For Kenyan orphans whose parents passed away from AIDS, shoes didn’t rank high on a list of priorities compared to food and shelter. So when they outgrew donated footwear from a previous year, and no more came in, the shoes were cut open in the front to give their toes room while still protecting their feet from parasites in the soil.
That’s what Kenton Lee learned volunteering at the orphanage located outside of Nairobi, Kenya in 2007. But even after he’d returned home to Nampa, Idaho, the experience stuck with the then 23-year-old business major and he soon conceived an idea for shoes that grow.
He was turned down by every company he approached including Nike until networking led him to Proof of Concept – a prototyping and development company. Kenton took 100 pairs to Kenya to test in four schools, adjusting the design with eager feedback from the kids.
The finished sandal was able to expand five sizes using adjustable snap buttoned straps at the sides and a front strap featuring belt holes and a prong closure.
Last year, The Shoe That Grows, inspired by Kenyan orphans, went viral and Kenton’s non-profit Because International has since sent out 40K pairs to kids in over 40 countries.
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