VP of Innovation at Renfro Corporation
“The Women of Design, Invention, and Creativity 100 years ahead of the curve”
Meet a centenarian – not our featured businesswoman, but the company she works for. Renfro Brands boasts a 100-year history and has demonstrated a remarkable capacity to pivot with market changes. The company is one of the oldest and largest sock companies in the world with over 22 brands. Kelly DeMeester is the Vice President of Global Business Strategy. Kelly and her team focus on Renfro’s future expansion to include acquisitions, new licenses, brand portfolio management, market intelligence, and new products.
Diversification, consumer connectivity, and velocity to achieve financial goals are driving objectives for the next 100 years. Diversification in a robust sock brand portfolio and branching into non-sock categories are company goals. The company intends to add new brands – licensed, acquired, and created – in socks and other categories. Notably, Renfro has garnered success as a gold-standard partner for sock design, manufacture, and sales. After many years of wholesaling, Renfro Brands is determined to directly connect with consumers. This is important as Renfro develops its own brands, and serves as a seamless extension of license partners. Velocity, or directed speed, is imperative to these goals. The company’s CEO has urged and empowered faster decision-making and trials.
“Renfro’s socks and adjacent products are silent partners that accompany consumers throughout the day for almost any activity: a daily jog, a job interview, trekking Kilimanjaro, recuperating from an injury, and adding an extra spark of personal accessorizing. Renfro’s products genuinely contribute to people’s delight, health, and well-being.”
When it comes to manufacturing and design, Kelly and her group influence innovation. A recent example is Renfro’s response to the onset of covid-19. Renfro’s operations, innovation, and design teams joined Wake Forest Baptist Health in partnership to create a unique face mask. The differentiated design accommodates the contours of people's faces, has convertible ties, and mitigates glasses from fogging. Renfro reconfigured knitting equipment in two of its domestic manufacturing facilities to make face masks. Within three days of finalizing design, Renfro began the production of millions of masks. The company was an integral part of Winston-Salem’s “Mask the City” campaign and also worked with various universities and businesses to provide face masks.
Renfro is innovative beyond new yarn and fiber technology, sock construction, software, and machinery. Renfro has made a foray into developing new brands. It founded a health-forward lifestyle brand, Nightingale, that focuses on antimicrobial products. The products feature a fiber technology that has continuously active copper ions embedded in the fabric. The first generation of Nightingale products feature antimicrobial fabric sleeves for a consumer’s most-touched everyday items like cell phones. The ionic technology disables the energy-producing capacity of microbes on the antimicrobial sleeve fabric.
One thing that enables Kelly to initiate and finish huge projects is her ability to work across different groups. She works with a lean team and often engages people outside her group for projects. This entails both diplomacy and persuading colleagues of the project's importance, and sharing objectives and timelines. Kelly attests that a key component of effectively completing major projects is assembling and collaborating with a strong team. She takes pleasure in getting to know colleagues. This quality drives her interest in understanding the mind of the consumer. Another imperative for her is project planning – decision frameworks, work flows, stage-gating, and resource management. It allows her to juggle multiple big projects.
Kelly emphasizes that she is lucky to have many strong female role models. Her circle of inspiring female friends and family members all live full, 360-degree lives. They are a source of encouragement, and their goodness and success motivate her.
A broad experience base and a solid education have been invaluable. An Economics degree from University of Virginia and an MBA from Duke provided a solid foundation for business. Paired with professional experience in finance, business start-ups, and consumer goods, Kelly is able to traverse a variety of business needs.
Kelly's resiliency, ability to strategize and problem-solve, and creativity in using innovation to enhance business have made her one of Industry Era’s 10 Most Admired Women leaders. IEWL
VP of Innovation at
Renfro Brands is a leading designer, manufacturer, and marketer of quality socks and legwear products.