The Shoe that Grows Hope Around the World
My life changed on a dusty road under the hot sun in Nairobi, Kenya.
I had taken a year off after college to travel the world, and I found myself volunteering at a small orphanage. One day all the kids and I were walking to church when I noticed a little girl in a white dress walking right next to me. I looked down and was absolutely shocked to see how small her shoes were on her feet. They were way too small for her feet; so small that she cut open the front to let her toes stick out. I looked around and many of the kids had on shoes that were way too small.
That day I had an idea: What if there was a shoe that could adjust an expand its size? What if there was a shoe that could grow? Seems like that would make a lot of sense for these kids who were living in extreme poverty and could not get anywhere close to affording new shoes every time their feet grew.
And the idea for The Shoe That Grows was born.
It took my friends and me back in Idaho six years to go from idea to reality. But we finally did it. We had created a shoe that could grow five sizes and last up to five years. And we started to slowly get them out to people we knew who worked with kids in need around the world. Life was good. This was a passion of mine, but it was also just a hobby. A couple thousands pairs of shoes in my guest bedroom.
Until we accidentally went viral in April 2015.
We weren’t trying to take off or anything. It just sort of happened, and the next thing we knew we had a sensation on our hands. And a ton of logistical issues. Luckily, my best friend in the world since 2nd grade quit his corporate job to come run Because International with me. He is fantastic at business, and he jumped in and began to build our business.
Fast forward to today. We have distributed over 100,000 pairs of The Shoe That Grows to kids in over 90 countries. We have an incredible team of eight people who work out of our headquarters in Nampa, Idaho. We work with over 800 distribution partners (churches, organizations, schools, etc.) and have an unbelievable network of donors, supporters, and friends.
But it all revolves around the simple innovation of a growing shoe.
Our organization has a mission to use innovation to improve the lives of those challenged by extreme poverty. We like to say that we are trying to “make things better by making better things”. The Shoe That Grows is a perfect example of the innovative products that we are committed to designing and distributing. It is a small product, but it makes a BIG difference.
When kids do not have shoes or have shoes that no longer fit, they struggle with big and small problems. Often kids challenged by extreme poverty are living in areas that lack adequate sanitation. There is human and animal waste in the ground and water around them. Kids will get a cut or scrape on their foot, and then diseases will enter their body through their feet. It is heart-breaking to see kids struggle with hookworm and other diseases. Plus more serious things like jiggers (small bugs like ticks) can cause long-term damage to the feet. There are serious health concerns when kids do not have proper shoes to protect their feet from the dirty and dangerous things around them.
Also, kids without shoes or shoes that fit struggle receiving the education that they desperately need. It is cultural in many countries around the world for kids to wear a school uniform. And in many places shoes are a mandatory part of this uniform. Bottomline: if you don’t have shoes – you can’t go to school. It is an unfortunate reality. Plus, kids are walking miles and miles each day to attend school. Shoes are small things that are a surprisingly big part of education. Kids need them in order to have the best chance to succeed in school and life.
The Shoe That Grows provides help and hope in a small package. It is amazing to talk to parents, teachers, and leaders who are receiving shipments of shoes. They know how important shoes are for the kids. They marvel at such a sturdy, solid shoe that can continue to fit on their kids feet year after year after year.
But we don’t stop there.
In addition to getting life-changing shoes to incredible kids, we also have a mission to bring jobs to these areas by producing our shoes where they are being used the most. We currently produce in Ethiopia at an amazing local factory. And we are in the process of finding production partners in Haiti and India, too. Shoes for kids. Jobs for people. We won’t stop until we meet both of those goals.
Our belief in the power of innovation spurs us forward. We have a big vision to ultimately help local entrepreneurs in developing countries be able to better pursue their ideas for innovative products. We will come alongside in coaching, funding, and creating an ecosystem of innovation. But the best ideas come from those who live in it everyday. We are excited to work ourselves out of a job as we help others have the tools to turn their own ideas into reality.
We believe in practical compassion – small things that make a BIG difference. We don’t work on the biggest solutions for the most complex problems. But we focus on simple innovations for daily life. There is power in small things – things like shoes. And we will continue to try to make things better by making better things…. small things…. small things that make a BIG difference.
Contributed by The Shoe That Grows Founder Kenton Lee