KEEN Footwear is on a West Coast tour, showing off the world’s smallest shoe factory.
The UNEEKBOT—a robot that builds glue-less cord and rubber shoes in about 30 minutes—is KEEN’s example of how the outdoor industry can re-think the supply chain process by maximizing sustainability and reducing environmental impact.
“Every new shoe is a totally new challenge,” said Rory Fuerst Jr., director of innovation. “You have to figure out how to put it together and at the end of the day, you have to make it in a trailer.”
The robot runs solely on electricity and air pressure—KEEN partnered with Goal Zero for solar power and batteries—so that the shoe can be made anywhere on the fly. The simplicity of the shoe lends itself to sustainability.
In the past two and a half years, the robot has woven together thousands of shoes, Fuerst said. He said from the beginning, the shoes was designed so that a robot could make it one day.
The robot launched last spring in Harajuku, the main shopping district in Tokyo, Japan, and it was wildly popular among the street-style scene. While the design isn't resonating the same way in the U.S., the tour is a chance for KEEN to communicate with burgeoning designer and engineer, the next wave that’s coming into the workforce.
The bot has already made an appearance at a Zappos office, and the team is hoping to stop at Google, Amazon, and REI, as wells as show it off to customers at KEEN's headquarters in Portland, Oregon.
In Southern California until April 10, the KEEN team is visiting four universities to show students that they can be innovative and entrepreneurial within the confines of a company, and also help KEEN craft its internship program.
“The guy who helped program the UNEEKBOT was a 20-year-old,” said Fuerst. “It’s people like that that are going to be doing things like this in the future and be inspired.”