Ten years ago, KEEN’s founders set out to answer a simple question: “Can a sandal protect the toes?” Their response was the Newport, the first sandal with toe protection, which landed in stores March 3, 2003.
Since then, the dare-to-be-different manufacturer of original hybrid footwear, bags and socks, has built a brand based on KEEN’s distinct philosophy of HybridLife — a commitment to create, play and care — a promise to provide new solutions to everyday problems and be a catalyst for change in the world. As it celebrates its 10th birthday, KEEN is inviting its fans to join the journey into the future.
“KEEN started with a unique idea for a new kind of sandal and a passion for the outdoors. Since our unlikely beginning, the brand has grown but our commitment to hybrid innovation remains as strong as it was the day we shipped our first pair of sandals,” said Ron Hill, KEEN’s vice president of products. “We live and breathe the HybridLife and strive to produce world-class products that enable our fans to create, play and care wherever their adventures may lead.”
As KEEN enters its second decade, KEEN’s marketing director Linda Balfour shares and reflects on the foundations of the company’s culture.
Create: Inspired by Fans and the Outdoors Globally
“It’s all about finding new ways to meet the needs of our growing community of fans across more than 60 countries,” said Balfour. “They challenge, inspire and motivate us.”
Today KEEN products are sold through more than 5,000 specialty footwear, sporting goods and outdoor retailers, premium-sporting goods retailers and major outdoor specialty retail chains around the world. Fans also can engage in KEEN’s full product line and the branded experience at KEEN Garages in Toronto, Tokyo and Portland, Oregon, which bring to life KEEN’s passion for living a HybridLife.
Play: Where Do You Play?
“KEEN saw its fans’ desire to disconnect from their daily routines and recharge,” said Balfour. “So we asked ourselves ‘Can a brand be a solution to today's hectic world?’” With a vision of the outdoors as “anyplace without a ceiling,” KEEN created a culture of play that resonated externally and internally – with fans and employees, alike. A commitment to fun culminated in the launch of KEEN’s Recess Revolution. From inner-tubing and hiking to skipping rocks on river beds and kayaking, KEEN supports its fans commitment to get outside and is inspired by the adventures they share.
Caring: The Culture from Zero to 10 and Ongoing
Going against the norm of most start-ups, KEEN acted on its commitment to people and the planet, diverting its entire first-year advertising budget in 2004 to support Southeast Asia tsunami disaster relief efforts. KEEN continues to put its ideals into action partnering with non-profit organizations around the world that reflect the values of HybridLife. The company has donated more than $6 million to date. From protecting land for its environmental and recreational value to giving bikes to kids in need, KEEN stands beside its partners, actively working for change instead of hoping for it from the sidelines.
Among KEEN’s many long-lasting charitable partnerships, KEEN has had a special relationship with The Conservation Alliance, helping them protect more than 31 million acres of wildlands and nearly 2,000 miles of rivers in North America. Through Envirotek, KEEN helped organize river cleanups in Germany, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Holland and France.
KEEN has also made environmental and sustainable practices part of their operations since Day One and has gotten its fans involved, too. “Being a brand inspired by the outdoors, we’re modeling a new way of doing business – from rethinking packaging materials and product design to manufacturing and turning waste streams into resources to engaging and exciting our fans through one-of-a-kind KEEN experiences, online and at retail,” explains Chris Enlow, Hybrid.Care & CSR manager.
“As we move into the next decade, we’re excited about the possibilities and take inspiration from our fans to guide our product inventions, contribute to a better planet and bring fun back to people so they don’t forget to get outside and play,” Balfour concludes.