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Expandable Shoes Adapt to Fit the Feet of Growing Children

How “practical compassion” helped create innovative footwear for impoverished kids around the globe.

image via youtube screen capture

Most of us probably take for granted how easy it is to simply walk into a shoe store, get an accurate measurement of our foot size, and leave with a perfectly fitting pair of sneakers, pumps, sandals, or boots. That’s not, however, a luxury afforded to many in the developing world.


It’s something Idaho native Kenton Lee noticed in 2008 while doing missionary work in Nairobi, Kenya. There he observed impoverished kids wearing ill-fitting, broken, and entirely insufficient footwear, exposing the children to dangerous, soil-based infections. He explains to Smithsonianmag.com:

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.

Having identified the problem, Lee set out to create a solution. The result is “The Shoe That Grows,” which you may have seen featured on a recent episode of GOOD’s ongoing “Fuck Yeah Humanity” video series. The sandal-like piece of footwear is covered in snaps and button-holes which allow the shoe’s straps to be adjusted to accommodate an estimated five year’s worth of growth on the part of the wearer.

As the Shoe That Grows website points out, each shoe is made using just leather, compressed rubber, and metal snaps that are easy to clean, and difficult to break.

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The shoes were created through a partnership between Because International, the 501(c)3 nonprofit founded by Lee upon his return to Idaho, and Proof of Concept, a footwear product development company. An initial order of 3000 Shoes That Grow was filled in late Fall of 2014, with The Washington Post reporting that a second shipment of 5000 shoes is expected for this coming July, following a successful crowdfunding campaign to expand the aid operation.

At the core of Because International is a guiding ethos of “Practical Compassion.” It’s a phrase seen all over the Shoes That Grow website, and in this short Because International video:

As Lee explains, “We believe in creating innovative products that can help people living in extreme poverty around the world. Helping them in really simple, practical ways.”

It’s a sentiment that’s clearly struck a chord, as interest in—and orders of—the shoes continues to grow.