In America, shoes are often used to make a statement. In Sex and the City, Carrie Bradshaw shelled out hundreds of dollars for the newest Jimmy Choo’s and Manolo Blahnik’s, while schoolchildren beg their parents for the hippest new “kicks” on the shelf.
In other parts of the world, however, shoes aren’t a fashion statement; they’re a rare commodity. And while here in North America, the concept of life without shoes may not seem like a crisis, the reality is far grimmer.
In Nairobi, Kenya, few children are lucky enough to own shoes. Those who do are forced to cut apart the material to accommodate their growing feet. Children run around barefoot, or in cut-apart shoes with their toes exposed. This leaves their feet cut and scraped, inviting infections that could keep these children out of school, or worse. While in America children get new shoes every few months, in Kenya, children might have the same pair of shoes for years … if they’re lucky. Seeing this, Kenton Lee had an idea:
“Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a pair of shoes that could adjust and expand their size? A pair of shoes that could grow?” he told Seattle-based Fox 12.
Lee was working and living in Kenya at the time, and realized he was onto something. So he did what most innovators do – he pitched the idea to several companies.
He was rejected each and every time.
However, the sight of those children running around barefoot haunted Lee, and helped him persevere past the constant rejections. It led him to Gary Pitman, a man who made a career at Nike and Adidas turning design sketches into functional products. Knowing he had nothing to lose, Lee pitched his idea to Pitman and hoped for the best.
Pitman fell in love.
“How many times do you get to do something that changes the world?” he told Fox 12.
What once was just a kernel of an idea in the mind of a visionary began to take the necessary steps toward realization. This included building prototypes and 3D printings.
The end result was something far more valuable than any Choo or Air Jordan. With Lee’s imagination and Pitman’s skill set, a new shoe was born, one that grows along with the foot of a child.
The growing shoe expands in three areas. There are snaps on the side to adjust the width, a buckle on the back to ensure a tight heel fit, and snaps on the top that allow the sole to expand to up to five sizes. As a result, the shoe can last a growing child for up to five years.
Lee created a non-profit organization – Because International – to support his goal of bringing his shoes to 3rd-world populations. He focused originally on Kenya, but has since looked to expand to Nicaragua, Vietnam, and other parts of the world. In fact, Because International is set to place its largest order to date: 5,000 pairs of the growing shoe.
Learn more about the Because International mission by viewing their video.