When you have a growing kid, be prepared to factor new shoes into the budget every so often. It’s a fact of life for parents in the United States, but some families don’t have the luxury of such considerations — new shoes aren’t even an option every few months or every year.
Li Zhou from The Smithsonian recently wrote up an inspirational story of innovation about a shoe that grows. The story begins with a man named Kenton Lee. He was volunteering at an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, when he noticed a little girl had outgrown her shoes. She had cut them open, just to have something on her feet, but even so, her toes were curled over the edges. It was then, Lee recalled to Zhou, that he began thinking:
“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a pair of shoes that could adjust and expand? That would make a lot of sense for these kids.”
He founded the nonprofit Because International with the simple idea of “making things better by making better things.”
He began brainstorming ideas for shoes with the aims of creating “a pair of shoes that can grow as much as possible and last as long as possible, while costing as little as possible.” It’s a tough goal, especially considering Lee had no prior experience designing shoes. So, he went to the experts for help.
“We started by contacting all the big companies — Nike, Adidas, Crocs, Toms — to see if they’d like to take the idea and make it happen. Nobody was interested.”
Julie Sunderland, director of program-related investments for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, wouldn’t be surprised by this interaction. Big companies like to know their markets before they go in and know how they can benefit.
The good news is, eventually, his organization was able to connect with another nonprofit called Proof of Concept, which had some designers with experience with footwear. It was able to come up with a working prototype, which became the rugged sandal Because International has now. It has compressed rubber soles and adjustable rubber straps that can increase the length and width of the sandal, allowing them to last for four to five years if need be.
“My biggest motivation is that I want kids to be in the best possible position to succeed and to keep them a little bit happier and healthier. To see them lose some of these chances because of something as simple as a pair of shoes really breaks my heart.”
To read more about Lee’s story of innovation, check out the full story on The Smithsonian.
Photo Credit: Demilked