KEEN's Portland Shoe Factory Builds Two Pairs Per Minute

KEEN, an eight-year-old company notorious for doing things differently, posed the challenge, “How can we build a quality shoe close to our biggest market, reduce our environmental impact and support the U.S. economy?” The solution? Set up shop to build shoes in the company’s own stomping grounds in Portland, Ore.

KEEN recently opened a 15,000-square-foot facility called The Portland Factory with two full production lines equipped with state-of-the-art machines on Swan Island in North Portland, located less than five miles from the company headquarters and KEEN Garage retail location.

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 fewer materials, fewer adhesives, fewer miles to its largest market, and less of an environmental impact.

“At KEEN, it all started with a simple design challenge, ‘Can a sandal protect your toes?’ The answer was yes. The radically different Newport defied convention by uniting the opposing elements of the beach and mountain, as well as protection and freedom,” says James Curleigh, CEO of KEEN.

Curleigh added, “Every season, KEEN has taken that challenge a few steps further uniting opposing elements to create unexpected solutions. We continually challenge ourselves to try new things and to create great product. That quest led us to our newest project – KEEN footwear Built in Portland. It’s footwear designed to re-think our impact on the earth and the community in which we live. It’s one more step to a sustainable future.”

KEEN envisions The Portland Factory as more than just a manufacturing plant. They see it as a space for teaching and learning, where customers and community can observe the cutting edge of footwear manufacturing. It’s also a way for KEEN to give back to its community, by creating local jobs, providing education, and giving Portland the right to say great footwear is being built right here. It’s a Product Development Center, with an on-site testing lab where KEEN can experiment with new ideas and technologies, speeding research and improving product.

And the Portland Factory is yet another way KEEN is exploring sustainable manufacturing practices. The company is pioneering new direct-injection techniques and modern machinery, reducing the need for petroleum-based cements and improving energy efficiency.

In October 2010, the first KEEN product rolled off the assembly line - the Portland Boot, fittingly a style that bears the name of the city. The style is from the KEEN Utility line, the collection of premium workplace footwear built for hardworking men and women. With one production line up and running, the facility currently employs about 15 people, a number that will grow when the second production line revs up throughout 2011. The factory is equipped to build one pair of shoes every 30 seconds with a maximum capacity of 1.5 million pairs per year.

The machines in The Portland Factory assemble shoes using a highly automated robotic control rougher and a direct-attach process. This shoe making technique has a number of advantages. The direct-attach process adheres the outsole of the shoe directly to the upper which significantly reduces the need for petroleum-based cements. The Portland Factory uses no volatile chemicals and very few machines which reduces the amount of energy used during production process.

Over the coming years KEEN will build 13 footwear styles in Portland. (Pictured above: the Fremont.) The Built in Portland collection will include casual styles, sandals and work boots. Each of the designs draws inspiration from the lifestyles of the Pacific Northwest.