these out come spring. —Remi Rosmarin, Insider Picks reporter

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