Two Cords and a Sole: The Funkily Flexible UNEEK Shoe
Run-of-the-mill travel shoes? Nah. For those who prefer casual shoes that are laid-back but slightly funky, seek the UNEEK. UNEEK is the packable, walkable shoe with off-kilter style that feels fashion-forward in all kinds of settings; we’ve worn them to pound the pavement searching for Tokyo’s best bowl of ramen, to ride bikes down the Springwater corridor in Portland, and even to pledge everlasting love on a white sand beach in Oahu.
INSPIRED BY HOW FEET ARE ACTUALLY SHAPED
Our feet are 3D. So why do we only use 2D materials to make shoes for them? That’s the whole idea behind the creation of one of KEEN’s most surprising designs, the UNEEK shoe.
The UNEEK shoe is the invention of KEEN’s Lead Innovator, Rory Fuerst Jr. He spent years experimenting and playing with prototypes to create a shoe made of materials that are three-dimensional (like our feet). Instead of flat sheets of fabric or leather, UNEEK is made with woven round cord (kind of like paracord). It wraps around the curves of your foot for a flexible, personalized fit.
The UNEEK shoe is what we call “hybrid open-air footwear”—it’s somewhere between a sandal and a shoe, so it’s breathable and supportive.
FUN FACT: At one point, Rory and his team made a prototype using plastic weed-wacker cord from the hardware store. It was super-strong and flexible—but turned out to be ridiculously squeaky. Back to the drawing board!
WHAT MAKES IT SO . . . UNIQUE
You can spot a pair of UNEEK shoes with just a glance. That’s because of their eye-catching, double-cord upper. The free-moving cords are non-stretchy polyester with a durable nylon core (some people say the knotted look reminds them of the friendship bracelets they used to make at summer camp, and we love that).
The shoe’s rubber outsole features razor siping for traction. What’s razor siping? Think of the thin slits on the surface of a car or bike tire—it helps squeeze out water, preventing slipping on wet surfaces.
It also has an insole that’s shaped to give arch support and cradle the natural contours of the foot (because we love to let your feet be themselves). That insole is the difference between cute summer shoes that are comfy for 45 minutes, and those that make walking feel effortless all day long.
WHERE (AND HOW) KEEN FANS WEAR ‘EM
When KEEN created the UNEEK shoe/sandal, here’s what we were thinking: a casual shoe that could wander around downtown, go to the beach (Sand? Just shake it out!), or even take a low-key daytime trek. KEEN fans tell us they’re also awesome travel shoes, since the cord upper lets them collapse down and easily pack into your suitcase or backpack. (Tip: It’s also a great slip-on shoe for those shuffling-through-TSA moments).
But do you wear them barefoot or with socks? Both! One of KEEN fans’ fave things about the UNEEK shoe is that it’s truly versatile for all kinds of weather (Except snow. Nobody ever raved about how wonderful these are in snow.). Bring some extra socks in your bag and you’ll be prepared for a range of weather possibilities. And if a little rain does fall and they get wet, they’re quick-drying too.
NOT EVERYONE’S CUP OF TEA (AND THAT’S OK)
“It’s a total love or hate shoe. People are either like, ‘That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, it’s unbelievable,’ or ‘I hate that, I want to beat up the guy who designed it.’ ”
– Rory Fuerst Jr. (aka the guy who designed it)
No one ever said it’s easy being unique. Plenty of people have expressed to us that they find the UNEEK’s one-of-a-kind style a little too, ahem, challenging. That’s cool with us. To each their own, right?
FUN FACT: The UNEEK shoe is big in Japan. It has a cult following with streetwear fans who dig its unconventional vibe, often pairing it with colorful socks that peek through the cord upper (hey, we’re stealing that styling tip for ourselves).
THE UNEEK FAMILY
The design that started it all. Is it a shoe? Is it a sandal? Is it incredibly cool-looking? Is it indescribably bizarre? Yes, yes, yes, and sure, you’re entitled to your opinion.
UNEEK cord upper + EVOFIT knit collar = a totally seamless and totally comfy slip-on shoe.
Sandal in the front, sneaker in the back. A closed, cushioned heel adds an extra-comfy feel to this take on the UNEEK design.
The most sneaker-y of the UNEEK family, the Explore UNEEK shoe has a supportive closed design for fast-paced hikes and other energetic exploration (because hiking can definitely be great cardio).
FINAL FUN FACT: There’s a cute little robot that can make you a pair of UNEEK shoes. The UNEEKBOT is a portable robotic shoe factory that travels around the world, custom-making UNEEK shoes in the colors of your choosing. It uses two needles (kind of like crochet needles) to loop the cords together and anchor them in the sole. See UNEEKBOT in action here!