Can a shoe grow with a child? Christchurch construction worker designs expandable footwear, now seeking Government funding

It’s an expensive problem that plagues parents: small children going through a new shoe size every few months.

But a young Christchurch entrepreneur thinks he may have a solution.

Daniel Winter, 25, has designed a pair of shoes for preschoolers which can grow up to five sizes with the child – an innovation which he hopes will relieve the budgets of low-income families.

It’s an ambitious project and Winter has an unlikely background as a construction worker with no design training.

But it has earned the attention of the Government agency Callaghan Innovation, which has encouraged him to develop a prototype of an expandable shoe.

Winter said he came up with the idea when he witnessed friends and families’ young children churning through footwear before it was worn out.

“I also remember the amount of shoes me and my siblings grew through when we were younger. When I walked past a pair of my father’s sheep shearing moccasins, I put two and two together and started developing the idea from there.”

He was alarmed by child poverty rates in New Zealand and reports of children having to go barefoot in a first world country. Roughly 126,000 New Zealand children, or 11 per cent, are in

material hardship

, which means their families cannot afford essential items like a new pair of shoes.

Winter’s preliminary design is a shoe made of rubber and a type of foam, with expandable components which open up as a child grows.

“Imagine a top-down view of a rose growing from a bud and the way the petals overlap as they grow,” he said.

At the moment, the idea is still a 3D model on a computer. The next step, Winter said, was to research materials and create a functional prototype.

“From there we can carry out durability tests and fine-tune the minimum/maximum age range, but it will be predominately a younger child’s shoe for when their feet are growing the fastest.”

Winter has big dreams, hoping to one day work with governments and charities to assist children living in poverty and low-income families who struggle to keep shoes on their kids’ feet. That has meant going part-time in his construction job to focus more on his design company, Acorn Shoe Company.

He pitched his design directly to the office of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern – who is responsible for child poverty reduction – and was referred to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s science and innovation department.

A Callaghan Innovation spokeswoman said the agency had some initial discussions with Winter about his product designs and had recommended some next steps.

“We look forward to seeing how Acorn Shoe Products develops,” she said.

Winter said he had not received funding but was aiming for a Get Started grant, which covers 40 per cent of R&D costs up to $5000 and includes a one-off payment when a project is completed.

Entrepreneurs have experimented with expandable shoes overseas, but they have mostly been targeted at third world countries.

The Shoe That Grows, a sandal with adjustable straps, was launched in Portland, Oregon in 2014 and sells for around $US20 through a system in which people donate to have them shipped to children in poorer countries.

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