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Keen CEO to further UK love affair

Keen CEO James Curleigh spoke to SGB Outdoor at the recent OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen, where he shared his vision for the brand’s future in the UK


ames Curleigh looks like he should be on a beach somewhere, soaking up the sun and surfing. He talks like he should be too, but there’s a real energy behind his voice and a passion for what he does that comes through in every syllable – and what he does is simply KEEN. He’s been the global CEO for three years now, though he often describes himself as Chief Product Tester, and his love for the job appears to be growing…

SGB Outdoor: How do you like your job as CEO of Keen? James Curleigh: Love it. We’re only seven years old and it’s a fast-growing, entrepreneurial company, we think a little bit differently. We started off with a simple design challenge – can a sandal protect your toes? Well, the answer is yes! We created the Newport sandal seven years ago and the rest, as they say, is history in the making.

SGB: Where were you before Keen? JC: I was with Salomon; I was Managing Director

of Salomon UK for three or four years. I was based just outside London, and I’m very familiar with the UK market. It’s a great outdoor market, with a super- discerning customer base


Keen is what we call a high affinity brand,

where those that

know us, love us and when they buy one pair, they’ll end up buying multiple pairs. If you meet someone that says “Oh my God I love Keen”, the chances are they own three pairs.

who understand functionality, durability, usage,

everything form the demands of waterproof insulation, right through to the whole lifestyle dimension, learning to love the products they wear every day too.

Keen Newport

As a young company one of our challenges is just to tell people about what we’re doing. In the UK we had a bit of a rough start, where we were trying to figure out how to run the ‘obstacle course’, so we hit ‘reset’ and we have a great group now, with Bradshaw Taylor running our business there. They have the right balance of experience and enthusiasm to put us on the map. I was in London recently, in Covent Garden, and I saw KEEN right in the front window of Ellis Brigham; it doesn’t get more central than that for us. And from there, right through the Lake District and all the hot spots for both outdoor and lifestyle, we’re starting to appear more and more.

SGB: KEEN is seen now as a very high quality brand in the UK by consumers but I gather it hasn’t all been plain sailing…


SGB: The UK is a unique market within Europe – how will you get stronger here? JC: I think our product is perfectly positioned for the UK. What I love about the UK consumer is that in the outdoor market, it’s not cheap and cheerful. It’s used with a purpose, and people want something comfortable, durable, and Keen is a perfect solution for that. Whether it’s a sandal with toe protection, or our hiking shoes, or our


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