So what was I talking about last month? Oh yes, the importance of shoes that fit properly and the benefits of opting for barefoot designs for toddlers. The second of my barefoot shoes reviews is thanks to Happy Little Soles who specialise in sourcing and stocking a wide range of barefoot shoes to suit every type of foot and every situation, from school shoes to snow boots. Happy Little Soles is owned and operated by Kate from her home in Truro and although she regularly welcomes customers by appointment for shoe fittings most orders are sent out to people who have gained the confidence to measure and fit their children’s shoes themselves.
For parents like me, who don’t know where to start, Kate has produced a really useful sizing guide to assist with this which includes a downloadable PDF for measuring feet at home (a tape measure along the sole of a wriggly foot while taking a photo is definitely not the way to do it!). Kate explains
‘Many people leave measuring their child’s feet to the ‘experts’ in shoe shops but I have seen many problems caused by ill fitting shoes in children whose parents have always taken the trouble to get them properly measured and fitted. Our mission is to help educate parents to become confident about fitting their children’s shoes themselves. Many kids aren’t relaxed enough in a shoe shop to really feel whether a shoe is comfortable or not so as parents it is just one more skill we need to develop – no one cares about our children’s feet as much as we do!’
After a helpful email exchange about what size and style of shoe E had been wearing (UK6, narrow toe end), was now wearing (UK7, round and roomy toe end) and providing actual length measurements for both feet (right 14cm and left 14.5cm) Kate selected Livie and Luca and See Kai Run as brands best suited to wide feet. Kate assured me it’s usual for children to have different sized feet and the shoe fitting challenge is striking a balance between enough toe room for the bigger foot while not being too baggy, which can cause tripping, on the smaller foot. Kate recommended adding 1cm for growing room and sent us these shoes.
Playing shoe shops
It’s tricky persuading a toddler to try on new shoes when you have a ”shoes off in the house” rule and he looks at you with total confusion – “No Mummy, I don’t want to go out”. He proved to be very co-operative thanks to an extra-pair of hands from my friend Jennie, a very experienced Clarks shoe fitter. I sowed the idea of playing shoe shops with E and by the time Jennie arrived we had the toy till and money all ready. It was quite something working through 3 pairs of shoes – most of the photos were just a blur of a boy testing out the bounce-ability of his new footwear.
E chose which pair we tried first – he was rather taken with the face and little tufty mane on his Zebra shoes. They’d have been a great first shoe for E as a new walker thanks to the thin, flexible rubber sole, padded ankle collars and easy to open velcro straps. The toe box is particularly roomy so ideal for wide feet (once children become active, confident walkers their feet, like the rest of them, lose their chubb so the whole way you buy shoes is worth adjusting too). E measures a G width, using a C-H Clarks scale, but by trying the Zebra shoes I discovered he’s actually not that wide. The conventional way of measuring width around the foot is misleading because it takes no account of the widest part of the foot, the toes. What it actually measures is volume so a narrow, deep foot could measure the same as a wide, shallow foot.
Ways in which the Zebra shoe illustrates this point (making it the wrong shoe for E):
- very roomy upper to accommodate deep/wide feet. Too baggy for E (Jennie could fit a whole finger inside). The best indicator of a good fit is the ”ripple” test when smoothing the leather with your fingers. Excess material in a shoe that’s too big still creates friction when the foot moves and can cause blistering
- plenty of room round the ankle and flexible velcro straps to tighten/loosen. For E’s narrow ankle a whole finger width space doesn’t create the right ankle support and could feel like it’s slipping off and cause him to curl his toes under in an attempt to hang on to it.
- shoe length seemed shorter than his other size 7s. There was little growing room in either shoe (1/2 a thumbs width for his smaller left foot where Jennie recommends 1 thumbs width). A size 8 would seem more suitable lenghtwise but likely too long for his smaller foot and exaggerate the width issues already encountered. So not the shoe for us but would have made very sweet first shoes on his chubbier, new to walking feet.
After handling the very soft, flexible Zebras these Kanoa shoes felt quite stiff (but not by comparison to conventional shoes). This style is aimed at older children (it has a scuff resistant toe cap) so the firmer sole is more sturdy and durable for the outdoor antics of an active toddler. See Kai Run is one of the most popular brands for wide, deep feet so with my new knowledge about E’s foot shape and how to tell if a shoe is a good fit it came as no surprise when Jennie was able to pull it straight off. This was the most valueable thing I learnt from playing shoe shop – if a shoe is done up as tightly as possible but can be removed easily by holding the child’s leg in one hand and gently pulling from the back of the heel with the other then it’s too big. Further demonstrated by a finger down the back of the heel E was soon giggling and asking Jennie to pull the other one off so he could see it fly out of her hand! Also not the shoe for us but great to know there are options beyond the conventional measurements for children needing a wide fitting shoe.
3. ‘Scuttle‘ by Livie and Luca (UK6/shoe length 15cm)
It was third time lucky with trying on the Scuttle shoes as they were the perfect fit. Nice and snug around the ankle thanks to the adjustable strap, enough wriggle space across the width of the toes and no ripple across the top of the shoe. They were such a glove like fit though Jennie couldn’t recommend keeping them as there was no growing room in the toe end at all. We were somewhat surprised by the difference in sizing between our 3 pairs of size 7 shoes but when we rang Kate with an update she pointed out the Scuttles were a size 6 (easy to be confused as the US size is listed first on the box). Although the next size up would provide more growing room than the size 6 Kate pointed out the sole would be the same size as the size 7 Zebra shoe we had rejected so she didn’t feel it would be suitable.
The Scuttle is listed on the Happy Little Soles website as suiting a medium to wide foot so it confirmed the need to start again with selecting a brand more suited to a medium width foot. Kate kindly did just that proving the importance of talking to someone who knows about the fit of different brands, trying several in the same size and the ease of doing so at home (this took 1.5 hrs from start to finish!)
‘‘I am not particularly hung up on the feet being a particular size, it is the shoes that are the size. That’s why we measure every pair of shoes we stock at Happy Little Soles with a special internal sole measurer and list exact length measurements”.
4. Fast Forward Trainer by Bobux (UK7/length 15.8cm)
Kate chose Bobux I-walk as the brand to send us for our second game of shoe shops. This time E was less co-operative and it took about 30 minutes to even persuade him to put the shoes on. He didn’t mind the tickly foot measuring part stood with his heel against the wall in a shoe box lid and it was interesting to find 3 weeks later his feet had already grown as predicted by Jennie (now 14.5 and 14.8cm – or perhaps my measuring was more accurate second time?). In the end I had to resort to letting him play with my camera (the photos were rubbish anyway, these taken on my phone even more so but needs must!)
Described as suitable for all seasons Fast Forward trainers are made from child safe eco-leather (oil nubuck leather and suede). They’re anatomically shaped to allow toes the freedom to move and grow unrestricted, have a non-slip rubber sole with multiple flex points, cushioned heel collar and adjustable straps. My busy little photographer made little comment about his shoes but making no efforts to take them off spoke volumes about how comfy they were. While he was sat down Jennie shared another valuable fitting tip about the difference between checking the position of the toes in a shoe while sitting (toe naturally pushes to the front) versus standing (the correct toe position you want to assess). As illustrated in the photo above while squatting it seems like there’s little growing room in the shoes but standing up this was not the case.
To get the perfect fit for E Jennie recommended fastening the straps as tightly as possible as being secure around the ankle is the key to a good fit. When asked if he wanted to try the other pair of Bobux shoes he said ‘‘no I want these ones’‘ confirming what we’d thought – a great fit now and in the months to come as his feet grow.
All that remained then was to pay for them.
J – How much do you think your shoes cost E?
E – 11 pence I think
J – that’s very good value isn’t it
E – mmmmm, maybe eleventy pounds pence but I will give you this £50
E’s loving his new custom selected, home fitted barefoot shoes and they’ve coped well with soakings and mud when I’ve been too slow to warn ‘‘that’s a bog boot kind of puddle not a shoe puddle”. Now we’ve discovered the benefits of barefoot shoes I think there’s no going back and with such a wide choice of brands and styles coupled with Kate’s unrivalled product knowledge there’s no reason to. Kate even has a loyalty scheme to encourage this as if the quality of service wasn’t reason enough to come back time and again!
Disclosure: I was sent these shoes for the purposes of this review (and kept the best fitting pair). I was not required to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are my own.
If you liked this review you may also be interested in this post barefoot adventures in baby Bogs