Keen is hitting the European market after a spectacular takeoff in the USA,. This line of sandals with special toe protection was introduced in the USA last year by Angel Martinez, former vice president of marketing at Reebok and CEO of Rockport. To everyone’s amazement it reached sales of over 600,000 pairs for its first year, concentrating on a relatively small number of outdoor accounts, upscale shoe stores and department stores. Keen has set up a European joint venture with Richard Litzel, another former well-respected Reebok executive who led its Central European operations from 1987 to 1997 and then ran Arena International. After a very encouraging market test, Litzel has signed up distributors and agents around the continent.

Based in San Francisco, the US operation is owned by several individuals and backed up by Jim van Dine and Sean Carney, two high-profile executives whose curriculum includes stints at Reebok and Deckers for Van Dine and at Avia and And 1 for Carney. The operation started last year with outdoor sandals with a distinctive design and toe protection, inspired by a professional sailor, Martin Keen, who grew sick and tired of hurting his toes. This year it was extended with four other ranges, some of them with closed uppers, from street sandals to waterfront footwear but always with the same distinctive design. Keen is positioned in the upper price segment as a performance product with a very high comfort level. One of its principles is to come up with a balanced offering, split equally between men’s and women’s products, summer and winter ranges.

Keen GmbH, the joint venture between Keen Inc. and Richard Litzel that handles European operations, should follow roughly the same strategy. Distributors include Sportbox in Italy, which already deals with And 1, and Sportil, the company that handles Avia, Kappa and Converse in Spain. For Feet covers the UK market. Partnerships should be sealed in France and Greece before the end of the month. Keen has teamed up with Cortina of Belgium as its logistical partner for Europe, following the example of other important American brands.