A KEEN Sense of Purpose

KEEN footwear has earned a reputation for manufacturing tough but stylish outdoor wear and work boots, but the company is also doing its part to promote sustainability and strengthen communities.
Oct 29, 2015 7:30 AM ET

KEEN FOOTWEAR BECAME an overnight success when reps sold 50,000 pairs of shoes as a first-time exhibitor at Outdoor Retailer. Founded by Martin Keen and Rory Fuerst, KEEN has been creating toe-protecting outdoor “lifestyle products” since 2003.

After solidifying its position as a leader in outdoor recreation footwear, the company began to look at what was next. Work boots were a logical progression, as they were already creating products to protect the toes.

“KEEN was founded on the idea of creating hybrid footwear—styles that provided comfort and protection. Safety and work footwear is a natural extension of this principle,” says Mark Reilly, senior merchandising manager for KEEN. “We’ve spent more than a decade perfecting proprietary comfort and performance features. By creating a work boot that shares our outdoor-inspired design aesthetic and features state-of-the-art safety and performance detailing, we’ve brought something really unique to the industry.”

KEEN Utility was launched in 2009. Its first collection, which included the still-popular Pittsburgh style, was unique from the get-go. The outdoor-inspired silhouette with the iconic KEEN toe bumper easily transitions from work to weekend, and the designs stand out among other, more traditional work boot designs offered in today’s market.

The Pittsburgh style exemplifies KEEN Utility brand. Crafted with nubuck leather, it features a KEEN.Dry waterproof but breathable membrane. It also features KEEN Utility’s signature ASTM-rated asymmetrical steel toes, which provide a roomier toe box and maximum comfort. KEEN credits its dual-density, compression-molded EVA and polyurethane midsole for providing superior cushion, lightness and resilience. Glues are not used in KEEN’s American-Built process, to the benefit of factory employees and the environment.

Bringing It Home

While the company can’t technically claim that its products are made in the USA, a good many are assembled here. KEEN opened its Portland, Oregon, factory in October 2010. They recently doubled their square footage and currently occupy 30,000 square feet. KEEN gathers innovative, high-quality products from all over the world and then performs the final assembly in Portland. Thirty-eight KEEN styles are currently being built out of the Portland factory (11 are KEEN Utility styles), with plans for more in the future.

“We are incredibly proud to have our KEEN factory building products right here in our home town of Portland, Oregon,” says Reilly. “It allows us to support our community with jobs and industry and remain very hands-on during the manufacturing process. Our goal is to continue expanding not only the amount of styles built in Portland, but also investigate how we can use even more American-made materials in the production process.”

The Portland factory is a breeding ground for big ideas and experimentation. The facility includes an innovation lab where they are able to take ideas to test very quickly.