Behind The Scenes At Keen Footwear
Behind The Scenes At Keen Footwear
With warm weather finally on the horizon and the promise of quality time spent outdoors, we’re taking a look at Keen Footwear, a business with a conscience that leads by example. When Keen launched in 2003 with their innovative toe-covered Newport sandal, they made a promise to themselves to do things differently. Twelve years later, they’ve kept that promise—and then some.
“Keen began by asking a simple question, can a sandal protect your toes. The answer was yes, and the Newport was born,” says Heather Taylor, marketing director of Keen Canada. “Based on the success of the Newport we proved everyday problems can be solved by stepping back and looking for original solutions. This led to our promise to do things differently.”
The company’s headquarters in the Pearl District of Portland, Oregon provides an inspiring example of responsible business practices. Housed in a repurposed factory that originally made kitchen supplies for ships, when Keen moved in they vowed to reuse as much of the on-site material as they could. “When we bought the building that would become our permanent home in Portland in 2011, we started with a bold goal, and that was, could we renovate the entire building and send one dumpster of waste or less to the landfill?” says Taylor.
“Anything that could be recycled, we pulled out and sent to local recyclers and organizations like Habitat for Humanity. Then we took any material that could be harvested and turned that into other materials that still exist in the building today. It simply is the Keen way of doing things, looking for new solutions to old problems and challenging the status quo. We succeeded in sending only one dumpster of waste to the landfill, not to win awards, but because we believe it was simply the right way to do it.”
Throughout their dog-friendly office, you’ll find things like conference tables made of bowling alley floors, chairs made of old bicycle parts, a stellar selection of loose-leaf teas and even a rec-room used for company yoga classes and jam sessions. There’s also the Keen Kanteen, which offers discounted employee meals and free Bagel Breakfasts on Fridays.
Over at their factory about 20 minutes away, Keen is focused on innovation, waste reduction and putting their hiking boots to a serious test. It’s here where their hiking boots are assembled and hand-injected with polyurethane. “The benefits of this are that it creates an extremely strong bond between upper and rubber outsole, also removing the need for additional glues,” says Taylor. “Polyurethane takes much longer to compress that conventional EVA, providing consumers with what we call ‘Million Step Comfort.’”
They also run an in-house innovation lab where they brainstorm cool new concepts like Uneek, their open-air shoe made using only two cords and a sole. The brainchild of Rory Fuerst Jr., innovation program lead and actual child of company founder Rory Fuerst, this sandal-meets-shoe must be tried on to be believed. (I wore my pair to Toronto Fashion Week and not only was I incredibly comfortable, I got so many compliments on them!)
Beyond designing high-quality boots, shoes, sandals and more, Keen has made a commitment to global improvement through initiatives like disaster aid, responsible outdoor participation and partnerships with non-profits like the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “Our partnerships enable the permanent protection of public lands and build the next generation of outdoor stewards, work we could not do on our own. For us, it is all about leaving the world a better place then we found it,” says Taylor. This all started in 2004 when they sacrificed their advertising budget to use for Tsunami relief. “It was immediately apparent the good we could do with our media budget for disaster relief far outweighed the return we would get from running advertising.”
Keen’s commitment to innovation shows there’s a lot more to footwear than shoes. Next time you do something out of habit, take a moment to reflect on if there’s a way you can do it differently. You might be surprised with what you come up with.