The KEEN brand was born as a response to an identified consumer need: toe protection in hiking sandals. John Jansen, General Manager of EMEA, elaborates: “Everyone loves sandals – air around your feet – but the problem when walking in the mountains is that you hurt your toes. That’s why we developed a sandal with toe protection. It’s super simple. It embraces all the advantages of a sandal, but with toe protection.”
KEEN quickly cornered the market and has since become a leader in the field of outdoor footwear. Its broad range of products facilitates the active lifestyles of its customers by ensuring long-term wearability through arch support, breathability, as well as up and down hill traction.
Throughout the last few years, the KEEN company has attracted a huge international following due to its high-quality footwear as well as the socially and environmentally responsible approach to its operations. According to Mr. Jansen, “there is something in our brand, or above it, that people enjoy and makes them loyal. It is in giving back, in being sustainable and responsible – people accept and join us in our developments.”
KEEN products are manufactured entirely in Europe, which is quite unique for a US company. For that reason, the privately owned company decided to move its operations to Rotterdam, the Netherlands. “We want to do our sourcing close to the market as well as give employment opportunities to the markets from which our customers come,” explains Mr. Jansen.
This includes supporting brick-and-mortar retailers by creating an opportunity to try out KEEN products first-hand with virtual reality simulations and other interactive displays. In addition to its socially oriented initiatives in Rotterdam, KEEN also supports nature conservation projects worldwide.
“Sustainability is very important – in production, but also as an outdoor brand, giving back to nature,” Mr. Jansen adds. The KEEN Effect is one such program that offers nonprofit organizations an opportunity to receive a grant of 10,000 USD to invest in preservation projects that inspire responsible outdoor participation.
Grants are awarded annually and mobilize tens of thousands of volunteers to engage in eco-sustainability projects across the globe. Since its inception in 2013, the KEEN Effect has funded 56 nonprofit organizations in eleven countries with upwards of 320,000 USD in financial contributions.
Mr. Jansen highlights being a privately owned enterprise with a long-term vision as its primary driver of success: “Shifting gears is much faster, and if an idea takes a bit longer to blossom, that is fine because the owner backs it up.” In this way, KEEN remains flexible and dynamic in responding to the needs of its consumers and local communities.
In order to continuously adapt and improve its products while remaining an industry leader in corporate social responsibility, KEEN has identified two short-term goals: developing a range of products suitable to all seasons, and enhancing transparency and sustainability within the supply chain. With these developments in view, KEEN will certainly remain a forerunner in the coveted European outdoor market, which has an estimated consumer value of eleven billion EUR.
Mr. Jansen is clear about the future direction of the KEEN brand, stating, “We are currently the best in outdoor sandals, and we want to be the best in outdoor shoes. The latter goal will require some hard work.”