Elizabeth Manning is the managing editor of Construction Business Owner magazine.
In keeping with the current election season and the recent increase in federal spending for construction projects, CBO is highlighting companies and projects that place particular importance on the American construction market. If you missed American Construction: Part 1 , be sure to check it out. The article featured the renovation of the USS Constellation, a Civil War era naval vessel and the last sail-powered warship built by the United States Navy.
In this article, CBO caught up with KEEN Utility’s Chris Heffernan to discuss the work boot brand and its focus on manufacturing the line of safety footwear in the U.S. as much as possible. The KEEN factory, located in Portland, Oregon, assembles much of the line before shipping the boots out to distributors and end users. The KEEN headquarters is also located in Portland, Oregon, which is another advantage to the brand—KEEN employees are able to keep a close eye on the quality of the work boots that come out of the factory. See what Heffernan had to say about the company’s process below.
CBO: Can you give us a brief history of the location in Portland? How did it come about, and why was it important to have the factory located in the U.S.?
CH: KEEN started in California and moved up to Portland about 10 years later—partly because the area is a natural footwear hub. The company has grown radically since its inception. After KEEN came to Portland, management decided they wanted to build a factory in the area to make shoes in the U.S. We had an inkling of the state of manufacturing and how it was going overseas, and we wanted to improve on that. It actually started to make financial sense to make it in the U.S., closer to the market and about 3 years ago, we started manufacturing here. About 10 percent of our product offering is currently made here in Portland. The major benefit is the ability to make sure that the product that goes to the end user is high quality.
We obviously place a great deal of importance on bringing back jobs to the U.S. Globally, you are starting to see a lot of companies manufacturing closer to the market. It makes more sense to have our boots assembled here in our factory and then sent on for distribution versus having them travel the miles they would have overseas to finalize production. It is also about being able to own our manufacturing. We don’t want to outsource if we don’t have to—you lose a bit of control of the quality of the product. When it is assembled close to home, you can make sure that KEEN employees are measuring the quality of the boot from the ground up. Our owner is incredibly passionate about knowing how everything is made and how every stitch is done.
CBO: How long has some of the KEEN Utility line been American Built?
CH: To be clear—American Built means that it, the final product, is finished in the U.S. To be a Made in America product, every bit of the product has to be sourced and produced within the country. We aren’t saying everything was made in the U.S.—but it is all built here. It’s the first step in the Made in America progression. This past fall, our first American Built products hit the market. We have about 6 different styles and about 24 color options in those different styles. Our long-term goal is to make the entire KEEN Utility line American Built.
CBO: Why is an American-made line important to the KEEN brand?
CH: The consumers have definitely responded as such. It’s been a long time since a lot of products were made in the U.S.—especially for our country’s makers, builders and craftsmen and women—and that’s important to them.
CBO: How does the KEEN brand benefit from having American Built products?
CH: We take great pride in the fact that some of our products are American Built. You can guarantee the quality so much more when you are the manufacturer. Our customers want to know they are buying a great American-made product that will last, and we want to give them that.