Manufacturers outsource to distant shores every day, but when Keen looked to open a new shoe factory, it cast its eyes no further than its own backyard. The 15,000-square-foot facility, located on Swan Island in North Portland, as it’s dubbed, is less than 5 miles away from the company’s Oregon headquarters. Equipped with two full, state-of-the-art production lines, the “Portland Factory” utilizes a streamlined injection-molding process that attaches the sole of the shoe to its upper with virtually no adhesives. The result? A sandal, sneaker, or boot that uses fewer materials, requires less energy, and doesn’t generate as many transport emissions.
Although the highly automated factory builds a pair of shoes every 30 seconds, with a maximum ceiling of 1.5 million pairs every year, Keen views it as more than another manufacturing plant. Besides the absence of volatile chemicals, the premises also include a product-development center, plus an on-site lab for testing new concepts and technologies. The facility currently employs a staff of 15, a number that’s expected to grow as production ramps up.
The factory builds a pair of shoes every 30 seconds, with a maximum ceiling of 1.5 million pairs every year.
The first shoe to roll off the assembly line is the aptly monikered “Portland” boot, part of Keen’s line of utility footwear for men and women. Because the uppers are still imported from China, where nearly all of Keen’s 5 million pairs of footwear originate per year, the company can only claim its boot is “Built in the U.S.A.” rather than “Made in the U.S.A.” (Its socks, on the other hand, are produced in North Carolina.)
Plans are already in place for 12 additional Pacific Northwest-inspired styles, three of which will be launching this year: the “NoPo” and “Fremont” men’s casuals and the “Prescott” women’s casual.