More Than a Job
December 03, 2018Dec 03, 2018By Ginny Figlar. KEEN Editorial Director
8 MIN READ behind the keen making shoes
Like most people on their first day of a new job, I was bursting with excitement about my new role and my new KEENmates. But it was actually a Powerpoint that made the biggest impact on me.
I’m a KEEN fan who’s been hiking in KEEN trail shoes for over a decade. But I realized during my orientation presentation about the brand’s history that KEEN has done so much off the trail that I knew very little about. And I couldn’t wait to get home and tell my family and friends all about it.
“Did you know that when KEEN was just starting out, they donated their entire advertising budget of $1 million to help victims after the tsunami in the Indian Ocean and to other causes?! They were a brand new company trying to make it. Who would do that? It’s amazing.”
Now 18 months later, I’ve seen many more examples of KEEN’s values in motion, which makes me feel like I am part of something so much bigger than making good products and helping inspire outside adventure. As I look back on 15 years of KEEN with my fellow KEENers, here are some of the highlights, and the moments that stand out to those who have been here a lot longer than I have.
Our tsunami disaster relief effort in 2004 set in motion our culture of giving back and taking action to help those in need. As the story goes, our founder and a few employees were on their way to meet with our advertising agency at the time to discuss an upcoming campaign when news of the tsunami in the Indian Ocean hit. It was in that moment that they decided to cancel our ads and divert the entire budget to the people affected by this disaster and nonprofit partners. Since then, with help from our fans, we’ve been able to step in and make a positive difference when people need it most. For example, when Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, Texas, in 2017, our fans were so generous that we met our $25,000 matching funds drive in just a few days. So we doubled it. And later in 2017, in our Pair with Purpose holiday campaign, together we raised $212,000 for Mercy Corps, including disaster relief funds for survivors of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
"Through all the craziness that is KEEN, the one constant that has kept me coming back for close to 12 years is I truly feel like I’m making global positive change from a local seat."- David, KEEN employee since 2007
Live Monumental is legendary inside KEEN headquarters, and it kind of feels like I missed out on this really cool era. In the summer of 2015, we refurbished a big yellow RV and drove it across the country to get signatures to protect five public lands with national monument designations. Over two years, we crisscrossed the United States on a great American road trip, clocking 10,000 miles through 27 states, collecting 50,000 signatures, and attending dozens of meetings in Washington, D.C. It was an epic road trip that (literally) paved the way for the creation of Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness, Mojave Trails National Monument, and Gold Butte National Monument.
“I was lucky enough to be part of the Live Monumental Tour – it made me very proud to be part of KEEN and to see how a for-profit business, merely by organizing and providing a small amount of funding, can have a big impact. Boulder White Clouds receiving protection happened when we were in Ketchum, and it was wonderful to see all the KEEN fans turn out to celebrate.”- Tim, KEEN employee since 2010
As I write this, a few of my coworkers are rounding up thousands of KEEN shoes (about 15,000 total), plus t-shirts and hats, to be given to those who have been displaced by the Camp Fire outside Chico, California. We don’t keep a running tally of how many shoes we’ve donated over the years, but it’s a lot. In 2008, we sent 15,000 pairs after the Sichuan, China earthquake, and in 2011, we sent 13,500 pairs to Japan following the Tohoku earthquake. So far this year we’ve been able to support about 25,000 people from the ground up with new shoes.
Giving shoes to help people in need—whether to survivors of a crisis or natural disaster or to volunteers lending a hand on the ground—is one of the most immediate ways we can step in and take action. But it hasn’t always been easy. Chris Enlow, our corporate responsibility director, recalls one of the moments that stand out during his time at KEEN: “It’s one thing to say that we are a company that cares, but it’s an entirely different experience when you realize that KEEN has an innate understanding of generosity. It’s a Sunday afternoon in November 2013 and I got a call from the owner. ‘Chris, what are we going to do? Typhoon Haiyan devasted the Philippines. We need to help.’
This call turned into a monumental challenge of distributing 30,000 pairs of kids’ shoes. Our ops team stopped what they were doing and turned into disaster-relief mode. We worked directly with the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines. Many people across the company rolled up their sleeves and made it happen. And we also got tons of support from our logistics provider and sales agency in the Philippines. Everyone had a ‘yes we can’ attitude. In the end, what we learned was truly unexpected. Families, local elected officials and children were so appreciative that a company far away actually cared enough to lend a hand.
"The shoes were but a small gift, the generosity was heartfelt. For me, this is what KEEN is all about – we live our values.” - Chris, KEEN employee since 2006
When I first walked into our headquarters in Portland, Oregon, I sat on a sofa and noticed a tag on it that stated, “I used to be seat cushions from a Pinto.” Since then, I see these all around our building—and smile. There are spools from utility cables and giant tires as tables, and old bleachers for seating.
We are super proud of the fact that we are working toward systematically eliminating PFAS from our products, that we source environmentally preferred leather from tanneries that are certified by the Leather Working Group, and that we have eliminated 7,000 kilograms of pesticides from going into the environment every year by switching to natural odor control technology. But it’s the things we see all around us on a daily basis that get to the heart of it.
KEENer Ben recalls, “When I first started at KEEN, I’d heard of recycling but never “repurposing.” From the very get-go, I could tell that was a point of differentiation that KEEN completely owned, not because it was making us money or making headlines but because the staff at KEEN genuinely believed that there was still life in these items and we’d find a way to ensure that they were put to good use. ‘Repurpose for a Purpose’ really struck me as a different way to approach a problem that everyone faces, what to do with that stuff that you just don’t need any more (in its present form).
Then we purchased a new headquarters, and we spent almost a full year reconstructing our new home. The painstaking time that went into it allowed us to repurpose almost everything in the building. Never had a project of this scale been pulled off while also preventing 90% of the materials from going to the landfill. Everywhere you look in our HQ, you will see elements from other parts of the building. Railroad ties dug from the cement out front, beams, conduit, piping, siding all removed from their original location and made to work elsewhere in the building."
“KEEN will go to great lengths to promote a healthy, responsible culture. Something that we would be proud to share with our fans but mostly something that we ourselves take pride in because we know it’s the right thing to do.” - Ben, KEEN employee since 2010
As we take this little hike down KEEN memory lane, I have to admit I am already looking ahead to what’s next. In a few weeks, I’ll be flying to the Gulf Coast of Florida with a group of KEEN employees to help with disaster recovery efforts following Hurricane Michael. I’ve never witnessed the aftermath of a natural disaster first-hand, nor have I ever done any hardcore cleanup work. But I feel extremely lucky that I get to use the 40 hours of paid volunteer time that KEEN gives me every year to get my hands dirty and make a difference to people who are struggling right now.
That Powerpoint didn’t lie.