Behind the Design: UNEEK Goes Huarache
Five years ago, we introduced a whole new kind of open-air footwear. UNEEK, our OG hybrid sneaker sandal, was born from two cords and a sole — and three years of design work to get it right.
This totally “unique” shoe has become a fan favorite ever since for its out-of-the-box comfort, unconventional style, and the personalized fit of its corded design. It’s been part of fashion collabs, like UNEEK x Engineered Garments, and it’s evolved into a knit sneaker style. But we started to think: What if we could take everything we love about UNEEK and elevate it?
So we went back to the beginning — all the way back to the origins of the sandal — and created a KEEN version of a huarache in ultra-premium leather. We call it a ‘consciously crafted hybrid huarache.’
It’s Part Huarache
Hua-what? Huaraches (pronounced wah-rah-chez in Spanish) are woven leather sandals from Mexico that date back hundreds of years to the Pre-Columbian era, with more modern huaraches constructed with rubber soles within the last hundred years. Designs vary, but the woven leather construction is always simple and minimal.
We worked with our partner factory in Vellore, India, which has been making high-quality leather footwear since 1947. Managed by four generations of the same family for over 70 years, they helped us create this premium leather version of UNEEK. Replacing paracord with premium leather cord may seem like an easy swap, but the materials have a completely different feel and tension as they are woven. So it takes about 30% longer to weave, as the leather requires extra time to settle into the pattern. The result is a handwoven design that forms to the foot over time and a simple cord construction that minimizes glues for a smaller footprint.
UNEEK Premium Leather
It’s Part Sneaker
The woven upper is what gives UNEEK its distinctive style and breathability. But it’s the performance sole that gives it a sneaker feel. Constructed with a PU midsole for more rebound and added cushioning underfoot, plus a razor-siped rubber outsole for traction, it’s a sandal you can do almost everything in. (For cooler weather, just add socks.)
“We kept the same tooling underfoot. It’s an ideal fit for our fans, and it complements the new upper, bringing added functionality to the luxe style,” says Philip Yi, KEEN product developer. “The flex zone in the forefoot and the contoured arch that follows the shape of the foot deliver maximum comfort and durability for all-day wear.”
And It’s Pure Luxe
For UNEEK Premium Leather, we doubled down on premium. First, we selected environmentally preferred leather with the smoothest grain, dyed it through and through using a tanning process that minimizes impact on the planet, and rolled it into a continuous cord for enhanced durability and longevity. Then we added a buttery soft nappa leather lining for extra comfort underfoot.
“It’s the most premium leather we’ve ever worked with,” says Rachel Treinen, KEEN product line manager. “Each material was meticulously chosen, and we really sweat out every detail so that every point that your foot touches is going to have that premium experience.”
With fewer materials in this minimal design, Rachel explains she and the product team could really focus on selecting the best materials and the best experience. It feels premium from the moment you receive them as each shoe is individually wrapped for safe arrival.
The result is a men’s sandal like no other. Wear it to your next wedding, weekend get-together with friends, or just to make an ordinary outing feel a little more extraordinary.