Keen introduces its first line of clothing

Keen introduces its first line of clothing

Keen footwear found a place on consumers’ radar with its toe-bumper Newport sandal designed with function in mind. The company followed that with a long line of equally quirky-looking shoes, boots and sandals since its founding a decade ago. Eventually, it added bags and socks, too.

Starting last week, the Portland brand launched a line of clothing with similar DNA. The Keen clothing collection includes pants, skirts sweatshirts, long-sleeve shirts and short-sleeve shirts. With a link to the company’s brief history, the centerpiece of the new collection — a pair of pants — has been dubbed the “Newport pants.”

Keen officials have contemplated a clothing line for about six years. Design, sourcing and other nitty-gritty details have been underway for a couple of years.

To start out, the clothing is being sold just on Keen’s direct channels: its “garages” in Portland (the ground floor of the company’s Pearl District headquarters), San Francisco and Tokyo, and on the Keen website. That’s to assess consumer demand, Keen spokeswoman Linda Balfour said.

Keen believes the clothing and the company’s focus on function — it has produced a video touting the utility-inspired function that went into the Newport’s design — will be a hit with consumers. The Newport retails for $95; the Slacker pant, $85; the Flint pant, $115. The Draper long-sleeve, all-cotton shirt is $40.

For now, only the Slacker is available for women; Keen didn’t like the fit for the women’s Newport or Flint, so they’re being redone, Balfour said. The Newport skirt is $70.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group in Port Washington, N.Y., offered these assessments about Keen jumping into clothing:

Does this make sense? “Yes. One of the challenges of a footwear brand is how do you increase consumer awareness of your brand in a niche market? Keen footwear is a hiking product, casual or leisure. There’s a specific target audience that recognizes the Keen brand.” And that audience, Cohen said, may take a liking to a clothing line.

Will it be profitable? “The odds, particularly in the early stages, suggest that it may not be. You need to make a large amount of product… it’s a tough, challenging margin business. Do I expect it to be a big profit winner? No. Profitable in a short amount of time? Yes. Active wear is one of the few healthy, growing categories in all of fashion.”

Timing? “Their timing is good, getting into the game is good. They’ve got sizable and formidable competitors already in this market.”

Direct channels only to start: “Sometimes it’s good to crawl before you walk and walk before you run. You want to learn what works and what doesn’t work — what the consumer is looking for. They’re using the lab that’s available to them, using it as a litmus test to determine what’s right.”

— Allan Brettman