Having proper footwear is a serious health issue in the developing world. There are more than 300 million children in the world without shoes, with many more wearing shoes that don’t fit or are hanging together by a thread.
With no footwear, it’s easy for kids to get cuts on the soles of their feet which lead to infections and parasites. These health issues not only threaten their lives but they keep them from school.
In 2007, after graduating university, Idaho native Kenton Lee had travelled all the way to the Mothering Care Children’s Home in Nairobi, Kenya, to see if missionary work was really for him.
One day, while walking in the dirt to church with a group of orphans, Lee looked down at the ground and saw a little girl in a white dress who had cut open the tops off her shoes so that her feet would fit.
“Wouldn't that be nice if there were a pair of shoes that could adjust and expand their size?” Lee thought.
Now 30, Lee can confidently say that there are. While he ultimately felt a little too homesick to be a missionary, he returned to Nampa, Idaho, with a mission: create a Shoe that Grows.
“I realize that my life isn't just about me here in Idaho. We’re all in this together,” he said.
Like his customers Lee had to overcome many great challenges to make his dream a reality.
Upon his return Lee founded a non-profit, Because International, focused on what he calls “practical compassion.” He approached every big shoe company they could think of: Nike, Reebok, Crocs. And every one of them turned him away
Except one. Proof of Concept, a shoe prototype design company based in Vancouver, Wash., heard about Lee’s idea and instantly saw both the potential and the opportunity.
“I’ve been in the footwear industry for 30 years, and to my knowledge I’ve never seen one that did that. So the first question is: is it possible?” stated Gary Pitman, president of Proof of Concept.
While an average shoe might go through two or three prototypes, Lee's shoe went through eight.
They arrived at a high-quality, durable leather and compressed rubber design to make sure the shoes are flexible and strong. They decided to use snaps because they are less likely to break than Velcro or buckles.
The final product is an ingenious sandal that uses straps and snaps to grow up to five times in size, meaning growing kids get to keep their shoes for years.
To get the shoes to markets that needed them, Because International joined with four aid groups to distribute the shoes around the world, but it also accepts orders from any aid group that knows of kids in need of shoes.
“I don’t know every kid who needs a pair of shoes out there,” Lee said. “We really rely on people who work with kids anyway.”
The shoes are collapsible and can be packed tightly into a suitcase, which makes them easy to bring overseas. An order of 100 pairs comes to $1,200, or $12 a pair.
Lee's American ingenuity and enterprising spirit are something to be celebrated, despite the fact he is a very humble guy just trying to make the world a better place.
To donate or purchase Lee's amazing shoes visit: theshoethatgrows.org