Sunday, April 16, 2017

Growing Shoes

Sometimes creativity is born out of need, out of the realization that something needs to change. Kenton Lee is a pretty normal guy: he grew up in a small town in Idaho and went to college at Northwest Nazarene University. He went on several mission trips, to several different countries. On one of the trips to Nairobi, Kenya, he describes that he was “shocked at how small [a little girl’s] shoes were. Her shoes didn’t fit at all, in fact she had to cut open the front of her shoes to let her toes stick out”. Even though Lee was aware of the children’s poverty, he had never thought about or noticed that their shoes did not fit them. The reason that the shoes did not fit these kid’s feet, he found out, was that the last donations for shoes had come in a year ago, and the kids had grown since then.

Hearing this, Lee thought to himself: “What if there was a pair of shoes that could adjust and expand their size? What if there was a pair of shoes that could grow?” This shows the first spark of creativity and the creative process that eventually lead Lee to create a shoe that, indeed, grows.

In his TEDx talk, Lee describes that he lives to be compassionate and to make community better, to make a difference. His motivation stems from a concept he calls “practical compassion”. He states that little things like a lemonade stand from a small girl raising funds against child slavery are acts of practical compassions. Little things that we all can do throughout our daily lives to make the lives of others just a bit better.

Taking this concept and putting it into action, Lee designed a shoe that grows with children’s feet. In five years, he worked together with a team of designers and other specialists to make his idea real life. It took many rejections from companies, but Lee and his team did not give up and finally succeeded. The shoes that Lee and his team sell come in two “original” sizes, either small or large, and can be adjusted up to 5 sizes to accommodate kids’ growing feet. This concept counters the efforts of shoe companies like Toms that claim to donate a pair of shoes to kids in need for every pair of shoes Western consumers buy. As seen above, such practices are highly impractical (especially) for children in developing countries.

Looking at Lee’s creative process through a cultural lens, it is interesting to examine the “western” approach of creativity that “satisfies the problem constraints, is useful, of fulfills a need” within a non-western community (Lubart, pg. 339). It surely was not Lee’s goal to embody a western concept of creativity, but rather to do good and improve the situation at hand. What would have happened, however, if Lee had focused on a more Eastern interpretation of creativity, that “[involves] the reinterpretation of traditional ideas” (Lubart, pg 340)? It is possible that Lee—had he not been as focused on the product, but rather on the process, incorporating a more eastern view of creativity—would have searched for a way to help establish a more local production of shoes for the kids, thus taking into consideration traditions, improvement of the local economy, and yet still focusing on improving the situation of the kids that he was working with.  

Lubart, Todd I. "17 Creativity Across Cultures." Handbook of creativity (1999): 339.


  1. This is a great post and features a really cool and unique product. I think you did a really good job demonstrating the differences between western and eastern creative approaches and I do wonder how this product would have changed if Lee had taken the eastern creative approach to solving the problem. With regards to eastern creativity, you also had mentioned TOMS earlier in the article. I would also classify TOMS model of donating a pair of shoes for every pair bought as another instance of Western Creativity. I have read numerous articles in which people have criticized TOMS charitable strategy, claiming that it actually hurt local shoe sellers in the areas they were trying to improve. I wonder if TOMS had attempted to use eastern creative approaches and attempted to involve the local community in their charitable strategies, if they would have been more successful in their aid to communities around the world.

  2. I think this is a cool post! To be honest, I hadn't really thought of it but footwear definitely is a larger problem in other countries like Africa or India than in the U.S This embodies the principle of a creative solution born out of a widespread problem, and so far it seems like it has gone far! I looked at their website too and the shoes have actually been sent to multiple locations throughout the world, but I wonder how much rejection did he go through until he got to this point, and how did that rejection inspire his creative process? The idea of expandable shoes must have been brought up before, but even with better material nowadays, the design has to fit a large audience rather than specific consumers. Either ways, glad to see it's working out well and good article!

  3. His motivation definitely seems mostly extrinsic. He seems to be really focused on helping the kids, rather than making money. I think that's evident especially because he was rejected multiple times, but he kept going and kept looking for funding. I think going on mission trips had a big impact on him, and I don't think this is something that happens for everyone. The mission trip just helped to spark his creativity for these shoes! Do you think that there was some aspect of intrinsic motivation for him? Or was it all extrinsic?


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