Ryan Ringholz has carved a name for himself in the adult footwear industry, having grown Puma’s lifestyle division to $600 million before helping Diesel grow their footwear business. But, while fielding a call from a recruiter for a mega-brand’s child footwear department, Ringholz found himself watching his children playing and wondering why he just didn’t care about kids’ shoes.
“The truth is, I’d never even considered the possibility of designing products for kids – the pinnacle of design in the industry is high-fashion or elite performance,” Ringholz tells PSFK. “It hit me at once how incongruous this thinking was as a dad who puts his kids first.”
Instead of just shrinking down adult shoes to fit little feet, PLAE is Ringholz’s attempt to make children’s shoes desirable and worthy of being coveted by teenagers and parents alike. He partnered with startup advisor and mentor Jonathan Spier, and they began to craft and sell the eco-friendly shoes earlier this summer.
The collection approaches shoes from a “kid-centered” design ethos – envisioning what prodigal design ideas might be floating around in their imaginations and what children might want in the perfect pair. PLAE’s shoes were made to endure the energetic demands of everyday play, and every detail shows how Ringholz paid attention to the natural development of children’s feet.
One of the standout features of these shoes is their interchangeable Velcro tabs, which come in a rainbow of colors and prints. “The challenge when it comes to customization for kids is that they don’t like to wait and they often change their minds,” explains Ringholz, which makes PLAE perfect for the young shoe fanatic.
However, the collection’s designs serve a higher need beyond being cute. Over 80% of foot problems are the result of misshaped shoes, typically a result of attempting to shrink an adult shoe to fit a child’s foot. Ringholz discovered that children’s feet are mostly cartilage and don’t form into bone until their later years, a fact that led him to design the shoes around a developing foot’s soft tissue formation.
If the shoes didn’t appeal to moms already, then the fact that PLAE is great for children who wear ankle-foot braces should seal the deal. Orthopedic shoes tend to attract more unwanted attention than good, something that can be the stuff of nightmares for kids. PLAE’s design can fit around the unsightly braces and enable these children to feel like they have a choice when it comes to their foot fashion.
PLAE’s crime-fighting shoes for the Make-A-Wish campaign to turn a young boy into a superhero.
PLAE hopes to expand their product line beyond footwear to accessories and apparel in the next year, and has partnered with street artist Zio Ziegler to place his prints on an upcoming collection.
Ringholz believes that brands are missing the mark – and potential sales – if they don’t begin to pay attention to children’s footwear in the near future.“Customization and personalization are huge and only getting bigger,” Ringholz says. “Everyone wants to express themselves and be unique, which is particularly true of kids.”