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April 6, 2021

Keen shares secret for PFC-free footwear

US footwear brand Keen, Inc has established an open-sourced model for how it creates PFC-free footwear.

By Beth Wright

US footwear brand Keen, Inc has established an open-sourced model for how it creates PFC-free footwear.

PFCs are a class of about 5,000 fluorinated chemicals, also known as PFAS — or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, often called “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment, Keen says. These toxic chemicals enter the environment where the chemicals, components and finished products are manufactured, often through contaminated water or waste, and spread easily.

Through the application of the “Precautionary Principle,” Keen was able to find and remove PFCs that were being applied to components and materials unnecessarily. Specifically, Keen performed a complete audit of every component that goes into its products and worked with vendors and partners that were able to quickly remove about 65% of the PFCs within its supply chain. 

For the remaining 35%, Keen invested significant time and resources over four years, working with experts in the development of non-PFC water repellency solutions. This included thousands of hours of lab and field testing before ultimately delivering safe, effective, and affordable options.

“We spent the last seven years researching, developing, and refining what is now a proven process to eliminate PFCs from our products without sacrificing performance, and we want to share this for the common good,” said Erik Burbank, vice president, The Keen Effect. “By keeping PFCs and PFASs out of our supply chain and products, we’ve kept 180 tonnes of fluorinated chemicals out of the environment over the last seven years.  We want to share this, so other brands can become PFC-free much faster. This is a constant battle and time is critical; if we collaborate, we can accelerate the positive impact and our planet will be a better place.”

To support the initiative, Keen has issued a challenge to the outdoor footwear industry to be PFC-free by 2025.

Product developers can click here to see details of the detox process Keen followed since 2014 to eliminate PFCs from its supply chain. 

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