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SATRA Technology is a not-for-profit research and testing company considered to be a technical authority for footwear, including fit. Here, SATRA addresses the importance of good fit for children’s shoes, including common footwear fit problems and health impacts and striking the balance between style and comfort.

The choice of shoe is probably the single most important factor in maintaining a child’s foot health. Shoes must protect and support, yet allow proper room for growth. The foot is a marvel of natural engineering and development, with 26 bones, 19 muscles and over 100 ligaments. At birth however, the skeleton of a child’s foot is largely made up of 22 partially developed bones (soft cartilage and gristle). These gradually ossify (harden) as the child grows and by the age of 5-6 years, there could be as many as 45 bones in the foot.

The bones do not fully develop and harden until the child is a teenager and until this process is complete, the foot can easily be damaged and deformed by ill-fitting footwear. With bone forming according to the forces applied to it, poor fitting footwear will have a detrimental effect on the growth and development of young children’s feet.

Shoes have an important protective function and are placed under high levels of stress and strain. The majority of shoes will need to be made from materials capable of withstanding the activities and functions for which they have been designed, whilst also allowing the foot to function normally. However, where there are poor fit issues, these materials can cause problems. Throw in the demands of fashion, and this can have a further detrimental effect on the foot and thus the health of the child.

Children’s footwear used to be very traditional in style, with individual retailers offering a fitting service where parents could get their children’s feet measured and fitted regularly by a qualified shoe fitter. The sector is now much more fashion-driven and in many cases, children’s items are simply cut down versions of adult footwear. ‘Self-Selection’, whether in-store or online, is now the norm and only a small number of outlets or retailers offer any form of fitting service. For parents, this means there is little or no help from experienced staff. It is, therefore, important that footwear on sale is, at the very least, correctly and consistently size marked and has good fitting properties for the average foot, with enough room for some growth and to allow the foot to function correctly.

Adults are capable of making an informed decision when buying footwear because a poor fit will usually result in immediate discomfort. Children, however, due to the amount of fatty tissue that surrounds the foot and the gaps between the bones in a young developing skeleton, are only aware of slight pressure on the foot as the excessive tissue spreads this pressure and the bones slightly compress to compensate. This makes it all the more important that children’s footwear is developed, designed and manufactured to ensure better fitting footwear.

With children’s shoes, it is essential that every attempt is made to minimise distortion of the developing foot. The skill of the shoe maker must ensure that footwear is correctly matched to the end use, so that these effects are kept at a minimum. Ideally, the lasts should be assessed prior to production and the shoes made on those lasts fitted on a range of children to ensure they fit the marked size and have adequate growth room. No two pairs of feet are the same and no two pairs of shoes will fit same.

The principles of good fit are that the footwear should match the size and proportions of the child’s feet, have the correct shape and accommodation for the toes, and allow the foot to function in the activities and applications for which the footwear is designed. It should also be designed, constructed and manufactured from materials and to standards that ensure fitting and comfort properties are maintained throughout the footwear’s lifetime and promote foot health and not cause any discomfort.

More specifically, as mentioned previously, there should be no pressure causing distortion of the foot or toes and there should be adequate space for growth. In addition, there should be a fastening system which holds the foot securely in the correct position and alignment in the footwear, with this fastening system being adjustable to accommodate a range of individual foot shapes. The upper should not have hard seams or create high pressure points on any part of the foot to cause discomfort or rubbing, and the shoe bottom should have a low, broad heel to provide a stable platform. Also, the bottom construction should be slightly cushioning and flexible, bending in the correct position with respect to the joint of the foot. Arch supports should be avoided, unless they are bespoke to suit an individual’s needs. It has to be accepted, however, that for some styles of footwear, compromises will have to be made. For example, some styles will not have a fastening system.

While it is understandable that children and their parents want fashionable footwear, the challenge for manufacturers is to develop good looking, popular styles that do not compromise growing feet.

SATRA can provide training courses for member companies in all aspects of footwear fitting and comfort assessment to ensure relevant staff are competent. It trains technologists to carry out footwear fitting trials on new footwear ranges and to undertake the SATRA Comfort Index, an assessment unique to SATRA that provides a measure of whole shoe comfort.

Companies interested in finding out more about SATRA’s technical services for footwear can contact footwear@satra.com.

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