Keen Footwear, which remains very committed to sustainability, is focused on boosting its in-house shoe manufacturing and assembly capacity from around 5 percent to 40 percent of its annual volume, which currently stands above seven million pairs per year. The balance will continue to be made by subcontractors in the Far East, except for the small production currently outsourced to Garsport in Romania for the company's new “made in Europe” range of shoes.

Keen is starting up new company-owned factories in Mexico and Thailand to assemble different types of footwear, supplementing its recently established direct-injection plant in Portland, Oregon. The Mexican facility specializes in the manufacture of sandals, while the Thai factory makes mostly cemented shoes.

Several Italian brands are still making many of their outdoor shoes at their own factories in Italy. That includes highly specialized brands like La Sportiva, Scarpa and, recently, Montura, the leading Italian brand of climbing apparel.

Two other Italian firms that make their products in-house – Aku and Lizard – joined Keen and two other companies that outsource their production - Amer Sports and Berghaus - in a panel discussion on sustainability in footwear sourcing and manufacturing at the OutDoor show in Friedrichshafen last week. Moderated by Luigi Grosso, it was attended by more than 90 people including Andreas Tepest, the top shoe buyer of Deichmann.

The panelists agreed that the demand for sustainably produced footwear is growing, especially among younger people, and that customers generally don't want to pay a higher price for these “green shoes.” To ensure the respect of their environmental standards, Berghaus has brought the leather supply back home and Amer has taken steps to better control the whole supply chain, working with fewer suppliers.

For Lizard, keeping the production in-house and close to the market is another way to reduce the carbon footprint because of the shorter distances for shipments and the use of more sophisticated manufacturing techniques. Aku mentioned the elimination of chrome and other metals, in close cooperation with its suppliers. Lizard mentioned the way in which it processes polyurethane for its sports sandals.

According to these companies and Keen, making shoes in-house brings some additional benefits such as the development of internal skills, intellectual property protection, lean inventories of components and finished products, and greater flexibility in responding to sudden peaks in orders from their clients. The managers of these companies indicated that these benefits and other efficiencies can help neutralize the higher cost of labor compared with manufacturers in China or Vietnam, leading to competitive prices for “green shoes.”