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Keen Garage

Upcycled design mixes steampunk and outdoor footwear for a new Portland concept shop

by Adrienne So
on 17 September 2010

You could be forgiven for thinking that Keen Footwear, the maker of high-functioning and odd-looking water sandals, was as old and established as a label like Patagonia. After all, Keen sandals have fast become the unanimous choice of whitewater rafters, surfers, kayakers, or any other number of water sports enthusiasts. But the truth of the brand's meteoric rise is that it began just seven years ago, and their very first retail location only opened last month in a busy downtown section of Portland, Oregon. Dubbed The Keen Garage, the design is a lesson in conservation, using space-efficient techniques (to make the most of its 900 square feet), as well as salvaged materials.

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Ceiling and metal fixtures are all reclaimed, re-used or recycled; an oil drum found on the side of the road is now an enormous planter, its weathered surface lending an antiqued patina. Old bike chains help make up the "shoe rotisserie" (pictured below), which rotates planks of shoes via pulley to display twice as much product in half the space of a normal display case. A ladder runs around the circumference of the tiny showroom for employees to access product stored in a wire racking system overhead.


For trying on new sandals, boots or shoes, wooden bleachers reclaimed from a coastal Oregon high school have been re-imagined as seating.Trays of materials representing local hiking environments—river rocks, sand, and trees—stow beneath the bleachers and pull out for testing. Behind the front desk, a community bulletin board highlights local events, both Keen-sponsored and otherwise. General manager Christa DePoe told us about their recent sponsorship of one such event, the Down the River Clean-Up, which culminates in a silent auction of works by local artists created using the debris they collected.

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DePoe explained how their involvement in these kinds of initiatives are part of Keen's "hybridlife" approach, a philosophy of create-play-care for both its customers and the environment. To that end, Keen has created a space that not only showcases its world-renowned products, but also serves as a community hub. Upstairs, Keen opens its Global Headquarters for the use of local nonprofits, such as Rippleffect, which promotes youth leadership through outdoor programs, and the Portland chapter of Surfrider, which promotes keeping the coast healthy. "There's a bunch of little stories like that," said DePoe, "but no big one."

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