25 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Bob Hardy: the foot fitting consultant

Having spent 46 years in Clarks, Bob Hardy, from the UK, tells us how to buy shoes that get kids to put their best foot forward

Shreeja Ravindranathan
28 Aug 2016 | 11:34 am
  • Source:Supplied

So what is your job profile, Bob?

When I started working for Clarks 46 years ago I was a shoe technician. But later on I began to focus on a shoe’s fit and how comfortable it is. It was this aspect of my job that took me towards children’s shoes. Since their feet are still growing, it is all the more vital that they wear shoes that fit them well and are comfortable. Now, using my knowledge and experience, I’m busy creating training programmes for 5,000 Clarks employees in 50 outlets across the world in how to measure a child’s feet accurately using the right equipment, and how to select the right shoe for the child.

How did you come across this profession?

It was a matter of geography. I was born in the village of Street in Somerset, the birthplace of Clarks. When I left school at 16, an opportunity came to take a shoemaking apprenticeship with Clarks, and 46 years later I’m still here!

What is it like dealing with young kids when fitting shoes? Are they demanding?

When it comes to children, there are other factors apart from comfort that impacts their purchase. For instance, if the shoe’s got lights on it, then the kids are more likely to say it’s comfortable because it’s purely pleasing the eye. So apart from being a shoe technician, I need to have a fair understanding of fashion trends as well. So I’m an expert on Peppa Pig and Dora as much as I’m an expert on fitting shoes! For example, we’ve noticed that kids don’t like the regular black school shoes, so we came up with a range where the shoes look like trendy trainers but offer the same comfort and fit as that of regular shoes.

What drew you to specialise in kids’ footwear and feet?

Children’s feet are unique. Unlike many parts of the body, our feet are not fully formed when we start out in life. It takes about 15 years for our kids’ feet to reach the final stage of development.

So introducing footwear when something as complicated as that growth is going on is a very important thing to get right. 
I advise the development team on what needs to go into the shoe for it to be right for a growing child.

How important is it that our shoes fit us properly?

Very important! There’s a saying that if your feet hurt, all of you hurts. To judge for yourself, look for these parameters. First, there should be a gap of 6-10mm between your longest toe and the tip of your shoe. Second, the shoe should be a net fit without being loose so you don’t have to pull your toes in to walk. If you feel the need to rub your toes after removing your shoes, especially when you’ve had them on the whole day, then it means your shoes are a bit too tight.

And the value of well-fitting school shoes in a child’s life?

It’s one of the most important purchases parents will make for their child. Typically a shoe should last a school year – nine months. That’s feasible if it’s been designed with growing room. Consider this: On an average a student wears his school shoes for over a 1,000 hours and takes more than a million steps in those shoes. During that time, he discharges about 100 litres of perspiration from his body into his shoes. So it’s very important that the shoes are made of good-quality leather that help keep feet cool and dry. Shoes made with cheap synthetic material can damage your child’s foot health.

What are the dangers of ill-fitting shoes for kids?

Children have a lot of puppy fat on their feet, which is fatty tissue protecting the developing body. A small child generally won’t realise his shoes are too tight because the bones he’s putting pressure on are very soft and get moulded into the shape of the shoe. Secondly that fatty tissue acts as a barrier to nerve endings, preventing him from feeling any pain. If the shoes are too big for the child then it will impact his walk. All of this can lead to numerous problems such as blisters, corns, calluses and other deformities such as bunions.

How do you measure a child’s foot?

Since no two feet are the same, it is important that feet are accurately measured before every purchase. We have two manual gauges. A small handheld gauge called the infant foot gauge, which is used for a child coming in for his first pair of shoes. It measures up to an infant size nine or for children up to the age of three.

We now also have an iPad foot gauge where a child stands on a base plate, then a manual toe-slide is moved in and the foot length is recorded by pressing a button and an iPad is used to gather the data.

Then we have a digitape, which is effectively an electronic version of the tape we use on other gauges and looks a bit like a claw. A complete measurement all the way around the foot is converted by the iPad’s algorithm into an English size and fitting.

Shreeja Ravindranathan

Shreeja Ravindranathan

Lifestyle Writer