Inside 15 Wild Years of an Icon: The Newport Sandal
It started in 2003 when our founders wondered, “Can a sandal protect your toes?” More specifically, can it protect you when you’re out on a sailboat (a place that’s not particularly friendly to vulnerable toes)?
Then we doubled down on that idea—rather than sacrificing performance for appearance’s sake, we put everything into the function and comfort of the sandal. Turns out, that’s what the owners of feet really wanted shoemakers to do all along.
Fifteen years later, the KEEN Newport sandal is the icon of adventure. Trails, rivers, marinas, playgrounds—they’re ubiquitous with fun and exploration and comfort (and golfing, we've heard). And they made a splash from the very beginning.
The river less traveled
KEEN debuted the Newport sandal at a Fall 2003 trade show…for winter sports. You might ask, “who debuts a sandal in winter?” Well, it wasn’t impulsive. We wanted to be known as folks who were going to take the road less traveled. This was our first stake in the ground of being a business unusual brand. Sure, there was skepticism—this sandal was definitely not status quo—but the unapologetic nature of the Newport sandal turned some heads. There were retailers out there on a quest for something new and different—and something people hadn’t realized they needed.
One of the funnier stories from our humble beginnings also comes from an industry event. In one of our first booths, someone had the clever idea to use recycled shredded rubber (i.e., factory waste) as our flooring. We thought this would help represent what the KEEN brand stands for—but sometimes clever ideas are uncontainable. The shredded rubber ended up being tracked all over the expo hall. It got so bad, the event space actually stationed full-time people with little sweepers outside of our booth—and we were billed for it. Oops.
But we couldn’t miss the after-the-fact metaphor: KEEN was bringing shoes to the world that were making an impact—and they were going to go everywhere.
KEEN went international the very next spring, taking the Newport sandal overseas and inspiring people of all ages, genders, races, and capabilities to get outside. It’s the sandal that launched a company, and a movement.
Back in those days, when you saw a pair of KEENs, you immediately ran over to that person to find out where they bought them and if they liked them. It was a rare sight!
A favorite piece of KEEN lore goes back to 2004, when our owner spotted a woman wearing KEEN sandals at the airport:
“Back in those days, when you saw a pair of KEENs, you immediately ran over to that person to find out where they bought them and if they liked them. It was a rare sight! He ran over to talk to her and she raved about how much she loved her Newport sandals and did everything in them. She said she was getting married in a month and would wear them if she could buy a pair of all-white ones. So [our owner] came back here, made a special pair for her, and shipped them to her as a thank you—an all-white pair of Newport sandals.”
And the journey continues.
The same amazing Newport sandal
Seems odd to say, but not a lot has changed since 2003. In fact, most of the Newport features have been here since the beginning—specifically, that classic fit. From the start, nothing has been more important to us than making feet comfy, which is why we barged into that winter trade show touting half-sizes—something that was almost unheard of for sandals before KEEN. We also invented that bungee closure, creating a quick on-and-off function—tighten it down and you get that full performance to come through.
To take this trip down memory lane, we spoke with KEEN employees who’ve been here forever. One of the threads that connected them all—in addition to our go-to advertising bullet points of “fit,” “comfort,” and “versatility”—was the durability and the longevity of Newport sandals. Employees and customers love that we don’t make disposable shoes. (Some of us still have our first pair of Newport sandals from 2003!)
To celebrate 15 years of the original adventure sandal, we’re introducing all-new materials to the Newport. This includes upcycled rice husks in the outsole (which reduces the amount of petroleum used) and webbing made from recycled plastic bottles. We’ve also brought back some retro, tried-and-true fan favorites: our natural-hemp sandal and our top global seller, the tie-dye collection.