The Shoe That Grows began back in 2007 as founder, Kenton Lee, was busy living and working in Nairobi, Africa.
The story goes that Kenton, while on the way to worship, had noticed a young girl in a white dress with shoes on that were far too small for her feet, this led him to think about why, and what could be done. As he ponder the idea came to him... what if a pair of shoes could be designed to grow with a child, and be practical, as well as durable? It was then and there the idea was born for, The Shoe That Grows!
29/04/2015- Song River
(L3 Magazine May Issue 2015)
Song River: Your shoes have been blasted out via the media globally, did you expect such a strong support system for this project?
Kenton: It is hard to believe, we never thought we would have this kind of publicity. There was a local news story that ran out of Portland, and somehow it was picked up. We had an idea, it made sense and essentially we wanted to be a resource, now it seems to have gotten much bigger. Its great!
SR: Kenton takes us back to your college daya. Where were you and what were you doing?
Kenton: Back during my college days, well my friends and I, we cared about others, and wanted to get involved and to be honest I wanted to travel too. Yes, I wanted to help people, and to some degree push back at the attitude thought of American's abroad, the term “Americanslacktivist” imagery. I wanted to listen to others needs, and live with them to learn. I had heard so much about AIDS in Africa, and I wanted t see it all and learn. That was the crux of the trips I wanted to take. To listen and learn. I wish everyone could experience this type of thing.
Reflecting even a little further back, I think it was my junior year of college, I visited my friend in Costa Rica. While visiting I sat in on a couple of college classes. I remember seeing the words, “Apartheid,” written on the board, and I have to admit (paused) I had no idea what it meant. I felt so dumb, not knowing- nothing about it and if I claimed to want to make a difference I need to get out my own little world and live it.
SR: Was compassion something you learned at home?
Kenton: Yes, it was taught as my parents were very much compassionate individuals. They lived it. They focused on local compassion, and set a great example.
SR: You saw a need, you're meeting the need by asking the world to reach in their pockets and pull out ten bucks. Ten dollars can buy a meal, even possibly feed a whole family for a day or two. What is it about these shoes that you feel reaches in to a persons pocket? Where did the inspiration for The Shoes That Grows come from?
Kenton: I had traveled to Ecuador and Kenya, Nairobi to work in various orphanages. Seeing a variety of problems, working to find solutions.
Honestly, for me personally, I used to think shoes were no big deal. When I saw it though first hand, children with shoes far too small for their feet, or without shoes at all... well, I thought about the lack of sanitation around them. The kids would get cuts or scrapes on their feet, leaving the foot open to infection. What happens then when a child gets ill? They can't go to school, they can't help the family by working to assist supporting the group. I realized proper shoes could make such a huge difference in so many aspects to their daily living. Being healthy has many components, and having their feet covered properly is just one of those factors to help the individual, family and community.
SR: The term “Practical Compassion” is a phrase one hears on your video promo's and branding. Describe the term 'practical compassion.”
Kenton: "Why do we do, what we do?" A question put to us at our board meeting by a marketing coach we had brought in. “What is your why?” he asked. Practical everyday reasoning kept coming back to us. We listened to what was needed, it was practical and we applied compassion... “practical compassion” makes sense. It doesn't do any good to give others what you think they need, does it?
SR: What materials did you decided to utilize to make these shoes, comfortable, durable, and manageable?
Kenton: First we took the idea to some former Adidas shoe creators who work on ideas like this, and asked them to create a prototype. The shoes were constructed of leathers, and the bottoms of the shoe compressed rubber. There are snaps that are set at points to grow with the child's foot. We wanted practical, and durable. In the autumn of 2014 the first shipment went out, and in July we have the next shipment going out. By connecting with worship organizations, and other humanitarian organizations we are getting shoes out to the children of Haiti, Guatemala, Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and more and more places.
Kenton: Well first we wanted the shoes to be created to last 100 years and up to 20 sizes (laughed), but we think the two sizes we have created to: cost little, expand the most with the period time of a child's growth, and long lasting was reached.
SR: You formed a company called, Because International. With a variety of projects being developed under it ie. (The Shoe That Grows). What is your next step, no bad pun intended.
Kenton: We filed under a 501c3 for Because International and our main focus right now is The Shoe That Grows, but we are currently developing our second project. We saw a need, listened to the children, and are developing something we are terming, “A Better Bed-net.” In high mosquito infested areas people will sleep with a mosquito netting draped from their ceilings over their beds to help protect themselves. We all know mosquito bites itch like crazy, but more serious than that is the deadly diseases they carry. In the countries we have been working with and orphanages many times children do not have the typical bed. They may have a mat on the floor, or sleep on the ground... wherever they can find a spot. So, we are working on an idea for a bed net that would be free standing.
SR: What are some other ways people might get involved, aside from donating ten dollars?
Kenton: We are looking into setting up a volunteer program. Maybe calling the volunteers...“The Shoe Crew!”