Making the Most Adaptive Shoes for Kids
Making the Most Adaptive Shoes for Kids

Making the Most Adaptive Shoes for Kids

We’ve always believed that every child should have access to the outdoors, and that their shoes should support their independence and curiosity.

So we love partnering with organizations that work to make outside a more diverse, accessible, and inclusive place for all. Which is why we teamed up with Zappos Adaptive to learn how we can make it easier for kids with adaptive footwear needs to get outside. 

“Our goal was to make it as easy as possible for any kid, regardless of ability, to get a Newport sandal on by themselves,” says Caitlin Gordon, KEEN Kids product development. 

“We knew that our Newport H2 already checked a ton of critical boxes for our kiddos and their parents – roomy fit, excellent traction, superior toe protection, super comfy, adjustable bungee laces, and our quick-dry washable upper. Our job was to make our best sandal as easy as possible for any kid to get on quickly and comfortably.“

"It was essentially created by the kids who need it most and are often overlooked in our industry."

After working with families with adaptive footwear needs over several months, the Newport Boundless sandal was born. It features an adjustable hook & loop backstrap for slip-on entry and a more secure heel, plus a more flexible upper design that can accommodate more foot shapes and sizes. 

A Big Need for Many Families

There are 61 million people in the United States alone who have a disability – equating to roughly 25% of the total U.S. population. These can range from fine motor skills to limb function, and many families resort to adapting footwear themselves when they can’t find what they need in the market. 

To learn more about the challenges these families face, and how our footwear could better support them, we collaborated with Zappos Adaptive to hold a first-of-its-kind outdoor footwear focus group for children with adaptive needs. For example, 6-year-old Atlas’ prosthesis has a wide foot shell that makes it very difficult to put on most shoes, 8-year-old Miles is on the Autism spectrum and sometimes needs help with buttons, zippers, and toggles, and 11-year-old Mariah was born with spina bifida and has no feeling below her knees, making it difficult to put shoes on herself.

“One of our focus group participants was born with missing fingers, and her mother made a comment that struck a major chord with our entire team: ‘Someone at a shoe company could try and tie a shoe with one hand. I don’t know if anyone has actually done that.’ We certainly hadn’t but we certainly did afterwards and set our north star to reducing the number of hands needed to get in a shoe, Caitlin says.

A Simpler Solution

Our Boundless team first met with the Zappos Adaptive focus group of nine kids aged 6-13 and their families in the summer of 2022. During this 3-hour session, the kids tried on four different KEEN kids’ styles. We also received over four hours of video footage from interviews and at-home product testing.

Ease of entry was the primary concern. We consistently received the same feedback from our focus group that 1) the kids’ shoes need to be easy and quick to put on, 2) they need to accommodate all different shapes and sizes as some had prostheses or orthotics that required more space, and 3) they need to look and feel like a non-adaptive shoe. In other words, just like all of their friends’ shoes. They wanted them to be cool and mature, and not make them feel “othered” by calling attention to their disability.

“And we learned that what they really needed was simplicity,” Caitlin says. “We brought out a lot of new, innovative materials and closure systems from our toolbox during the testing phases with our focus group. We set out to solve multiple problems with multiple solutions, but the truth that we kept coming back to was ease of use, and that isn’t always improved by complex technology.”

Our Easiest On/Off Adventure Sandal Ever

For the Newport Boundless, the team focused on creating a shoe that kids could slide into – not shove into – with lacing they only needed to set once, and a single strap that could fit around any size or shape of foot/ankle. By winter 2022, we had our first prototype ready to test and selected three kids to test them out. They gave us lots of great feedback, and it took us another three rounds of prototypes plus testing to finalize the design. 

With the open backstrap, we removed the difficulty involved with the enclosed heel, our classic stretchy bungee lace system allows for a truly customizable fit, and we strategically detached the lining from the upper at key points for a more forgiving fit, no matter the size or shape of the foot. 

Now we have a kids’ Newport sandal – with all of its legendary durability, capability, and protection – accessible to kids who can’t normally wear it. And the best part: it was essentially created by the kids who need it most and are often overlooked in our industry.

Be boundless, kiddos. 

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