Five minutes with... Jenni Foster

We talk to Start-Rite’s Research and Innovation Manager about the science that goes into our shoes to help keep kids’ feet happy and healthy.

Five Minutes with Jenni Foster

Tell us about your role at Start-Rite Shoes?

Start-Rite want to offer the best for your children’s feet to help them grow to be the best they can be, and this is exactly what my role is here to do. I work with specialists and academics within various fields, from Biomechanics and child’s psychology, to consumer research and of course with kids themselves- our biggest critics. I manage research that gains us big steps in our knowledge of what children need, and work closely with our product, design and technical teams to transfer this knowledge into our products. And then comes the testing. From lab to playground, ensuring our products can take all that’s thrown at them; so that kids can be kids, whilst parents have the confidence that our shoes are doing the right thing for those unique and precious developing feet.

Start-Rite has recently revealed pioneering new research that looks into how children move today. Can you tell us about this?

This research has allowed us to make advances within the children’s footwear industry. Across eight months, we worked with a group of children between 5-8 years and 10-12 years and analysed the affect three key elements of the shoe had on their gait, which is the pattern of locomotion that can be analysed to understand how in our case, footwear is having an effect on the body. We studied 3D kinematics, which uses scientific equipment usually reserved for the sporting elite and combined this with force data analysis under the foot throughout the multiple trials. This gained us real time data within children's biomechanics where we can understand what interferes and what advocates natural movement of the foot, limbs and hips.

Girl Playing Hopscotch

How have these findings helped when it comes to developing new products?

What we found has allowed us to design our shoes so that they work seamlessly with the foot and the rest of the body as children grow. From the engineering of the last, which is the building block to all of our styles, to the design of our rubber outsoles and the material selection along with construction of our uppers. This is helping us engineer all elements of design within our shoes; doing the right thing for children’s feet.

How have you applied the findings to products in different age categories?

Children’s development varies at different stages within their childhood and we recognise this. For example, bones grow, muscles strengthen, stability increases,and the foot gradually becomes a full functioning, efficient mechanism propelling the body forward. So our shoes are developed for what the child needs at each stage. Whether it’s the correct shape of last, the right amount of flexibility and torsional rigidity, or the right fastening system.

Boy Wearing School Uniform

Tell us about some of the new products you’ve helped develop for the AW19 school shoes collection?

Well I'd love talk about our new senior boys shoes - Academy, Tailor and Logic. These have been designed as a hybrid of smart styling and athletic performance. Through research and development we developed our motion-soft-technology lining; giving a sock-like lining that not only locks the foot in for optimum agility and maximum comfort around the heel, it’s proven to be super breathable as well keeping teenage boys feet at a comfortable climate all day. And for Primary girls we have the developed our best Mary Jane style yet called Hopscotch. Incorporating our biomechanically designed flex grooves in the outsole, supple but tough leather on the upper for great comfort, with a durable yet elegant toe bumper to allow girls to go wild on the playground too.

How have the materials of Start-Rite school shoes improved?

We can now work on some interesting concepts to provide a solution to what children need in their shoes. Building on our precision fit and high quality, providing a healthy shoe for busy children all day.

Selecting Materials

What interesting facts do you know about feet that you can share with us?

Two facts that I’d like to share are about bone development and an impressive figure about nerves… Bones can take up to 13 years or more to fully develop from birth, that’s over 4,500 days! So remember, even when your child’s running wild outside, their feet are still developing. And its amazing to know that there are over 7,000 nerve endings in each foot, these help us feel the ground on each step, so it’s important not to inhibit this feedback with incorrect footwear, particularly at a young age.

How important is it for children to keep active in their developing years?

Government statistics suggest that 9-10% of children are starting primary school obese. To address this, the Government has set an exercise target for pre-school children of 180 minutes physical exercise per day. Research also reveals that high levels of coordination in childhood correlate positively with physical, behavioural and academic achievement measured in adolescence. So it's clear that keeping children active at a young age has multiple benefits, apart from giving parents peace and quiet for a period! Being active stimulates the brain and promotes coordination, allowing the vestibular system to develop to its best potential. This will also give the child increased confidence in other elements of their development. And as children grow, it's important to keep their muscles strong and supple.

Girl and Boy Playing on Skateboard

Do you have any recommendations of what parents could do when their children are little to help keep their feet as healthy as possible?

In relation to footwear this one is nice and simple… nothing. Babies feet grow naturally and develop to their best potential if left well alone. Until your baby is crawling there is no need to protect their silky soft feet. For toasty toes, we recommend socks that are loose around the foot and not restrictive around the ankle. That special day will come when your child’s exploration takes them outdoors where they may start to need the protection offered by shoes. From this day, have your babies feet checked every six weeks for growth spurts, to ensure their shoes fit their feet appropriately, with enough flexibility for them to move freely and supple enough so your child can still engage with terrains underfoot and feedback from the ground; helping to develop their proprioception system.

To discover more about the science that goes into Start-Rite shoes and children’s healthy foot development click HERE.