Thursday, August 17, 2017

It's the little things, like shoes

By Louise Kinross

A year ago I bought my son two pairs of the same New Balance training shoe—one in white and one in black. A colleague had recommended it as one that works well for people who need a lift added to one shoe, because of a difference in the length of their legs.

There’s nothing wrong with this particular shoe, per se. But it’s boring.

Before my son went off to camp this summer, I told myself I would find a new pair of shoes for him, a pair that not only fit his unique feet comfortably, but which were also high on the cool factor.

I knew this would be a challenge. I did not imagine that two months later I would be shoeless, and sitting in a work meeting looking dejected and asking: “What was that journey called that knights were sent on, you know, like in that poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight?”

“Quest?” my colleague offered.

“Yes! Quest! That’s it!”

Let me explain. My son’s feet do not fit standard sizes. “Would it be okay if I wrote about how hard it is to find a pair of shoes that fit you?” I asked him this morning. He nodded in the affirmative.

My son has an unusually high instep, which means that most shoes are not roomy enough to do up over his instep.

In addition, he wears in-the-shoe orthotics, so his shoes need extra width.

The sole must be wide and relatively flat, so that a lift can be put on the left one (forget all those shoes with big bumpy things on the bottom).

And he needs lots of ankle support—he can’t wear those weightless Nike Free running shoes that one of my daughters has in about six different colours.

The ideal pair is laceless and easy to put on. And it must come in a boys size 2.

I began by visiting a children’s shoe store in Toronto—nowhere near my home—where I purchased a pair of Asics running shoes that I thought might work. I didn’t bring my son because it isn’t easy for him to walk, and I wanted this search to be painless for him.

I got them home. I took out the insole and managed to shove one of the orthotics in—just barely.

“Can you put this one in?” I asked my husband.

He began to manhandle the shoe.

“But don’t WRECK the shoe, I may have to bring it back!”

He got the orthotic in. But it was pushing out against the sides of the shoe. Would this cause the shoes to tear?

I asked my son to try them on. It sounds easy, but it wasn’t. We both had to work to get his foot in there—me holding the back of the shoe down while he tried to step in, at the same time as standing up, to add pressure. It was obvious there wasn’t enough room for his instep.

I wasn’t cast down. I drove right back over to the other side of town, in rush-hour traffic, and asked for the larger size. When I brought that pair home, they didn’t fit either.

That’s when I decided to do this shopping thing from the comfort of my own home. I went straight to High-tops, I thought, would probably be a safer bet, for the added support.

I found these Nike Air Force 1. I sent the link to the person who makes our lifts and he said one could be put on them.

I ordered.

They arrived. They looked great. But when my son tried to put them on it was like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. We did finally get the shoe on and done up. But his instep bulged out of the top so the velcro strap hardly reached over to the other side to close them. His feet were falling out of the shoes.

I put the Nikes back in their box and dumped them in the back of my car, where I still had the larger pair of Asics rattling around in a box.

Nikes is a dream to order from, by the way, because they cover the cost of returning items (how do they do that?). I put the address label with the bar code they provided on top of the original label and handed the box over at UPS. A few days later the money was credited to my account.

While googling “best children’s shoes for orthotics” I came across recommendations for Plae shoes, based in San Francisco. On their Facebook page they had photos of kids wearing the shoes with orthotics. Customers said they were wider than usual, didn’t have an insole that had to be pulled out before placing orthotics, and had velcro tabs.

I thought this pair might work.

I put them in my cart and started to type in my address. I scrolled up and down under “state/province” but they only listed states. What? They don’t ship to Canada? The nerve! How provincial could this company be?

I “chatted” online with a service rep who told me that Nordstrom in Canada carries some of their products.

I called Nordstrom downtown and described the shoe. The salesperson put me on hold. Ten minutes later he picked up the phone again. “We don’t have that style,” he said, “but we do have a Plae shoe in…” and then he proceeded to describe this other shoe—blah blah blah—the elaborate details of which I can’t recall. “Hold them,” I said, mentally changing my plans for that night.

I messaged my brother, who lives in Boston, to ask him if I could have the pair I liked on the website shipped to his house. “Sure,” he wrote back. “And I’ll even pay to ship them to you.”

Then I drove to the Eaton’s Centre to see what style of Plae shoe they had in stock.

Major disappointment. Before I went to the cash to ask for the shoe I’d put on hold, I perused those on display. There was another Plae one. They were sneakers, not the high-tops I was looking for. I picked them up but they just kind of flopped in my hand. No marks for support.

An overly helpful salesperson swarmed in on me.

“Are you looking for something specific?”

“I called and had a pair of Plae shoes put aside for me. But I’d also like to look at the other shoes as well.”

“Of course,” she said, “I’ll go grab the Plae ones you called about.”

I found a pair of Adidas high tops that I thought might do the trick. I picked them up and sat looking at them, opening them and closing them and trying to eyeball whether they were likely to fit my son’s feet. The more I stared at them, the more uncertain I grew.

The salesperson was now by my side, with the pair of Plae shoes I’d put on hold. “I definitely don’t want those,” I said, “but I’m not sure about these,” I said, gesturing to the Adidas.

“They’re great shoes,” she said. “We’ve had no problems with them.”

“I’m just not sure if they’ll fit my son’s instep.”

“How old is your son?” she asked.

Oh brother, I thought. If I tell this lady how old my son is, she isn’t going to understand why his feet are so small. And then I’m going to have to tell her a long story.

Instead, I opted for: “He wears a size 2.”

“Oh, well that’s easy,” she said. “Why not just buy him a size 3? Then you know they’ll fit and he’ll wear them for a while.”

Oh dear. I know this is what it’s like to buy shoes for people who fit standard sizes. But my son DOES NOT fit standard sizes.

“You can return anything for a refund for up to 30 days,” she said, smiling and cocking her head to the side hopefully.

I bought them.

When I entered the house, my husband gave me a puzzled look. He’d seen shoe boxes coming in and going out of our abode for the last few days.

“What did you buy?”

“A pair of shoes.”

“Another pair?”

“The other ones didn’t fit!”

I called my son up to try them. “What do you think?” I said. He smiled, and I could tell they met the cool factor.

Then we tried to put one on.

Remember that first pair of Nike Air Force high tops we got?

This shoe was made the same way. For someone with ZERO in-step.

You can imagine the salesperson’s surprise when I returned with them the next day and became the first disappointed customer. "They didn't fit," I said simply.

I was frustrated, but I wasn’t giving up. I started surfing the web looking for other types of high-top shoes. I came across this Ecco site and thought these shoes looked cool, well made and sturdy. And, they had a velcro closure. I chatted with a service rep who told me they came without insoles, which is handy for orthotics.

I ordered them.

The Ecco shoes arrived. They were gorgeous. Beautifully made. I wish I could afford a pair myself. But they didn’t fit.

I posted a message on the Three To Be Facebook group, to ask other parents for shoes that work well with orthotics.

One mom suggested DC shoes, because they’re wider than usual. I went to I thought these might work. But couldn’t I get these shoes somewhere locally? I went to a SportChek, but it turned out to be one that hardly stocks any kids’ shoes. I went to “Find a store” on the DC shoes website and typed in my postal code. It pulled up a store called CORE on Queen St. E. It was 8 o’clock at night, but I called.

“I’m looking for a Plae high-top shoe in a boys size 2,” I said.

“This is a sports marketing agency,” the woman said, while music blared in the background.

“Well, your company is listed on the DC shoes website as a distributor. Did you used to be a shoe store?”

This woman wasn’t interested in prior incarnations of the building.

So I ordered the DC pair online.

They were my last shot, because my son was leaving for camp and the window for having a lift put on them was closing.

DC Shoes sent me a tracking number, and everything was going according to plan. Then I got an e-mail alert to say the delivery date was being delayed four business days. It would take that time, the note said, to bring the shoes from the U.S. through customs at the Canadian border. What? Four days!? Was someone walking them over? I didn’t have four days.

I messaged the company to complain that they weren’t honouring their original delivery date. They were not moved, on compassionate grounds, to find a solution.

The DC Shoes arrived the day before my son went to camp. They didn’t fit. I had to pay the courier to send that pair back.

I couldn’t believe that I’d been on this mission for over a month, and had nothing to show for it.

To rub salt in the wound, Nike had already designed an "accessible" shoe. 

The LeBron Soldier 10 FlyEase was developed for a student with cerebral palsy who needed a shoe that fastened without laces. It has an ankle zipper that makes it easy to put on and do up.

In our April issue of BLOOM, we gave a shout out to Nike for the latest version of this FlyEase, noting that LeBron James had handed out pairs to kids at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital for Rehabilitation.

At the time, I thought they looked perfect for my son.

But when I sent a picture to the orthotist, he said the sole was too narrow in the middle to work with a lift.


You mean Nike’s accessible shoe isn’t accessible for my son?

I’d watched the videos about how this shoe was designed. I’d posted all over social media, letting all my disability friends know about it.

If Nike’s accessible shoe didn’t fit my son’s foot, what would?

I went back to and noticed they offer customers the ability to customize their shoes in a million ways (slight exaggeration). In boys’ shoes, you’re given 11 options for things like tongue, swoosh, midsole treatment and laces. Within each of those categories, there are dozens of colour options to choose from. You can even get polka dots for goodness sake. You can choose whether to have the Nike name on the back of the shoe. Or to leave it blank. Frankly, I got tired of clicking on all of the possibilities.

Why, I thought, isn’t it possible to order a lift in a standard size from the manufacturer, instead of having to take your shoes to an orthotist and pay that person, in addition to what you pay for the shoe? And if the lift came from the manufacturer, it could be designed to match perfectly, not stand out, which is how some of the lifts end up looking.

How hard could it be to design a lift in a couple of common sizes that can be put on and taken off a shoe? It didn’t sound like rocket science to me.

I remembered that the Nike guy who designed the FlyEase shoe with the zipper was called Tobie (unusual name). I googled “Tobie Nike e-mail” but I couldn’t find his e-mail. I did find his last name: Hatfield.

So I called the corporate offices.

I asked for his e-mail.

“We aren’t able to give out e-mails,” the woman said. “But I can give you his number.”

Bingo, I thought.

I called and left a detailed message. I explained that I’d shared the FlyEase with our BLOOM readers in 181 countries. Then I said I’d looked at all the ways people can customize their Nike shoes, and I was frustrated that there wasn’t an option to purchase a lift, which is something my son needs. Wasn’t it possible to make standard, removable lifts that could benefit people with disabilities?

I was excited. Maybe Tobie would be interested in this idea.

I didn’t hear back from Tobie.

I did get a call from Molly (these Nike folks have hip names, huh?), who apparently works with Tobie.

Molly said Tobie got my message, but was unable to personally respond. She said they had floated the idea of customizable lifts in the past, and it’s something they hope to do in the future. But there were no immediate plans.

Which left me back at ground zero.


I went back to the website.

Maybe I would purchase a pair of the FlyEase ANYWAY, just to get them in my hands. Maybe I could find someone who could work a miracle by affixing a lift onto them.

Then I realized the shoe didn't come in a size 2. The sizes you could click on started with a 3.5.

Really? Why?

Why would a kid wearing a 3.5 be more likely to want this shoe than a kid that wore a size 2? A kid who needs the access due to disability in a 3.5 would also need the access in a size 2. Had Nike done some kind of sophisticated buying pattern analysis on this?

I typed in my e-mail and a question: Why isn't it possible to purchase this product in a size 2 or 3?, I asked.

Nike e-mailed to thank me for my question. I can’t find their response now. They said they would share my feedback. But when I checked back days later, you could still only buy the product in size 3.5 and up. Ditto when I looked today.

I do not like giving up. I do not give up easily. Anyone who knows anything about disability, knows that a parent will go to the ends of the earth to get something for their disabled child, to have them included, especially if that something is freely available to other children.

And that's how I ended up thinking about the fact that I'd had to write an essay in university about Sir Gaiwan and the Green Knight. I felt like one of King Arthur's knights, who kept coming up against impossible tests. Heck, I'd gotten an 85 in a course on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. But in all of the legends I could remember, there was some kind of resolution, some happily-ever after, even if it wasn't perfect.

Why wouldn’t a company as big and successful as Nike design a few accessible shoes with different features, and with the ability to customize things like a lift? I know it’s not a big market. But they've received GREAT press for the FlyEase. That media is worth its weight in gold. Access options allow people to WEAR their shoes, period. Not just decorate them. Who can't get behind that?

My trial is not over. Yet.


Does Zappos ship to Canada? They have tons of choices and it's free to ship them back. When I need shoes, I sometimes order 6 pairs, just to try them on.

Ohhh, I've done this search too! Here's what we've used that's worked for our son: Converse (with the insole ripped out and a lot of AFO wrestling), Go Plae (they're not all flimsy, and they last) and my top choice, which is a very expensive Italian shoe called Easy Up, which is amazing and the closest thing to a custom shoe that I've seen...

Good luck! :)

Have you ever tried Tsukihoshi? My daughter wears bilateral AFOs. She does not have a very high instep, but the AFOs have a large heel. The Rainbow mod has a very generous fit. We also tried them with lifts at the orthotist last week, and they fit (even if we didn't end up getting the desired heel strike). Just don't order them from Shoekid. I was extremely unimpressed with their customer service. One of our local Kiddie Kobblers carries them.

I live in Portland (where Nike is based) and have multiple friends who work there doing a variety of jobs--unfortunately none in the shoe dept. However, I can say that when they say they talk about these things, they really do. I wish I could push it through for you myself, but I don't actually work there. Thank you for pushing for this...I know it's more exhausting than can possibly be communicated.