womens black adidas trainers Idaho man creates expanding shoe to help poor kids
“I’m just excited to get these out there, because I really believe it is just a good, solid shoe for kids,” Kenton Lee said. “And I’ll do whatever it takes to get as many of these to the kids who need them.”
Lee graduated from Northwest Nazarene University in 2007. He spent the next year traveling on mission trips, stopping for five months at an orphanage of 140 children in Kenya. Their parents had all died from AIDS.
The orphanage’s electricity would go on and off, there was no clean water and while nobody starved, food was lean, Lee said. Conditions were dirty and dusty.
One day, Lee and the children were going for a walk. He looked at one of the girls. She was about
6 years old. Her shoes caught his attention.
“They were so small that she had to cut the front of them open to let her toes stick out,” Lee said.
Samaritan’s Feet, an organization that works to distribute shoes around the world, states two billion people worldwide are plagued with parasitic diseases that could be prevented by wearing proper footwear.
In 2009, Lee launched Because International, a nonprofit organization. His first project was to make a shoe that would grow. Five years later, The Shoe That Grows is ready for people to buy and distribute around the world.
“I know I could go back right now and give a pair of these to that little girl, and she could wear them for a few years,” Lee said.
“If they travel to places where they know kids need shoes, and kids struggle with that, I’ll ship these to them and then they can take them themselves as they travel,” Lee said.
An order of 25 shoes comes in a duffel bag with 25 drawstring backpacks to package each shoe.
People can also pay $10 for a pair of shoes that will go to five partner organizations around the world. Once a bag of 50 pairs is filled up, the shoes are sent.
In the coming weeks,
Lee will receive his first shipment of shoes to his house from a factory in China.
“I don’t know how quickly the first 3,000 are going to go . but we’re excited to place more orders and keep doing that,” he said.
A gleam forms in Lee’s eye as he explains the launch of a product he has watched grow and expand, much like the product itself.
But it wasn’t always easy for a guy who has no shoe experience.
Lee called companies such as Nike, Crocs, Tom’s, all of whom said it would be a good idea, but told him to call back once he had the idea ready. They told him the idea wasn’t something those companies already produced.
When that failed, Lee thought maybe he didn’t explain it well enough. He spent $500 of his own money to make a video and sent it to shoe companies.
He kept thinking of the kids in Kenya and how his concept would make more sense to be able to adjust with their growing feet.
20 pairs of Crocs and cut them all up to find out how the idea could possibly work, but he didn’t make much progress.
“I knew I didn’t know what I was doing with shoes,” Lee said. “I was picturing trying to make a factory in my backyard. I didn’t even know the first place to start.”
Doubts crept in. Maybe this wasn’t a good idea.
Lee went to one Nampa Chamber of Commerce luncheon the only one he has ever been to. He explained his idea to a fellow NNU grad there, who pointed him toward another NNU grad in Portland, who connected him to a person in France, who connected Lee to Proof of Concept, a shoe company in Portland that specializes in developing footwear.
“They loved the idea,” Lee said. “Without them, I probably would have given up about two years ago.”
Gary Pitman, founder and president of Proof of Concept, has been in the shoe industry for about 30 years, working for Nike and Adidas. He also grew up in Emmett.
Pitman was interested in the concept and thought the idea was doable. But what made this project stick out above the rest?
“I guess it was the concept of giving back and helping a nonprofit like Because International make a difference in the world,” Pitman said.