Shopping for shoes can be a tricky task, especially when it comes to shoes for the kids. Making good choices is imperative to the long-term health of growing feet, so there are some important things to consider when selecting children’s footwear. With a myriad of slip-ons, lace-ups and velcro fasteners readily available, how do you know where to start? Is leather always best? Do foot measurements really matter? Is ankle support as crucial as we all believe?  Kid Magazinegets the inside scoop from shoe guru and mum, Rie Southwell, and discovers that not all shoes are created equal.

Enter the expert

Rie Southwell is the co-founder of enterprising children’s footwear company Chook Leaf. Together with business partner Guthrie Boyd, Southwell has broken new ground when it comes to children’s shoe design. Fashioned in Australia and constructed in Bali, Chook Leaf shoes are made using the finest quality lambskin leather and are built to allow children’s feet to grow and move freely without constraint. Almost like a second skin, these sought after shoes are designed to mimic walking bare foot! The soft lambskin material means that the shoe ‘gives’ as the foot stretches and grows.

Southwell’s long-standing career in the fashion industry meant that when it came time to purchase the first pair of shoes for daughter Jeannie, who was walking at nine months, alarm bells sounded almost instantly! “She was such a tiny little thing and I couldn’t find any nice leather shoes – so I sketched some up and had them made by a husband and wife team in Bali”. Three years and many pairs of shoes later, the husband and wife team in Bali has expanded into a workforce of 12 full-time employees who painstakingly hand stitch as many pairs of Chook Leaf shoes that they can possibly manage in one day – which turns out to be around 25 pairs!

Divine inspiration

Southwell’s main inspiration for shoe design comes from her own kids. “They dictate what they like and what they don’t like’, she says. But its not all down to what the ankle-biters think, “I always keep my eye open for interesting colours and textures” Southwell enthuses. And interestingly, it is the brighter, more daring colours and designs that sell best for Chook Leaf. According to Southwell, mainstream retailers tend to “play it a bit safe” when selecting their in store ranges and are perhaps “afraid to take the risk” on designs that are a little bit different or daring. It is for this very reason that shoe shopping online can offer you a whole new world of shoes that you will not find at your local mall.

The Chook Leaf difference

As a young girl, Southwell and her siblings enjoyed growing up on the land. Southwell recalls many a day spent collecting feathers from the chook pen. These feathers were affectionately called Chook Leaves as they resembled the long leaves from the gum trees surrounding their property.

It is from these humble beginnings that the Chook Leaf brand emerged. Whilst business has been steadily growing for Southwell and Boyd, they are by no means a “big fashion house”, states Southwell.  Even though their shoes are available in over 60 boutique stores around Australia, the company is run solely by Southwell and Boyd from their office in Mornington, Victoria.

From speaking with Southwell it is evident that the company was born out of a sheer love and passion for children and their precious feet! And it seems their customers feel the same way too! “We know once a customer buys a pair of shoes from us they will be back for more”, enthuses Southwell. “We believe in what we do and we love it – our shoes really are made with so much love”.

Top tips for shoe shopping

Southwell is what you might call ‘well heeled’ when it comes to shoe shopping. Although it may seem like a simple task, it is very easy to make poor choices when it comes to selecting the appropriate footwear for an immature foot.

Southwell’s top tips for successful shoe shopping will ensure that the next time you shop for shoes you’ll know exactly where to start and how to finish.

Size – Make sure your child’s foot is measured accurately either by an in store sales person or if shopping online, by using an accurate sizing chart.

Age – Consider the age of the child you are purchasing shoes for. A slip on shoe may be better suited to a pre-walker, Velcro could be the best answer for a three year old and laces best suited to an older child.

Structure – Shoes that are hard and inflexible prohibit the growth of small feet. Structured ankle support is not necessary. What is vital, however, is to ensure that all of the toes are spread out so that the child can feel each toe individually as they are walking.

Materials – What the shoes are made from will determine how comfortable and durable they will be. Leather is clearly the winner here. Full leather shoes allow the foot to breathe, whilst staying warm in winter and cool in summer.

Function – It is important to consider the reasons for purchasing the shoe. Is it for everyday use, special occasions, outdoor activities? Once you ascertain what the main function of the shoe will be then deciding on which shoe to purchase will be a lot easier.

Armed with this fail-safe checklist, your shopping choices are destined to be good, long-lasting ones. Most importantly, these choices will ensure comfort & joy for the little people in your life. Perhaps the last thing to consider when the time comes, is to look beyond the conventional and sometimes bland offerings of your local shoe shop. Hop online and try a few searches – what you find may surprise you and most definitely delight you!

Happy Shopping! Visit Chook Leaf online.

By Jo Harris


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