Founded by the Fuerst Group in 2003, Oregon-based KEEN came into the footwear market with a single product. Called the Newport, the sandal gained popularity quickly among hikers for its durability and comfort, as well as its distinctive protective black toe bumper.

Seventeen years later, KEEN now offers a wide variety of footwear (sandals, shoes and boots), bags, clothing and accessories, all designed for outdoor enthusiasts of all sorts. While the company has also grown into a $500 million business, it has not let go of its original values of making a difference and making the world better.

Directly or indirectly supporting various activities that clean up the environment, promote healthy lifestyles and advocate volunteerism, KEEN contributed 13,500 of its sandals to relief operations following the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated eastern Japan in 2011. That effort also sparked a partnership that continues to this day.

“We set up a design center in Tokyo, which creates probably 20 percent of the products for our global range. We noticed that with our Japanese range, our Asian business has grown significantly, especially in (areas) such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Thailand,” said Rob Langstaff, vice president for international business.

“In our industry, Japan used to be the student of the U.S. Now, the student has become the master. We are always learning from them and it’s because of kaizen (continuous improvement) that they continue to innovate,” said Langstaff about why the Japanese are ideal long-term partners as the company maps out its growth strategy.