Designed by Women, for Women
June 14, 2020Jun 14, 2020
4 MIN READ behind the keen making shoes
In the 17+ years that we’ve been making shoes, some of our biggest revolutions have come from thoughtful design evolutions — leaning on tried-and-true performance and comfort, and finding ways to make them better.
Like making our hybrid sandal more amphibious with a knit upper (EVOFIT ONE sandal), constructing a women’s hiking boot for a woman’s foot and biomechanics (Terradora hiker), and making casual shoes lighter with an airy, Luftcell outsole (Lorelai sneaker).
And our latest revolution/evolution: taking our original hybrid sandal, the Newport, and giving it a heel lift and a women’s-specific fit to create our first performance sandal created just for her. The brainchild of two women on the KEEN product team – product director Dana Strand and designer Lindsey Johnson – the new Astoria West sandal is designed by women, for women.
“We were overdue for a performance sandal that is just right for her,” Dana says. “We know women need and want a shoe that fits her lifestyle. They want shoes that are flattering to the foot, comfortable, and perform well. Our women’s hybrid sandals are great on the trail and on the water, but we needed to evolve.”
We pioneered the hybrid sandal concept in 2003 when we paired the protection of a shoe with the performance of a sandal to create the Newport sandal. Since then, we’ve made tweaks to make our hybrid sandal lighter and lower-profile (Clearwater), a little prettier (Whisper), more of a performance water sandal (SOLR), or more of a trail sandal (Terradora II). In this case, we wanted to make it even more versatile and stylish for around-town life, too.
"We deserve good-looking shoes – designed just for us, that will also perform well."
But Astoria West wasn’t just a sandal evolution. Some of the women’s-specific performance features were inspired by the revolutionary Terradora hiker, the first KEEN boot built on a women’s-specific last and designed with women’s biomechanics in mind. Lindsey, who designed the Terradora II collection of hikers and sandals, leveraged that experience to come up with a concept in a short amount of time — going from initial sketches to “techpack” that gets handed to development for production samples in about a month. Being a personal passion project for her helped fast track it, too.
“I learned a lot while designing the Terradora II collection, and I definitely took inspiration from women’s-specific performance features we have utilized on that collection,” says Lindsey. “I also believe strongly in designing outdoor products specifically for women. We deserve good-looking shoes – designed just for us, that will also perform well.”
The biggest challenge: maintaining the original fit of the Newport – with just as much toe room and just as much girth in the instep – but with a more athletic stance. To do that, Lindsey had to design a new last, which is the form of the foot that is used to mold the bottom of the sandal. As Lindsey puts it, “The bottom of the last is what creates the footbed. How do I make that as comfortable as possible?”
Lindsey turned to our fit expert and kinesiologist, and others on the development team, to make it happen. Once this women’s-specific last was created, the outsole tooling and details like how the front of the outsole curves up to provide toe protection could be designed. And then the upper could be created.
“We spent countless hours at our factories making sure the forefoot straps were placed just right to alleviate any pinching, and we focused on things like collar heights and material backers to create the most comfortable user experience we could,” Lindsey says.
The heel lift created by the new last and tooling adds an obvious style play, as the wedge look makes it more versatile and modern. But it turns out it’s also better for performance.
“By lifting and cupping the heel we created what we call ‘racking stability,’ so you have more support when you move from side to side, and it places the foot in a more dynamic, athletic position,” Lindsey says. “Lifting the heel changes weight distribution to allow for a faster transition and more lift off.”
Beyond the women’s-specific features, Lindsey and Dana also love the webbing loop on the heel – “It creates a spot to hook your finger or a carabiner through if you need to carry them, and it’s something to hold on to when you’re pulling them on,” Lindsey says. Dana says she loves that the new webbing design is sleeker. And she is also proud of the fact that we tell an amazing story using webbing that contains recycled plastic bottles, which helps keep them out of landfills.
While the rest of us have to wait until late July to put our feet into a pair, Lindsey is happily wearing her creation around Portland and beyond. “I actually have a couple of pairs already,” she says. “I wear them kayaking and for general outdoor adventuring. I’m looking forward to wearing them to go crabbing this summer!”