Previously, the toddler shoes, while popular for parents who want their children to wear a cool brand, were more narrow and stiff. They were made like a typical athletic shoe instead of designed specifically for little guys and girls, said Stacey Arthur, Etnies Kids product manager.
So the company worked with Brad Levy, owner of Shoe Box at Fashion Island, and conducted other research to change the shoes to ensure the best fit and function for toddlers.
The new shoes, above, are wider to accommodate chubby toddler feet, open wide to make it easier to get the shoes on, and are super flexible, an important feature for those taking their first steps. The shoes also have molded heels because although toddler's feet are typically wide and chubby, their heels are still narrow.
The shoes, called "Grow with Me," also have an insert that can be removed as the child's foot grows so the toddler can wear the shoe longer.
The Sole Tech technical team did extensive testing on the shoes, bringing in a crop of toddlers to walk around the Sole Technology Institute lab. The team also spent a day at the Shoe Box watching kids try on shoes.
The shoes, from size 5T to 10T, will retail for $27, a $1 increase from the previous version to cover the increased costs.
Mindy Cook, Etnies domestic sales manager for girls/youth, believes the improved toddler shoes will get Etnies into new distribution channels, including kids shoe specialty retailers. Her team is just getting on the road now to sell the three styles in the Grow with Me line.
The youth market is an increasingly important growth area for action sports companies, including Sole Technology. Etnies Youth, which includes infants, toddlers and kids, accounts for about a quarter of total Etnies sales.
Levy of Shoe Box is pleased with how the new toddler shoes turned out. The Etnies brand is "off the hook" in his store, and he currently sells 20 pairs of Etnies kids shoes a day, he said. He expects the improved shoes to do even better.
"They are awesome," Levy said. "Stores like mine that measure and fit kids' feet will love these."
Levy is especially pleased that the Sole Tech team listened to his input. He has consulted with other companies before who appeared to be interested in his advice, but when he saw the final product, none of the features were included.
"They took it word for word," he said. "Every detail I asked for is there."