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Kids shoes | How to fit shoes | Why it is important
January 2015

Fitting children’s footwear correctly

Children’s feet are constantly growing and developing. They are differently shaped and more delicate than adult feet. These are just some of the reasons why it is so important to fit kids shoes correctly. RHIANAH FREDERICKS gathered tips from children’s footwear suppliers

Children’s feet are different to adults’ in many ways, but the reason for the special care necessary when fitting their shoes is the fact that they are not yet developed.

Children’s feet consist of soft and flexible cartilage, rather than bone, which will fuse and eventually turn into bone. These bones only become fully hardened around the age of 18, therefore during the younger years children’s feet are more susceptible to injury and deformities.

“Growing feet are developing feet. It is crucial to have good shoes early on, as this allows the bones in the foot to develop naturally,” says Keith Bushby, Vans brand manager at local distributor Chappers Sports Direct. “It is essential that the correct shoes are chosen by the parent, with the assistance of the shoe sales staff.”

There are many foot problems associated with wearing the wrong, or ill-fitting, shoes at a young age. These include common deformities such as ingrown toe nails, hammer toes, calluses, bunions, etc.

“The notion of simply shrinking an adult size shoe to fit a child does not accommodate for the growing needs of children’s little feet and requires a completely unique design rationale,” says Casey Watermeyer, kids performance merchandise specialist at adidas SA.

Feet form the basis of support for the entire body and have numerous muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc. that affect other parts of the body. If they are not properly looked after, it could lead to more serious issues affecting your young customers’ postures, walking style, etc. as they get older.

Children’s feet have special requirements that need to be catered for in order to prevent irregular growth, say suppliers.

Their footwear should not hinder the natural development of their feet, says Watermeyer. For this reason it is important that the shoes they wear are not constricting or restricting. When walking barefoot, the foot naturally flexes at the toe joints and “to support the natural movement, this is also where our footwear must flex first,” she says.

Babies naturally have a flat valgus foot, which means they walk on the inner part of their feet. This is because during the first years, the bones in their feet have not yet hardened, says Watermeyer.

As the child’s bones and tendons get naturally stronger, they will become more stable, but during this time “no arch support or orthotics are needed, they can even hinder the natural foot development of the child,” she explains.

Kids footwear should offer similar, but also different elements to adult footwear, as they are not as heavy and their activity levels differ from that of adults, says Dawid Visser, training and promotions specialist for Asics SA.

The construction of kids shoes should also be different to adult footwear. “The edges of the footwear in some models are rounded to accommodate a shorter gait/stride than in adult shoes,” he says. Even similar model shoes will be slightly down specked for kids as they do not need as much cushioning as adults, he adds.

Children’s feet are naturally more sweaty than adults’ , therefore their shoes should be breathable. “Synthetic materials that prohibit breathability should be avoided,” explains Watermeyer. The shoes’ heel spring — the height difference between the forefoot and heel — should not be more than 6mm as it can have a negative impact on their Achilles tendon, she explains.

Fitting for comfort

Adults may look at colour, style and many other things when choosing shoes, but for children “the correct fit of the shoe is essential,” says Watermeyer.

“Children’s shoes should never be broken in, they should fit perfectly from the start, adds Daniela Panzeri, PR coordinator for Skye Distribution.

When fitting the shoes the customer should be measured while standing with equal weight on both feet, says Skechers brand manager Yusuf Vadi, from local distributor Footwear Trading. The retailer should make sure that the heel is properly located against the back of the cup and toes are flat against the base of the measuring instrument in order to read the toe length. After measuring, he recommends that you give the child one size bigger than that measured to allow for growth.

On the other hand, when fitting a child’s shoe without a measuring device there are some areas of the shoe that retailers should pay attention to, say suppliers.

“It is advisable to fit shoes on in the afternoon due to feet swelling throughout the day, especially in the summer months,” says Panzeri. A shoe should be approximately 12-16mm longer than the child’s longest toe to allow for growth and natural elongation when walking.

“Generally speaking, all footwear should have some space in front of the longest toe to accommodate for movement during activity,” says Visser. “In adults, we normally say you need about a thumb’s width in front of the big toe to allow for movement during activity, but kids do not have such long stride lengths or exert so much force on their feet during activity, so they will not need as much space,” he explains.

“Generally, you judge about 1-1.5cm from the toe, which is like a fingertip space, anything more than that is too big,” says Cindy Clarke, footwear merchandise manager for Puma.

“There should be at least a finger space between the edge of the shoe and your child’s toe to avoid ingrown toe nails and calluses from forming,” adds Panzeri.

There should also be an allowance for the adult finger to fit snugly in the rear of the shoe, says Bushby. Once the shoe is on the foot, press down in order to make sure that there is space for movement and it is not tight across the top of the foot.

The width of the foot should not be bulging over the sides of the shoe, because shoes that are too tight can cause friction that leads to blistering. Shoes that are too tight may also hinder the way the child walks or runs, which could result in injury.

Kids’ shoes should have enough depth to avoid pressure that could cause bruising on their toes and toe nails. To ensure this does not happen, one should be able to pull some material at the top of the shoe to make sure that the shoes are not too tight around the top of the foot.

“The vamp (front of the shoe) should not be tight over the top of the foot. E.g. if the child has a high arched bridge they may need more elasticity if not a lace up shoe,” says Panzeri.

Also, the heel of the shoes should rest firmly, but not tightly, around the back of the child's heel in order to avoid heel blisters. Also let the child walk in the shoes, to ensure that they fit correctly, she adds.

Buying for growth

Children’s feet are constantly growing and one should keep this in mind, check and ensure that shoes are always well fitting. Retailers can advise parents to check their children’s shoes every couple of weeks to avoid their children wearing shoes that they may have outgrown.

Infants cannot really tell if the shoe fits, and given that their feet can grow up to three sizes in one year, one should regularly check that the size of children’s shoes are still appropriate, says Watermeyer.

They usually recommend buying one size up and many parents opt for this due to the fact that it allows room for growth in the shoe, says Bushby. “Parents will normally end up buying new shoes for the toddlers/children every 8-10 months.”

While some adults may be tempted to buy kids footwear more than one size too big to accommodate the fact that they are growing very fast, retailers should advise parents that if footwear is too big, the child may not get maximum benefit out of it, says Visser. The shoe’s technology will not align with the foot, for example, “flex grooves in the shoes would present themselves in the wrong place.”

Functional designs

Lace and buckle designs help prevent children’s feet slipping inside the shoe and prevent them having to grip to keep shoes on their feet, which could result in claw feet.

Many kids shoes have laces, but retailers should advise customers that “shoe eyelets on kids footwear are designed to be pulled tight by the child inward toward him, not by the parent who will pull toward themselves — many eyelets break as parents pull from the incorrect angle and a retailer should be aware of this when tying kids’ laces,” says Chris de Bruyn, tech trainer and merchandiser for Hi-Tec.

You also want a supportive upper for stability, breathability, a tongue that fits snugly and sometimes velcro straps on takkies make it easier for fastening, while rubberized strap-end pulls offer better grip for little fingers, he says.

Children’s shoe soles should ideally have straight lasts, which will conform to the child’s foot, rather than the foot conforming to a curved last. Pointed and curved fashion toe boxes will result in the child’s foot being squeezed into an unnatural shape, which can cause bunions and other deformities.

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