Can shoes help make the world a better place?
Why, of course they can!
This past Sunday afternoon, James Curleigh, CEO of KEEN, Inc., opened his headquarters and shared his company’s vision with around 25 folks who’d just attended SVN’s Spring Gathering. Longtime SVNer, Julie Lewis, helped arrange the KEEN tour for us (thanks, Julie!).
KEEN got its name from it’s co-founder, Martin Keen (who just happens to have a great last name). Along with Roy Fuerst, Keen created KEEN in 2003 to:
(1) create a routinely fun workplace in a company that would be true to the core values of its employees — whom it would continually support, while also being conscious of the environment and active in its local community; and
(2) constantly innovate and make each product line better than the last.
KEEN creates. KEEN shoes began out of a practical need for a sandal with toe protection. I bought my first pair of KEEN shoes in 2005 for that very reason — I wanted a sturdy lightweight sandal to wear while hiking the steep mountain trails around my home at Lake Tahoe, as well as while swimming in the lake. I still wear that first pair of KEENS, even after hiking almost the entire the Tahoe Rim Trail in them, save for the parts on which I wore my Sorel winter boots.
KEEN plays. In KEEN’s HQ, there’s a drum kit, guitar, bass and keyboard in one corner (played by the “Unofficial KEEN jam band”) and a foosball table in another. There also are cubbies, in which employees are encouraged to drop their cell phones, iPads, and other communication devices when they go on recess. That’s right folks, employees at KEEN take recess (at least 15 minutes a day)! Now, who wouldn’t want to work for KEEN?
KEEN cares. It cares about its employees, its community, and the planet. The shared work spaces in KEEN’s HQ are made out of recycled materials. Each internal team works together to design their own common meeting space, which have much more in common with most living rooms than board rooms. Did I mention they also takes recess?!? Last year, KEEN opened a manufacturing plant in Portland, Oregon. Although this was done in part to thwart counterfeiting, it provides numerous obvious community benefits to the City of Portland and its residents. In 2004 after the Indian Ocean Tsunami, KEEN donated its annual advertising budget of $1,000,000 to tsunami relief efforts, explaining to their customers why they wouldn’t be hearing from KEEN for a while. The ripple effect of KEEN’s generosity resulted in media affection and other accolades, creating a virtuous circle. KEEN donates 50,000 pairs of shoes annually, in addition to making cash donations to non-profit partners that share its philosophy of caring, conscience and sustainability through its Hybrid.Care program. Starting this year, KEEN plans to raise $1,000,000 for microloans, beginning in the Gulf Coast. A portion of each sale of KEEN’s new Santiago shoe will be donated to Kiva to fund microloans. Cooler still . . . this new line of shoes will be vulcanized using antique hand-operated machines that require no glue or other toxic chemicals, making them healthier for workers and the planet.
Like Patagonia, KEEN has a community of fans, myself included:
When you make a solid product in a fun and caring atmosphere, your fans will help you market it through their stories. If everyone tells a friend, who tells a friend, who tells a friend . . . the virtuous circle will reward you — the brand owner — with loyal consumers who want to help you succeed.