Keen On Home Grown U.S. Footwear Production

keen portland boot photo

Photo Credit: Keen Footwear

Technical footwear manufacturing in the USA? It's hard to think it could fly these days. But Keen, a company with a eye towards reducing the environmental impact of the line of footwear and bags, have done just that. In fact the first steps were deemed successful enough to start work on developing a second production line.

As of October last year Keen began assembling boots at their new Portland, Oregon, factory. "Using the streamlined direct-inject manufacturing process that provides efficiency in material and energy usage, Keen is able to create classic American shoe styles with less materials, less adhesives, less miles to its largest market, and less of an environmental impact," says the media release. Within the next few years the company hope to have 13 styles of footwear coming out of their plant which can build one pair of shoes every 30 seconds. There is however some fine print.The uppers of the shoes are still currently sewn in Asia. the "Built in America" part is the injection moulding of the sole and bonding it to the upper. It's not an ideal solution but it is a start.

The upsides for Keen are that their shipping costs will be lower, they can prototype new models in-house, they reduce they risk of their designs being pirated via intellectual property leakage in third party factories. And they get to employ local people from their home town.

The environmental benefits are also less international shipping. And the direct-injection moulding, and direct-attach processes are said to reduce the need for petroleum-based cements (which in turn, reduces the volume of stinky volatile organic compounds or VOCs), all the while improving energy efficiencies.

Not the First Time
This home grown production program follows an earlier endeavour where Keen hunted through Poland and Russia, Turkey and Spain, to find a few dozen dusty German-made hand-operated direct vulcanization machines. These were repaired and installed in a factory in the Dominican Republic where Keen manufactured the Santiago line of footwear, made with natural cotton canvas, locally produced rubber, and no adhesives. The later element being a virtue of the 60 year machines they unearthed that "use heat and pressure to vulcanize a rubber sole to natural cotton canvas uppers." (Although this particular experiment was later discontinued due to quality issues.)

Corporate Responsibility in the DNA
Outside of this US-based manufacturing initiative, KEEN has, since 2004, distributed more than $4.5 million to non-profit organisations. They've made cargo bags from repurposed materials, socks from recycled polyester, paid employees to up to 36 hours each year to volunteer in their community, and launched the Recess is Backcampaign to get more people outside.

Keen Footwear, via Sports One Source, SNEWS, and Oregon Live
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