Creating a Shoe that Grows
When Kenton Lee (SBL) ’10 saw orphans struggling to cram their feet into shoes they had out-grown, his heart sank, but his mind began to think. He envisioned a shoe that could grow along with children’s feet. Eventually, he combined his passion for leadership and desire for ministry to produce a revolutionary product and get it onto the feet of children in need.
Lee now heads Because International, a not-for-profit that provides size-adjustable shoes to accommodate growing feet with five different sizes. The shoes’ front contain an adjustable toe-piece, the sides have snaps, and the back of the shoes have an adjustable heel-strap. The organization sells duffle bags full of shoes to individuals and organizations that travel all over the world to get them on the feet of children who need them.
“I originally wanted to go into ministry,” said Lee. “I traveled right after college and wanted to see the world a little bit. I thought about being a missionary in Kenya or Ecuador.”
Lee’s vision started when he met a little girl at an orphanage in Kenya who was wearing a white dress and a shoe that didn’t fit. The orphanage director explained that donors provided shoes one year before, but the children quickly out-grew them.
“Her shoes were so small,” said Lee. “I couldn’t believe it. Her toes stuck out of the front of her shoe.”
Lee returned home to Idaho, but wanted to do something to help the children at the orphanage. He slowly started working on his concept shoe. He decided to go into business and began working on two graduate degrees. One was a master’s in organizational leadership at Regent.
“I love leadership and thought it would be a great program to learn more about it,” said Lee. “It was an open door. I had an idea for the shoes but thought nothing would happen about it. I was still a kid at the time, but the program gave me a broad base for leadership. I never felt intimidated, even for having not that much business experience. They took me right where I was and helped me learn the most I could with the experience I had.”
Lee says a business education is essential to running a not-for-profit, because it enables organizations to spend more time and energy on their mission and less time on fund-raising. He learned that leadership is people-oriented, and he says he strives to empower those who work with him to lead in their areas of giftedness.
“It’s been fun to talk about our story,” said Lee. “At one point, we were in the middle of that story. We were just spinning our wheels and not too much was happening. Now it’s kind of a fun story, and some people are being inspired by it. People need to keep going. Some may be in the middle of their story right now. They need to be true to themselves and follow God and keep going.”
Since pursuing the shoe project, Lee has put his leadership skills to work outside of his business. He worked at Northwest Nazarene University and earned a master of divinity. He married his wife in 2012 and planted a church during their first year of marriage. He is thankful for her tremendous support in entrepreneurship, and is looking forward to developing new solutions with Because International.