No kid too big for their boots

Shoes that grow with feet take pinch out of stretched budgets

Chaneleigh Schmelzer, Milano Olivier, Entle Potwana, all eight, and Asaviwe Mankayi, seven, could barely contain their excitement about their new shoes
Chaneleigh Schmelzer, Milano Olivier, Entle Potwana, all eight, and Asaviwe Mankayi, seven, could barely contain their excitement about their new shoes
Image: Fredlin Adriaan

When you are a growing kid whose parents are on a tight budget, a shoe that stretches as much as your feet do is going to mean smiles all round.

Donations of school uniforms have been taken a step further by an innovations company which has supplied Altona Primary School with 450 stretchable school shoes which “grow” as their pupils do.

The waterproof, biodegradable shoe is the brainchild of Donald Blanshard and his wife Karen Drummond-Blanshard, who started producing the shoe in 2011 as part of their “barefoot no more” campaign.

They said the shoes last a period of at least a year – depending on the rate of the pupil’s growth – and are capable of stretching at least two sizes.

The project found its feet through collaboration with innovations and chemical company Impro-Chem/AECI two years ago after the Blanshards established non-profit organisation Kids Etc.

The innovations and chemical company became the driving force distributing more than 3 000 pairs of the stretchable shoes to schools around the country since last year through their CSI responsibility, among other projects.

Yesterday, Impro-Chem/AECI regional manager Jan de Ridder said Altona Primary School in Greenbushes was the first Eastern Cape school to receive the shoes, after hearing about the dire need for the items through a friend at the Crockerts Hope 4x4 group.

Drummond-Blanshard said the shoes were made from a material called ethylene vinyl acetate – similar to crocs – an elastic material that can be sintered to form a porous material similar to rubber, yet with excellent toughness.
“Initially we sold and donated the shoes – however, a year or two back bigger corporates who regularly bought and donated the shoes said it would be easier to sponsor if we were an NPO, hence the establishment of Kids Etc,” she said.

“The concept is to tackle the problem in rural areas where kids walk for kilometres either barefoot or in shoes that are worse for wear. The idea behind the shoe being recyclable is that it essentially lasts forever.

“The reason we tackle primary schools is because kids usually go through two pairs a year. This way one pair lasts two years, saving the family money and ensuring they have shoes which are durable and last.”

Altona Primary principal Benita Duminy said the majority of the school’s 582 pupils were poor, with many of them walking about 4km to schools from surrounding areas such as Kuyga.

“We are so blessed – we have never asked for anything, people tend to find us,” Duminy said. “This is truly a godsend because there are so many of these kids – I don’t even know how their shoes stay on their feet.”

De Ridder said in addition to the shoes, 450 vests, backpacks, stationery packs and vests were also handed over.

“When we sat down with the principal and realised the need, we knew we had to step in to assist,” he said.