Donated shoes are quickly outgrown and this invention could help solve the issue for a good five years.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on September 27, 2022. It has since been updated.
Kenton Lee's invention, "The Shoe That Grows," is a huge asset for children in developing worlds. The sandal has an adjustable size and can be readjusted to five larger sizes and last for at least five years. They are available in five sizes for kids of all ages. "I had no idea how important shoes were before I went to Kenya," Lee told BuzzFeed. "But kids, especially in urban areas, can get infections from cuts and scrapes on their feet from going barefoot, and contract diseases that cause them to miss school."
Without shoes, children are more likely to sustain accidents and get parasites that affect humans through their feet. Donated shoes are quickly outgrown, the issue that these new shoes would address. Lee, who has founded a church in Idaho with his wife, shared that he wanted to give these kids the best chance to thrive in life.
The shoes were created especially for children in developing nations who cannot afford to purchase new shoes each year. They are designed to last at least five years and are made of a multi-layer rubber sole and a synthetic rubber upper. The shoes "grow" by adjusting the double velcro and 5-hook and loop system. They enlarge using a basic buckle, snap, and peg mechanism. The shoe is manufactured at the Umoja Rubber Company in Mombasa, Kenya and every 10,000 pairs produced employs nine people full-time for a year.
Lee is very confident in the shoe's comfort and durability, saying, “We are confident in the durability of our shoes because we designed them first and foremost for function and not fashion. In fact, we didn’t care at all what they looked like (even though we are happy with how they turned out). We just wanted to make the longest-lasting shoe possible. Purely functional,” Lee told Bored Panda.
Donors can purchase the shoes, which cost $20, to send to developing countries. They can either purchase the pairs for personal distribution or donate to "Because International," which arranges for distributions. The shoe has been distributed to more than 360,000 children in 100 countries including Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Peru. Donors have the option of purchasing a pair of shoes for personal distribution or selecting one of five American charity groups to deliver the shoes to orphanages and churches all across the world.
Lee pitched the shoe idea to well-known brands including Nike, Crocs, and Toms but was rejected. In the end, he developed the design in collaboration with Proof of Concept. “We found a shoe development company called "Proof of Concept" in Portland, Oregon. They were the perfect partner to help design our shoes.”
“The design process was interesting because I am not a designer,” said Lee. “And I knew nothing about shoes. I was just a normal guy with an idea.” The shoes should last at least five years and go up in size five over that period. "We considered making even larger ones for teenagers," Lee added, "but we were told that they didn't want to wear 'charity shoes,' they wanted to wear 'something cooler.'"
“We have just been overwhelmed by all the support and publicity. This has been amazing. We are a very small organization, but we are growing and excited for the future,” Lee said.