The Choices We Make to Make Shoes

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Editor’s note: This article is part of the Consciously Created content series, sponsored by KEEN. This article was first published on the KEEN Blog


We don’t like using the word “sustainable.”

Because the most sustainable choice would be to not make anything at all. But products make it possible to get outside and enjoy the outdoors, connect with the world and each other, and do some good while doing all that. And we believe in all of those things, too.

So, for us, it’s about being more conscious of all the choices that go into making a shoe and doing everything we can to minimize our impact on the planet. It’s rethinking the way things are usually done and acting on our values by doing things differently. Even when it isn’t the easiest path to take.

That’s what we mean when we say our shoes are “Consciously Created.”

Behind every KEEN shoe are dozens of responsible choices. Some of these choices are small, like using recycled aluminum eyelets or webbing made from recycled plastic bottles, or harvesting the waste from one shoe to make something new. And sometimes those choices are big, like building our own factories in Oregon, Mexico, and Thailand. We’ve been on a detox journey to eliminate everything that shouldn’t end up in our products and to do things better.

Every step is a step closer to “sustainable.” A few of our favorite milestones along the way include:

PFC-Free Water Repellency for a Safer Environment
We started taking steps five years ago to eliminate this “forever chemical” from our supply chain and work with suppliers on a safe, durable alternative. By 2019, we were sourcing only PFC-free water repellency. So far, we have eliminated 150+ tons of fluorinated chemicals from being released into the environment.

Pesticide-Free Odor Control for Healthier Ecosystems
By using a natural alternative to control odor, we eliminate 7 tons of hazardous chemicals from going into the environment every year. All KEEN insoles (and replacement insoles) are infused with Eco Anti-Odor that uses probiotics, not pesticides. (That’s good news for feet, too.)

Certified Better Leather for Cleaner Water
Tanning leather is a dirty, resource-intensive process. Our Leather Working Group-certified tanneries are making it much cleaner with solutions that reduce chemicals, energy usage, and water pollution. KEEN only sources environmentally preferred, LWG-certified leather. Take a journey to India to learn more about the closed-loop water treatment used there.

Recycled P.E.T. Plastic for Happier Oceans and Less Waste
By 2050, some experts say there could be more plastic in the ocean (by weight) than fish. Using recycled plastic fibers saves energy and resources, and helps keep millions of P.E.T. bottles out of the waste stream. This year, we’ve started using recycled plastic in webbing, lining, and laces in select shoes. In some KEEN styles, up to 9 plastic bottles are upcycled per shoe.

American-Made, American-Spun Wool for a Smaller Carbon Footprint
We are proud to make durable, long-lasting (and super comfortable) socks with American wool that’s processed in the U.S., and knit in the U.S. The benefits speak for themselves: bolstering the U.S. wool industry, decreasing shipping miles and employing American factory-workers.

100% Organic Cotton for Better, American-Made T-shirts
All KEEN tees are made in America with organic cotton and a print/dye process that dramatically reduces water consumption and avoids harmful chemicals.

Upcycled and Recycled Materials for More Circular Products
Being resourceful is a big part of how we do things at KEEN. Not just in our products, but also in store displays and all around our headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Over the years, our Harvest collection has included shoes made out of denim waste, bags made from coffee sacks, and flip-flops made from shoe waste.

Water-Based Solvents to Reduce Greenhouse Gases
We’ve been testing this for the past year and have just started integrating this into our supply chain. Look for water-based solvents coming to your KEEN shoes soon!

Plant-Based Cushioning for a More Biodegradable Insole
The world’s most plant-based performance foam insole is coming this spring!

These are a few of the steps we’re excited about. Every step makes an impact, and we’re not stopping anytime soon!

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