In Summary
  • We want the shoes made from soft bendable leather and rounded at the toes.
  • We want shoes whose insides are cushioned with soft material, probably lining leather or a breathable cloth.
  • Children are allowed to wear shoes without socks — they have horrible morning breath, too, but they don’t get smelly feet.
  • Most important, we want shoes whose soles can bend as far back as our children demand.

Muna, our three-year-old daughter, started school in January. On the morning of her first day, GB, Nanny Viv and I packed ourselves into the car to see her off. Our overwrought miens took the seats next to us. We looked like a family going to church on a Sunday — Nanny Viv had on the wedges she only saves for special occasions, I was in a jacket that photographs well. GB denies this but I swear he had slicked his hair with oily pomade.

I want to tell you how Muna bawled her eyes out after we dropped her off. How she scratched Teacher Veronica in the face as she struggled to calm her down. How I got to my desk and wondered whether she understood what school is for.

BEST FRIENDS

Whether she knew that Talia and Muriuki would later become her best friends. But I won’t. Not today. Today we fry a different kettle of fish.

Schools close for the December holiday early next month. The shoes Muna wore on that first day have taken her through her entire first year of kindergarten. Aside from some peeling leather at the toe front and straps, those shoes have held their own.

I honestly did not think they would. I bought them for Sh500 from some unbearably stuffy exhibition stall on Moi Avenue (Nairobi) playing bongo music. They exclusively stock low-end shoes imported from China.

Muna has the most adorable feet. They are chubby and flat at the bottom. Her toes are all almost the same length. (Oh, how I wish my editor would let me insert a picture here.)

I considered getting her shoes from a well-established shoe store that has outlets at every corner of this town. A store where my mother herself had bought me shoes for school. Where the shoes are gummed and stitched with hand-me-down sentiments, and laced with nostalgia. Proudly made in Kenya. Tough as a rhino’s hide.

CHEAT SHEET

You do not just buy a shoe here, you buy into the history of a third-world economy. I opted not to because the shoes did not check the features in my cheat sheet.

I did not want to get her second-hand shoes because … you know … because she is our firstborn and she was going to school for the first time and we wanted everything to be brand spanking new. I know. I know. My fleeting desires were ridiculously founded in my own braggadocio.

Either way, I wanted shoes that were comfortable to wear and play in, easy to clean and would meet the daily needs of a three-year old in kindergarten. Form and function. The bargain China-made shoes almost met all her needs. Almost. They missed the mark by a small margin.

Well, if you are a manufacturer or importer of school shoes, I am sharing a cheat sheet so you can nail the designs and crafting down to the last stitch. Here are the features us parents want in the school shoes of our toddlers:

We want the shoes made from soft bendable leather and rounded at the toes. It doesn’t have to be pure leather because (a) the toes of our children need room to wiggle around (b) pure leather is a luxury material; it pushes the cost of the shoe up to an unnecessary bracket (c) our children are in school to run and kick balls around; surely, they are not signing up for endurance training with KDF. Artificial leather is just as durable, yet lighter.

COMFORTABLE

We want shoes whose insides are cushioned with soft material, probably lining leather or a breathable cloth. This allows our children to wear the shoes with or without socks, and their chubby feet will still be comfortable.

Children are allowed to wear shoes without socks — they have horrible morning breath, too, but they don’t get smelly feet. That is a truism you can take to the bank.

We also want shoes that have a Velcro strap; no shoelaces and no steel buckles, please. Muna is at an age where she slaps your hand away when you want to help her with something. Especially with wearing her shoes. They call this slap independence. “Mummy, leave! I can do by myself.” I beam with useless pride whenever I see her take the straps out of her shoes, slide her foot in and fasten the Velcro back on. She thrives on that pride, too.

TENSION

Most important, we want shoes whose soles can bend as far back as our children demand.

Shoes that will bend without breaking at the point of tension, and will not make our children’s adorable feet bleed when the bent leather pokes into them. Rubber soles coupled with soft man-made leather translate to optimum bends.

See the picture there? That is what we want. This is the ultimate test for a rubber sole. A flexible rubber sole means flexible use. We don’t want shoes that will force our children to run with their feet flat on the ground, as if they are skiing the slopes of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in France. Life is too short for that.