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Home > Why Buy a Quality Shoe?

Why Buy a Quality Shoe?

Yes, good shoes are seemingly more expensive than what you’ll find at mass-market stores, but they are an investment in your child’s podiatric and orthopedic health. (Think about this: most babies and toddlers start out with perfectly healthy feet, but 70% of adults have foot problems or resulting pain.)

You know how a painful shoe makes you feel tired and frustrated. Image what it’s like for your child, who may not be able to express himself, may not have a choice, and doesn’t know what a good shoe should feel like (until he gets them).

(By the way, all of the following also applies to shoes for adults.)

- longer wear (the shoe will hold up beyond when the child outgrows it) - we explain why below
- reduced orthopedic and chiropractic problems - please read further
- kids who are happier to be wearing shoes, and more comfortable and productive in them.

What should I look for when buying shoes for my child?
Is it worth it to buy a shoe that costs $40+?
How can I tell if a shoe is well made or not?
How do I know if it will hold up under tough wear on the playground, or in rain or snow?

We’re glad you asked! All new shoes can look nice on the shelf, but there are big differences in how they look and perform after the first wearing. Since US labelling laws allow for a lot of “tricks of the trade” you have to be knowledgeable, think for yourself, and ask questions to know what you’re getting. We answer these questions below, but first:

When is it important to put my child in good shoes? For his first pair(s)? when he goes to school? when her foot stops growing so fast?

The answer is the same as for yourself: always (and especially for the shoes he/she spends the most time in). It may seem expensive to buy new shoes every 3-4 months for a toddler, but it’s much less painful if you think of it as an INVESTMENT in your child’s total health care.

But it doesn’t get any less important as they grow older - every step the body takes in poor fitting or unsupportive shoes adds up to future potential problems - podiatric (feet), orthopedic (lower extremeties), or chiropractic (spine). Remember, the bones, tendons and muscles of the foot have to absorb many force pounds of shock each time the foot hits the ground.

It is much better to buy one QUALITY pair of shoes and use it for everything (school, play, even dress) than to split up your budget among several cheap pairs, none of which provide the support or breathability your child needs. With a beautiful European shoe, you can even wear it as a dress shoe if you just clean it.

In fact, good shoes are cheaper in the long run, not only for avoided problems, but because they wear so well. Parents are often amazed when they try a quality shoe for the first time - by how beautifully it ages, how it doesn’t cause odor, and how much the child wants to wear it.

What to look for in a quality shoe - and why

Major parts of a shoe and their function:

back counter
and one very important “part” that you can’t see - the last

Leather upper. Leather is the best material for shoes because it:

- breathes. A child’s feet sweat1/4 pint of perspiration per day, causing odor and bacteria to form if it can’t evaporate through the shoe (as it cannot with synthetic shoes - i.e. “man made” materials).

- adapts to the shape of the foot while maintaining its strength and supporting the foot, even after perspiration and foot action have attacked it from the inside, and weather and dirt from the outside.

- ages beautifully and wears a long time. Yes, kids shoes will get dirty, but leather cleans well and will hold up under foot pressure, sweat, weather and dirt.

Synthetic materials, on the other hand, lose their good looks very quickly, and worse, they don’t breathe, and they break down under foot pressure, perspiration and weather. This means that the shoe is no longer supporting the foot, while bacteria and odors are forming on it.

Also, throwing shoes in the washing machine (as often instructed by synthetic-shoe makers) causes the shoe to break down even more quickly.

Ask yourself why the manufacturer has used synthetic materials for the upper or lining. The only reason (with the exception of some high-tech compounds used in performance athletic footwear) is to lower the manufacturing cost. Sometimes this is passed on to you (in the case of inexpensive shoes), and sometimes not (in the case of high marketing costs). In other words, you must learn to evaluate shoe quality for yourself, and balance that against other factors such as brand name, fashion, etc.

BUT, there is a trick of the trade you should know about. US law allows for shoes that are made of a 51%-leather product called “corrected leather” to be labelled “leather”. Corrected leather is a low grade, often scarred leather (at least 51% of the content) which is “corrected” to look perfect on the surface with a layer of synthetic material. Unfortunately, this process contradicts the purpose of buying a leather shoe in the first place. Covered with synthetic, this leather-product doesn’t breathe and doesn’t support the foot for long, as the synthetic material breaks down under stress, perspiration and dirt.

How can you tell if the shoe labelled “leather upper” is really all leather, or is synthetic-coated “corrected leather”?
You cannot by merely looking at it (without a fair amount of experience), but you can probably tell by the price and brand name of the shoe compared to where it’s manufactured. It’s hard to generalize, but for leather (street) shoes (not considering performance athletic shoes), European manufacture is your best guideline for quality.

European-made shoes usually have this sticker, indicating the material used for the upper, the lining, and the outsole. Learn to read the symbols so you'll be able to tell what the shoe's content is:

EC (European Community) shoe content sticker

The arrow pointing to the outside of the shoe refers to the upper.
The arrow inside the shoe means the lining.
And the arrow pointing to the underside refers to the outsole.
The funny shaped symbol is the shape of a cow hide, and means "leather".
A diamond means "synthetic".
The symbol for "textile" is a grid referring to woven threads.

Something to watch out for: patent uppers - check if it’s real patent leather or synthetic. This is often the most difficult distinction to make, since shiny synthetic looks good when brand new.

So you can use leather shoes for playground wear. Even though they seem beautiful and delicate, leather actually holds up better than synthetic materials and kids need that support.

Myth: I’ll just buy a cheap shoe for the playground because it’ll get so dirty and I don’t want my child to ruin a good pair of shoes.
Think about it: 1. You’re not only buying the shoe for looks, but also for foot support and protection. Children spend a lot of their time playing (and getting their clothes and shoes dirty), and this is exactly when they need the most foot support. Wearing inexpensive shoes most of the time, and good shoes only for “clean” occasions just doesn’t make sense. 2. A leather shoe will clean easier and stay better looking than synthetic, especially when “old and worn”. You can buy a darker color if you want to show less dirt.

Leather lining. This is probably the least thought-about part of the shoe, and the most taken advantage of by manufacturers. US labelling laws don’t require the disclosure of lining materials, only uppers, so if it doesn’t say “leather lining”, it isn’t! (By contrast, European consumer protection laws require labelling to list the upper, lining and outsole materials. As mentioned above, check for the EC content sticker).

EC (European Community) shoe content sticker

Leather linings are important because the shoe cannot breathe through a synthetic lining, even if the upper is leather. It blocks the passage of sweat before it ever gets to the outer portion (the upper). Likewise the shoe can’t mold to the shape of the foot and provide support if a synthetic lining is working against a leather upper. Instead, the synthetic lining will cause odor and break down much more quickly than leather.

A leather lining, on the other hand, feels soft to the skin, not sticky, and will adapt to the shape of the foot pressing against it, while keeping its strength and allowing perspiration to evaporate.

If the shoe isn’t labelled with the lining material, ASK. If the salesperson doesn’t know, it likely isn’t leather. A seller of quality shoes is much more likely to be knowledgeable about their manufacture.

Anatomical insole (also made of leather) - this means that it is shaped to follow the contours of the foot, and will further mold to the exact individual footprint. The arch support, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t “support the arch” but helps to distribute body weight properly through the range of motion.

Flexible outsole - allows the foot to bend naturally through each step, especially important for first walkers, who have a shorter foot length relative to width, and therefore less leverage for the bending motion.

Firm back counter - this helps the child to balance and helps keep him from falling over backward.

Anatomically correct last - this is the tough one to “look for” because you can’t see it. The last is the form, usually made of plastic or wood, on which the shoe is built. It is the shape of the last which determines the shape of the toe, the height of the heel, the shoe width, and the overall volume and fit.

(Ideally we would all like to have shoes made on a last which matches our foot exactly . This is the whole idea behind custom made shoes, which start with a cast of the foot, in order to make a personalized last.)

In reality, custom-made isn’t possible in the shoe production process - we must use one last that best matches the greatest number of feet. Therefore it is very important that the last be anatomically correct; made by a quality last maker. But this is where inexpensive shoes really cut corners - the lasts used are poorly made and therefore the fit is extremely poor for most people. This poor fit, besides poor quality materials, is what makes many lines of shoes so painful.

Remember, the shoe is supporting the weight of your child’s body with every step, and skimping on shoes now unfortunately leads to negative payback in orthopedic and chiropractic problems later on.

One of the most important factors that make a quality child’s shoe cost $40+ is the last, which is a big investment for the manufacturer, and well worth the investment for you.

So, we repeat: Buying a quality shoe for your child now will save you money in many ways:

- longer wear (the shoe will hold up beyond when the child outgrows it)
- reduced orthopedic and chiropractic problems
- kids who are happier to be wearing shoes, and more comfortable in them.

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