When I switched completely to barefoot shoes about 4 years ago, there weren’t too many options on the market (pretty much just Vivobarefoot and Vibram). After Merrell went barefoot, I felt like KEEN was the next brand perfectly suited to add a barefoot model to their lineup. I watched season after season as other footwear brands jumped into the minimal/barefoot shoe market, but continued to wonder why one of my former favorite outdoor brands stayed away. I waited, but it never happened. Now they have finally announced the KEEN.Connect (CNX) Spring 2013 collection, but what exactly is CNX? Is it barefoot? Is it minimal? Read on to find out.
About a year ago I heard rumors that KEEN was in the process of developing a barefoot shoe. I was able to get in touch with someone high up in KEEN product development a couple months ago, and was disappointed to hear that they were actually “not doing a barefoot range.” However, they did have “outdoor/casual low volume footwear coming out, but no barefoot program.” I was disappointed but also curious about what exactly “low volume” meant. If not barefoot, did this mean KEEN was going minimal?
Well now we know. Keen has finally announced the new KEEN.CNX lineup coming in Spring 2013. There’s a great write-up on the CNX in the July 2nd edition of SGB weekly (the weekly magazine of the sporting goods industry). Here’s some of the highlights of the new CNX shoes:
- The CNX collection is referred to as “lightweight feet enhancers.”
- CNX will be available across all the current categories (waterfront, multi-sport, and casuals).
- The goal was to eliminate as much material from the original soles as possible while keeping the signature “protection” aspect of KEEN.
- The classic KEEN fit has been "modified with a more secure heel and slight reduction of width and volume."
- The shoes feature an integrated contoured arch for "added midfoot support" and a TPU stability shank.
- All of the CNX shoes will weigh less than 10 oz. and have a 4mm heel-toe drop.
If you currently own KEEN’s then you know they aren’t the lightest shoes on the market. The drop in weight and reduced heel-toe drop are a great move in the minimal direction. The contoured arch definitely raises an eyebrow, but isn't surprising if they didn't set out with a barefoot mindset. Also, the move to a 4mm drop was apparently to “position the foot in a truer stance to the ground to encourage natural movement...” I guess KEEN doesn't know what drop could get you even closer to a "true stance" and more "natural movement."
So the big question remaining has to be how thin did they make the sole? I pieced together two different photos of KEEN sandals for comparison and the CNX certainly look thinner. I'm not sure if the scaling is perfect, but it definitely gives you an idea of the difference. I was also able to get my hands on a few styles last week and they certainly feel much thinner than previous KEENs. It's tough to say exactly what the stack height is as I couldn't measure and can't find any specs. Hopefully someone can get their feet in them soon and give more specific feedback.
So given all this info, it definitely appears that KEEN is trying to go minimal. Apparently the motivation for this move came from watching the “minimalist conversation taking place” a year ago. What I find interesting is that it hasn’t really been just a minimalist conversation going on the past few years. From what I’ve seen, it’s been a barefoot conversation with the less-minimal shoes serving as transitions toward the most minimal possibilities. Of course, not everyone wants to wear barefoot shoes and there is a need for various minimal options. Without getting into a debate on what defines the line between a minimal and barefoot shoe, it’s safe to say these are certainly more minimal than previous KEEN offerings. But, is this a transition? A sign of even more minimal things to come from KEEN? The person I contacted said, “let barefoot do barefoot and Keen do Keen.” I’ve tried to convince them to just make a few options even more minimal (basically just 0 drop and no arch), but unfortunately it doesn’t look like KEEN has any plans to target the barefoot minded consumer.
The spring CNX release is pretty substantial considering it includes 20 different styles (each with multiple colors) spanning across mens, womens, and kids. It covers everything from the classic KEEN hybrid sandal and mult-sport hikers to mary janes and more dressy leather work casuals. One of the photos in the Spring 2013 catalog shows the shoe layers and highlights the 4mm drop, a contoured arch support, and stability shank.
I'm worried by the mention of a slight reduction in width as well as the integrated arch support. Arch support is usually an instant no-no for my feet (this being one of the major reasons I went "barefoot"). It will be tough to tell how the arch and stability shank will affect the feel until we can actually get them on our feet. Undoubtedly, there will be many minimalists that prefer this type of minimal shoe and have less issue with the thickness, heel drop and footbed shape. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the barefoot shoe consumer, there’s a lot of variability about which barefoot characteristics are most important. And, how you feel about the new KEEN.Connect might depend on where you are on the minimal spectrum.
So which end of the minimal spectrum are you on? Would you like to see KEEN go barefoot? Share your thoughts below!