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Keen Builds Transparency Into its Upcycling-Centered Collection

Keen’s Harvest collection is nothing new.

The platform’s first entry, a pair of shoes made from rice waste, debuted 15 years ago. A decade and a half later, the upcycling-centric line continues to live on. Starting with November’s Howser Harvest, however, Keen will introduce a new layer of transparency.

The Keen Harvest Certification Program will outline three levels of certification: Gold (greater than 50 percent upcycled materials), Silver (greater than 25 percent) and Bronze (greater than 10 percent). Howser Harvest will represent the first Keen shoe to undergo certification. According to Keen, it will utilize upcycled car seat leather in 80 percent of the upper and count as Gold-certified.

Keen's Harvest collection will expand next spring with the launch of the Elsa sneaker
Keen’s Harvest collection will expand next spring with the launch of the Elsa sneaker. Keen

The Harvest collection will expand further in the spring with the launch of the Howser Harvest Sandal for men and women, Elsa sneakers for women and additional Howser Harvest slip-on and lace-up styles for men and women. Select new models will also feature upcycled waste coffee grounds.

“Harvest is about upcycling industrial waste that would otherwise go to landfills, instead creating something new and useful, while lowering the demand for new material in the production process,” Erik Burbank, vice president of the company’s social and environmental justice platform Keen Effect, said in a statement. “We’re certifying Harvest products to both provide transparency to fans and to demystify and encourage other brands to help attack the industrial waste problem.”

The certification program will represent an expansion of Keen’s existing Detox the Planet Initiative. The conservation platform has encompassed a range of efforts, including its five-year journey to eliminate per-and polyfluorinated substances—materials so long-lasting they’ve been dubbed “forever chemicals” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Though several other footwear companies claim to have removed PFAS from all their products— Adidas, New Balance and Reebok to name a few—Keen issued a challenge this March to all those in the outdoor footwear industry that have yet to abandon PFAS.

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To help them along, it released a 10-step guide laying out how exactly a shoe company might eliminate the substances from its products. The six-page document offers links and contacts to testing labs, preferred suppliers and sustainability experts. It even names the non-PFC alternatives—picked out after four years of research and testing—it now employs.

Keen appears poised to employ a similar strategy with its Keen Harvest program. According to the outdoor brand, it intends to publicize the details behind the initiative beginning next year.

“We’re continuing our research on new Harvest materials, refining the overall model, and plan to open-source the program in early 2022,” Burbank said. “This isn’t about creating a competitive advantage for Keen. We hope to see other brands adopt and even improve on what we’re doing and, in turn, share their learnings with others.  We need to work collectively if we want to create real change.”

Last month, Keen joined the growing number of companies taking aggressive steps to boost morale. Though it didn’t give away a free week of vacation time like many—including Nike—have done, it instituted meeting-free Fridays, committed to adding 54 new positions and generally pledged to prioritize work-life balance.