You've landed here because you're looking for some answers regarding children's shoes. You're in a good place! I had these questions myself a while back—as my child started crawling my mind became inquisitive. Well, here's what I discovered from my research. Soft sole shoes, also called barefoot shoes, minimal or minimalist shoes appear to be the best choice for your growing child. If you want help choosing the right pair of soft sole shoes (and don't have time to read the research!) scroll down to find my, "Tips for choosing the best footwear for your child:" section! The following research prompted me to start this company, littleRÜTZ (pronounced: little-roots) with a focus on making healthy, toxin-free, soft sole shoes for children. So now that we have that out of the way, let's look at why soft soles are the healthiest footwear option! Firstly, soft sole shoes are the next best choice to being barefoot, which is what orthopedic specialists recommend. Here's why:
- Soft-sole, or barefoot/minimal/minimalist shoes are designed to encourage the natural movement of the foot and are ideally made from natural, breathable materials. In the case of my company, littleRÜTZ, this material is vegetable tanned, toxin-free leather.
- Orthopedic specialists have long understood soft-sole shoes to be the best footwear option for children as they learn to walk. When children can feel the ground beneath their foot, it helps with their proprioception (their understanding of where their foot is in space). When children wear large clunky rubber shoes, they lose the sense of where their foot is in space and trip more often, or worse, develop a pattern of walking that is unhealthy for the foot.
- Research shows that children wearing minimal shoes have: improved foot muscle strength and flexibility, improved ankle strength and function, improved balance (better proprioception), and improved strength recovery and muscle tone particularly in those who previously wore rigid soles.
- Learning and playing shouldn't be encumbered by worrying about clunky or loose shoes. Choosing a shoe that is easy to put on and remove is essential. That's why I use elastic in my moccasins. I think it's the best material to keep minimalist shoes secure as well as safe from tripping or choking hazards.
- Foul weather tip: During times of inclement weather (rain/ice/snow) you could choose to dress your walking child in his/her boots and then change into soft sole footwear upon arrival. I do this all the time with my son! This way they get to feel independent and experience their surroundings outside, but explore indoors without tripping on clunky boots. Many Montessori schools require this type of soft sole footwear indoors to encourage learning without worrying about laces and tripping hazards.
So what's the big deal with toxin free leather, you seem pretty stoked about it?
Here's the deal. The leather I source is worth getting excited about! It is currently the highest quality on the market in regards to animal husbandry, care of the environment, care of the people in the work environment that tan the leathers, as well as how it will affect the end user. Here's a few reasons why I love this leather:
- The cattle are pasture-raised for meat. This is their primary purpose. Fact: People eat meat, and will continue to do so. Using the hide from this source is the most ethical option. I feel strongly about honoring animals by using every part of them, not just the choice cuts of meat.
- The pastures and farms are evaluated for environmental impact. Runoff from large cattle operations pollutes surrounding waters and is a huge issue in our world today. Part of the IVN certification of this leather ensures that the farms manage these byproducts ecologically and thereby improve the sustainability of the operation.
- The hides are vegetable-tanned without the use of heavy metals. More than 80% of leathers are tanned with chrome, a heavy metal, which has a terrible impact on the environment (mining operations) as well as factory workers inhaling this stuff. Chrome is found in the final product of 80% of the leathers on the market. Children are highly susceptible to exposure to heavy metals and yet it is in a lot of our consumer products such as footwear. I think this crucial information is not well known in our "fast-fashion" culture. A lot of people (I used to be one of them) operate under the assumption that we live in a highly regulated country that wouldn't allow the exposure of our children to toxic chemicals. Unfortunately this isn't the case. My hope is that more children's footwear companies will make the choice to switch to toxin-free leather to show they care for the environment and their customers.
- This leather is certified allergy-friendly by ECARF. This means it is allergen-free. Not only that, but ECARF allergy-friendly products use resources responsibly and promote sustainable production practices. Funny how good, healthy business practices lead to a healthy, allergy-friendly product, right?
- By purchasing footwear from companies using toxin free leather you are not only making the healthiest choice for your child but also the environment. What's not to feel good about that?
Tips for choosing the best footwear for your child:
- Choose a company that uses toxin-free materials. Toxins like heavy metals can be absorbed via the skin. Shoes made from natural, breathable materials are the best to be in contact with your child's foot.
- Allow plenty of room for them to wiggle their toes and grow. This includes socks as well. Children's feet are soft, tight footwear alters the natural development of their foot which can lead to issues later on.
- Choose a shoe that is wide with lots of room in the toe. Children's feet are a different shape than adults and need more space in this area.
- The upper portion of the shoe should be made from breathable materials like leather or cloth.
- Looking at shoes with soles? The sole should be slip-resistant, no thicker than 6mm, have a low profile (no heels), and not include "molding" features like arch support.
Additional research resources can be found online at the Unshod Organization.