You might not think it, but children's shoes are a major problem in the developing world. Comfortable shoes are expensive, and when you're young and your feet are still growing you end up needing a new pair all the time. Walking barefoot in unsanitary or dangerous conditions can lead to infection and illness, but walking in ill-fitting shoes can be extremely painful.
The charity The Shoe That Grows was founded in 2008 by Kenton Lee after a stint working at an orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, when he noticed how small one little girl's shoes were for her feet. This led him to create a durable, adjustable sandal that can expand up to five shoe sizes to accommodate the growing feet of a child. The shoe was launched in 2013. As well as donating thousands to children via charitable donations, the company also made the shoe available to the public, with each pair bought online paying for two further pairs to be donated to children living in poverty around the world.
Then, in January of 2016, fashion brand Acne released a remarkably similar-looking shoe as part of their Pre-Fall '16 catwalk show. Retailing at around €400, the 100 percent leather designer sandal was described on Acne's website as "African-inspired".
The similarities are hard to miss: Acne's "African-inspired" sandal is almost identical to the Shoe That Grows in pretty much every way apart from colour (it's available in Oline Amber and Oline Black).
However, fashion is often about subtle differences the layman might miss, so we showed both sandals to Susannah Davda, director of online blog The Shoe Consultant. She said: "Acne's tractor tire soled sandal is strikingly similar in appearance to The Shoe That Grows, although it doesn't have its ingenious and life-changing functionality. Whether the Swedish brand's designers inadvertently took inspiration from the charity's style or borrowed more deliberately is unclear."
We showed the shoes to a second designer from a major fashion retailer who wished to remain anonymous. She also thought the Acne shoe looked similar to The Shoe That Grows. "The prototype was out in cyberspace in 2013, and Acne showed these shoes for their pre-fall '16 catwalk show, which was January, 2016," they said. "In terms of a timeline, for the resort show I can imagine they would have been working on that winter of 2015. I think in terms of design the images really say it all – even the stitching is the same."
After reaching out to Acne for comment they initially claimed that they "don't believe [the shoe] was inspired by the Children's Charity you mentioned below".
After we showed them the views of our footwear expert they decided to take the shoe off their website and responded by saying: "Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We do see the similarities, which was not intentional. We have decided to stop selling the shoe for further investigation." At the time of writing the shoe is no longer available online and has been replaced with a 404 "page not found" message.
Acne Studios was founded in 1996 in Stockholm, Sweden as part of the ACNEcreative collective that focused on graphic design, film, production and advertising. They have worked hard to present themselves as an environmentally-aware brand, and according to their "environmental strategy" the company aims to produce wares that are high quality and have long life spans.
In 2012, their goal was to increase the amount of environmentally preferable materials used in their garments, and they aimed to ensure that, by 2014, 20 percent of all fabrics used in their "never-out-of-stock" products should be made from organic cotton or some similar environmentally stable material.
The Shoe That Grows continue to distribute shoes across the world, from Bolivia to Brazil.
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