Inside Knowledge: Children's Shoes

Maggie Snook of Papouelli on designing shoes specifically for kids.

My business partner Nicole and I started the business around our children.They were our muses. As they grew, we grew the business, learning which designs worked best at each stage of their development.

Children who are walking for the first time are at such a crucial stage. The shoe has to fit well and be super flexible. When a child starts walking, we always say to wait two to four weeks, then come in and get a trainer sole. It is all about giving as much flexibility as possible, really, so they can try to stand up, hold on, and eventually make those first steps. The shoes also need to be non slippy, and really soft.

After the age of eight, kids’ feet can grow very quickly: you can have 10-year-olds with adult sized feet, and that is a group we cater very well for. We go up to size nine for girls and size 11 for boys, and for that age some of the boots we design we might quite like to wear ourselves! We don’t put VAT on our stock, because we’re marketing to children, but some of our shoes would easily appeal to adults.

Every child we have in the shop, we get them to walk around in their shoes. It’s important that we check their gait and ensure that the shoe is the right fit.

We sell socks and tights to go with all our shoes, and when designing I like to think what sock or tight would go in each shoe, whether it is stone or moss green or pillar box red, for example. You don’t have to reinvent the style wheel every season with children, but I do play around with patterned fabrics, leathers and suedes.

Flexibility is very much a trend—for adults as well as children. We all just want to be comfortable. The softness and floppiness of shoes and boots has become very appealing, hence this massive thing with trainers at the minute. That’s on its way out, apparently, maybe not for kids just yet, but once they fall out of favour with adults, kids will follow.

Laces tend to come into play from six years old onwards. Schools don’t tend to like it if you have laces much younger, as the teachers often have to tie them; they prefer buckles or Velcro. For those aged six and above, we have produced a range of coloured laces—they really appeal to kids who are learning to tie their laces.

When they are very, very little—one or two—you have to change kids’ shoes about every six weeks. We do try to keep prices down as best we can for this age, for that reason—but our shoes are well made, in Europe, to the highest standards.

All our shoes are made in Europe, because that’s where the nicest leather is found. They are made in three different places—Portugal, Spain and Italy—and each country has a different strength. Spain is good with summery canvas shoes, Portugal does our school shoes and Italy does really nice leather boots—the higher end styles.

It’s not advisable to pass shoes on from child to child. Each child can have very different feet from their siblings. People ask us and, of course, I say: “Do what you like—but I couldn’t advise it for foot health.”

There is a Society of Shoe Fitters, and a lovely woman visits us regularly to train new staff. She is completely obsessed with how many bones are in each foot. If you think about it, it is incredible that your feet hold all of your weight. Walking is just a miracle. So when all those bones are growing, it is super important to wear the right shoe.