April 4th, 2015
KEEN GARAGE – in the Pearl District, Portland, Oregon.
The Pearl District is one of the “must see” Portland neighborhoods. Previously a derelict collection of warehouses, railway yards and tenement buildings, it has gone through a renaissance and is presently a hip, commercial and residential neighborhood with unique stores, galleries, design studios, coffee shops and artisan breweries, yes, lots of breweries !! Many places to see and be seen. This is the location of the Keen Garage Flagship Store and World Corporate Headquarters where it has become an integral part of the Pearl District neighborhood. It is both a crowd pleaser and a crowd magnet, earning accolades and winning several design and sustainability awards showing it to be a prime example of a building that has been re-purposed and recycled using sustainable materials to build a new space.
Strolling through the Pearl District, I came across this enormous warehouse and sauntered in – my immediate visceral re-action was that I was looking at something that was extraordinary and unique. Keen Garage was not on my radar. I had never heard of and knew nothing about it until that moment and I was mesmerized by what I saw. It was apparent, an exceptionally talented and creative person had put the showroom together with fun, originality, imagination and creativity. How to describe Keen Garage ? Its uniqueness defies most descriptions as it compares to nothing else. Simply, it can be described as sustainability on steroids with many surprises !!
After my initial spike of excitement had returned to a normal level, I began to take notice of the inventory and ask a few questions. Keen Garage is a privately owned Company that began business in 2003. The five story warehouse in which they are presently housed was bought by their Company in 2012 and re-purposed using the most sustainable principals.
Even the signage has been designed using re-purposed wood. Nothing went to waste and whatever was no longer required, was donated to needy causes rather than throwing it out. All told, the renovation produced less than one dumpster of trash by the time it was completed.
The building, one quarter of a block long, dates from 1907 and is an example of a utilitarian brick structure and has always been a warehouse of one sort or another. It has a total of 50,000 square feet over five floors, the top four floors being used for administration and warehousing and the first floor of 4,000 square feet is the Showroom. This floor has nineteen foot ceilings and the huge windows and wooden floor are original although the floor has been patched with locally harvested re-used wood.
Inside is a large open space with great lighting using state of the art low power consumption light bulbs, with long life full spectrum LED technology.
To one side is an oversized roll up glass paned garage door – hence the name Keen Garage, Keen being the name of one of the founders of the Company.
The space is compelling in its originality as are the shop fixtures that were adapted from architectural salvage sourced from far and wide in the United States.
Of great interest and harking back to a bygone era is the polished metal gravity “chute” that was brought from back East and restored to working order. It is effectively a “slide” and shoe boxes can be “whooshed” with the help of gravity from the mezzanine storage area above the showroom to the sales counters and cash registers for waiting customers.
The entire Keen product line is featured in the Showroom. This is a lifestyle brand consisting at this time mostly of shoes, socks, bags and pants. The most iconic product in the Keen collection is the Newport Sandal designed with a strong toe cap using a patented toe technology that protects the big toe from injury. The emphasis on the sandals is: “fit, comfort and durability.” The sandals can be customized by changing the color of the lace, toggle, surface, insole or out sole, allowing the customers more engagement with the brand. Keen is best known for their shoes and many other shoe designs have been added to the collection, as well as hiking shoes and boots. Next came a line of socks and these are designed specifically for the left and right feet. They are woven from Merino wool with a “wonder seam” on top of the sock rather than under the metatarsals, thereby giving more comfort because they do not bunch under the foot. To add to the Lifestyle brand a bag collection was created – not glamour bags but practical outdoorsy bags. Presently, Keen Garage also sells their own brand of pants designed for comfort and ease of movement. All told there are now 3,000 plus products in more than 5,000 retail locations in sixty countries.
There are a number of different seating areas with wooden “couches” that are constructed using wood from a disassembled grain silo in South Oregon.
At one of the paying stations, there is a counter with swing out seats taken from an early 20th Century electric streetcar in Milwaukee.
A Mid Century Style chair has been fashioned out of two round metal barrels with re-used car upholstery on the seat
Chandelier fixtures fashioned from recycled old telegraph insulators and wire spools
Monkey bars re-purposed from the recess station in the old building
Hemlock shelves with rotisserie wheels were crafted from a warehouse floor in Seattle creating displays that can be rotated, enabling customers to touch and feel the shoes on all the shelves, at any level.
At the cash wrap, lighting installation using lights recovered from a munitions plant outside Los Angeles , against a backdrop of old street signs.
A yellow 1950’s working refrigerator for beer storage ( beer is served at events held in the Garage) with kegs from NW Breweries.
Bench made from an old Chevrolet truck, including the truck springs.
“Keen creates innovative and comfortable products that transition seamlessly from work to play and enables people to pursue a hybrid lifestyle, create, play and care.”
This is a casual, outdoor, lifestyle brand, practical, durable and mostly waterproof. It is unique, playful, fun and above all functional.
Through its Hybrid Care giving programs, Keen Garage supports social and environmental programs in the United States and overseas and has an active volunteer program doing amazing work where it is most needed, such as aiding in disaster relief or collecting millions of signatures to be presented to the President at the White House, to protect monuments or stop land development that will wipe out natural forests. It comes as no surprise that Outdoor Magazine has named Keen Garage “one of America’s best places to work”.
Portland can justifiably be proud to have the Keen Garage World Headquarters housed in this award winning Warehouse Conversion as an example of what can be done to re-invigorate an old building that could just as easily have slipped into oblivion.
At this time, in addition to Portland, there are outposts of Keen Garage in Palo Alto, Toronto and Tokyo, known as “detached Garages” that are extensions of the Keen Brand.
505 NW 13th Avenue,
Portland, OR 97209.