Looking to build on the the UNEEK line and offer product year-round, the Explore UNEEK called for a new upper on existing Men's Explore tooling. The brief was to create a versatile sneaker with outsole traction and a flexible upper pattern that could accommodate seasonal materializations and storytelling. The final product bridged outdoor and lifestyle and strengthened the UNEEK line, offering product for year-round use.
Image via KEEN Japan
In final revisions, the upper pattern was simplified further and the tooling was changed to share with the Men's Explore program. This reduced cost and gave the Explore UNEEK and outdoor-inspired look.
The Explore UNEEK was released globally for the FW19 Season and is a key lifestyle story for the
Japanese market. For this project, I was directly involved in the design and development of the upper and components and collaborated with the Tokyo Design Center on color.
I experimented with different materializations and functions during the design process. The initial concepts incorporated TPU welds on a knit or mesh bootie with the cord system weaving through the upper. The weatherized mid concept utilized a translucent ripstop shroud that would hint at the cording beneath.
After receiving round one samples, revisions were made to simplify the design and reduce the SKU to mid and low with the same construction. The molded counter was refined as well to ensure the cords were able to move freely and function to lock-in the heel.
Images via KEEN Japan
I drew inspiration from weaving, wrapping, exoskeletons and thinly masking hidden function or parts. Drawing from the iconic UNEEK cord system, the Explore UNEEK would utilize cords as structure and a lacing system.
At the time, one of KEEN's long term goals was to streamline the manufacturing process, utilizing in-house 3D design to create digital and physical samples to aid the manufacturing process. I worked with the head of 3D design to project a digital drawing onto a 3D last and use that projection to create a flat pattern. We then created a rough pullover to look at proportions and send to factories overseas. The Explore UNEEK was a guinea pig to test this process and improve it for future models.
OTTO AUREK STEFAN