An Interview with the Kit & Kate's Designer
What made you start Kit & Kate?
While a little cliche, it all started with trying to find a pair of classic, stylish (yet comfortable) shoes; which my son wouldn’t take off within 5 seconds of me putting them on. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I was learning all about shoemaking, drawing up designs and creating beautiful shoes that my children would love and wear. It didn’t take long before I started thinking about how great it would be to share my designs so that other children (and mums) could also enjoy them.
Can you tell me what is most important to you when designing your shoes?
All our shoes are designed with the child and mama in mind and our business’s core values: Comfort, Quality and Style, Accessible to Everyone. As a result, our shoes are cleverly designed, to be super comfortable, and able to be slipped on and off easily when required yet be secure, even on the most active of little feet (as tested and confirmed by my own children).
Comfort and Quality (for the Child)
The entire idea started from designing shoes for my own children (they are still my chief testers), which they would actually want to wear. Little children’s, baby's and toddler's feet are constantly growing, and have bones which are soft and delicate. While it is essential that they are protected, their tiny little feet must also be allowed to move naturally, free of heavy, awkward footwear as they develop critical motor skills to take them through life.Designed for Comfort
My shoes which have a wide and spacious toe area are based on custom ‘lasts’ (shoe moulds) which were carefully chosen to match the unique, cute, pudgy and chubby shape of young children’s feet. Our Paris T-bars are a great example of this. This differs greatly from some other shoe designs out there that use miniature versions of adult shoes, which are narrower and nowhere near as cute! Besides being uncomfortable, these narrow shoes can in some cases lead to blisters and other foot issues. To cap it off, many children, including my own, refused to wear them.Soft Soles
Going barefoot is the best way for babies and toddlers to grow and develop. However as caring parents, we also want to do our best to protect their little feet. Knowing this, I made sure that baby shoes were designed with soft leather soles. Soft soles are the next best thing to going barefoot, while still protecting their little feet.
As they get older, they may need more durable soles but I think that it is still important to make sure that they are as flexible and soft as possible. As a result, even my shoes for older children have a special extra flexible rubber sole for maximum comfort which I spent a great deal of time sourcing.Designed for Durability
I use natural leather in all of my designs because few materials are as durable, breathable and beautiful as natural leather. I also believe that children need to be children, which usually means having great adventures and of course making a mess. Real children’s shoes need to follow (and protect) their owners on all of their adventures, through sunshine, rain and of course mud.
Stylish and Accessible
I try my best to create classic, timeless designs with a modern touch because, the truth is that in addition to making sure that they are comfortable and well looked after, us parents also want our little ones to look their best. It was also important to me to share my designs with as many people as possible.
However, I am also a strong opponent of 'fast fashion' and its impact on the environment. I think that we should buy a few really good things and use them for a long time instead. So I designed my shoes to also be durable and versatile so that parents could buy just one or two pairs of shoes to suit every occasion. My dream of course is for my shoes to be passed down from sibling to sibling, with the leather growing a beautiful patina through their journey (I still have my children’s little footprints on their shoes which is a treasured keepsake). I have also ensured that many of my designs were gender neutral (Oxfords, Brooklyns, and Aspens for example) so that brothers could pass their shoes onto sisters or vice versa.
What can poorly fitting shoes do to growing feet?
Babies’ feet are always growing and full of soft bones. Besides making it rather difficult for them to walk, hard, restrictive shoes could affect their foot development and the process of learning to walk. Unfortunately, babies are not very good at telling us that their shoes don’t fit well which can mean that problem go un-noticed for quite some time. For me, a child refusing to wear a pair of shoes the best sign of it not fitting well.
What are the best styles to assist growing feet?
To be perfectly honest, small children are actually best without any shoes at all (as are all of us). However, like us, their feet need protection when walking on certain kinds of surfaces. Children (and their feet) come in all shapes and sizes. In general, I think that wide, soft-soled shoes with plenty of space in them allow their little toes to wriggle about and their feet to move freely are best to avoid interruptions in development. As they get older, they may need more durable soles but I think that it is still important to make sure that they are as flexible and soft as possible.
However, we don’t believe that comfort and practicality have to come at the expense of style. Classic, elegant and timeless are words we often hear about our baby, toddler and children's shoe designs. However, what we truly aspire to is to create keepsakes to be treasured forever.
How important is it for Kit & Kate to produce well-thought through, child-focused shoes that are comfortable and long-lasting?
Comfort is the most important thing to me. When I receive emails from my customers telling me that the shoes they have bought form us have been passed on to their next child, this is proof that we are on the right track with the versatility of our designs and the durability of our chosen material.
How much does fashion and fun impact your designs?
You will notice that all of my designs tend to have a classic theme to them, with a modern and fun twist. While I love fashion of all sorts, I do have a soft spot for timeless, elegant designs. What makes them even better is that they tend to be very versatile, meaning that you only need one or two pairs to complement an entire wardrobe.
On the fun side of things, I named my Winter 2018 Collection “The Joy of Childhood” because I believe that children need to be children, and that their shoes need to be able to go the distance. To ensure this, I have done my best to ensure that my designs are as comfortable and robust as they are beautiful.
Few things make me happier than seeing photographs of children giggling and laughing as they run through muddy puddles in their Kit & Kate shoes.
How important is affordability?
Very. However, there are two ways to approach this. Buying throw-away items at a low price (and inevitably buy a few of them), or pay a little more for something that lasts a long time. As I said earlier, I am a strong opponent of 'fast fashion' and its impact on the environment. So I have designed my shoes to also be durable and versatile so that parents could buy just one or two pairs of shoes to suit every occasion.
How do you test your shoes?
My two children were (and still are) my chief testers. However, as they grow out of the smaller sizes, I have begun include of my friend’s children and some of my customers in the design and testing process. It has been quite a lovely experience bringing them along on the journey as I develop each design.
Are certain materials better than others?
Natural leather is hard to beat for durability and breathability. Kit & Kate's lovely children, toddler and baby shoes are made with care by hand from genuine, soft leathers. As a general rule, we use leathers which are free of nasty chemicals and are tested to conform to strict European standards. One of the loveliest things about leather is the way that it softens over time and molds to your baby’s foot, leaving a imprint in your baby's shoes to remind you of how tiny their little feet were!
What main points should parents be thinking about when buying durable comfy shoes for their kids?
Besides everything that I’ve said here the only other things I would add are:
- Get to know your child’s feet. Are they broad / skinny / tall? Measure your child’s feet and check it against the sizing guide. Children can develop at very different rates.
- Always allow a bit more room in the shoes than you think you need. It’s ok if they are a tad large as kids grow really quickly!
- Customer service can be quite important particularly around exchanges which can happen as children’s feet come if all sorts of shapes and sizes. I treat all of my customers as if they will be a customer for life and do as much as I can to make sure that they have a great experience.
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