Before a recent trip to Portland, Oregon for JLC LIVE, I arranged to visit the headquarters and U.S. factory of footwear maker, Keen. Originally known for making sports sandals, the 10-year old company has since expanded into other categories—most recently, work boots. Their Industrial Line includes boots with features such as puncture-resistant soles, metatarsal guards, slip-resistant tread, and steel, composite, or aluminum toes.
I visited Keen because like most folks who have worked in the trades, I'm interested in how things are made, especially tools. And when you get down to it, the better work boots and workwear are tools. My visit began with a trip to company headquarters, where my tour guides showed me drawings and mockups of proposed designs, and samples of footwear scheduled to come out in 2015.
From there, we made the 5-mile drive to the factory, a warehouse-like building in an industrial area on the edge of town. The factory was opened in 2011. Prior to that, all Keen footwear was made in other countries. Most still is, but a small and growing portion of their higher-end products are being assembled in Portland. Currently, 6 out of 51 Keen Utility styles are assembled there—with plans to increase that number in 2016.
Many of the components used in the boots are imported, so Federal Trade Commission rules prevent them from carrying a "Made in the USA" label—which can only be used when virtually everything in a product comes from the U.S. The boots that come out of this factory carry an "Assembled in the United States" label. Keen refers to them as "American Built", a marketing designation similar to the one DeWalt uses (Built in the USA) for those power tools that are assembled at their North Carolina plant.
During my tour of Keen's plant I saw the entire assembly process, from uppers and other components being unboxed in the receiving area to pallets of finished boots being forklifted onto trucks at the loading dock. Click the slideshow on the left side of this page to see for yourself. Be sure to read the captions, which explain what's going on in the photos and include links to video I shot at the factory. If you click through to the end you'll see some interesting things being done in the testing lab.