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Are Keen Shoes... cool now?

"The ugliest thing I'd ever seen"

Are Keen Shoes... cool now?  The ugliest thing I'd ever seen

On his frequent boat trips, Matthew Keen had always the same problem. He couldn't find shoes suitable for the boat that were not only practical, but also cool, and above all, that protected the toes from bumps. So, in 2003, he decided to found his namesake brand that among its benchmark products counts the shoe that responds to his original needs, the Keen Newport
That first shoe turned out to be suitable not only for the boat but also for walks, hikes and general activities in the mountains, also offering a waterproof and padded upper in case of rain or walks on waterways, in fact, a candidate for the perfect shoe for any outdoor activity

Weren't it for the recent interest by the fashion industry precisely for the outdoor style and the activities connected to it, Keen would have remained a niche brand in that thick undergrowth from which Salomon, Arct'eryx, Gramicci have also emerged over the last few years, and before them also The North Face and Patagonia. As always in these cases, it was not the brands that change products or aesthetics, with the declared intention of becoming trendy, but it is instead the fashion industry that, with the succession of tastes and obsessions, approaches them, copying their style and imaginary, as happened with the gorpcore trend. 
In recent years, the evolution of the sneaker scene has paid more and more attention to unusual silhouettes originally designed for specific activities, such as the Vibram FiveFingers, or more generally shoes for walking on rocks, silhouettes for hiking, mules for various uses. 

For over ten years Keen has offered not only footwear for outdoor activities but also clothing, accessories, backpacks, water bottles, even safety shoes with steel toes. Practicality, grip, safety and comfort are the principles that guide the creation of Keen products, which a user of the blog of the same brand did not hesitate to define "the ugliest thing I'd ever seen". And he's not wrong. However, Keen's shoes enjoy tremendous popularity in the United States and Canada, so much so that Business Insider has estimated that between 2003 and 2013 the company earned $240 million, thanks to a new preeminence of comfort over style, and a rediscovery of a certain type of sport. 

But most of all, Keen's success can be explained through an evolution of the concept of ugliness, and again, of the level of acceptance with which this aesthetic category has been received and valued in the fashion world. (Like, after Birkenstocks, anything goes). For example, the case unleashed after the release of the Gucci campaign set in the forties and entitled #GucciShowtime, in which many people noticed a not so subtle similarity between the new sneakers proposed by Alessandro Michele and the iconic ones by Keen, is rather emblematic. Not even a Diet Prada post was needed to call out what many thought was plagiarism, although it should be noted that there are differences between the two shoes - those of Gucci have a velcro strap decorated with the large logo of the Maison. "When we first saw that, I personally felt a bit of amazement to see how the outdoors is taking hold from a style perspective,” said Erik Burbank, the Keen general manager for outdoor, lifestyle and kids. “When we see big brands, especially sophisticated fashion brands, trying to capture some of that, we think it’s pretty cool. And then we were humbled and kind of flattered." Keen also responded with its own version of the Gucci campaign on Instagram, replacing the silhouettes of the Italian Maison with its iconic Newports in a rainbow version.  

Whether it's plagiarism or not, Gucci's creation is a precise reflection of the constant research for the item capable of generating strong reactions, a polarized debate in which the object is either loved or hated, as happened with the Balenciaga Triple S, Crocs or with the aforementioned Birkenstocks. The question arises at this point: are Keen cool now? Better to keep an eye open for the next Fashion Weeks, there is a real risk that hordes of influencers decide to combine a Jacquemus dress with the infamous Keen, to add that extra touch.