Look Down

These Little Things Can Be Big

I’d been in the Stanley Isaacs Community Center in East Harlem a handful of times for different reasons. The draft for our elementary school basketball league is held in one of the back rooms. There was an art program that we developed that never got funding. They also handle all of the Meals on Wheels for the upper east portion of Manhattan. It’s a bustling hub of activity.

Our Social Outreach Director Amy Hagen spread a wide net to organizations around Manhattan to see if anyone would be interested in hosting our project — fitting seniors with shoes for feedback. Sometimes she got no response. Sometimes the response included a lukewarm follow through.

The Isaacs Center picked a date and began signing seniors up immediately.

Hundreds of seniors utilize the space daily. From free lunch and wellness workouts to educational and insurance services, the center is a lifeline to the world for many of its members. Far from a shelter and far from a golf clubhouse, the Isaac Center is as mainstream America as you can get in Manhattan. My mother-in-law frequents a similar spot in Charlotte, North Carolina.

So we set up a fitting for fifty seniors on the day after Martin Luther King, Jr Day. I can’t say that we intended the event as a day of service but the collection of black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Jewish and Christian seniors could not be ignored.

We arrived early to set up one of the rooms with sneakers. With a little guidance from Steve Muir of Heeling Soles we prepped the room to service the seniors that the center worked with to designate sizes. Our shoes are a true EE wide and most people don’t know their true size. As you grow older the foot expands, so people purchase a larger size as opposed to finding a true wide.

So Amy sized down by a full size for every request unless they stated that they were indeed a wide.

The unhappiness upon seeing the shoes arrive was deafening. “I don’t know why they would have given me an 8.5 when I told them that I wore a 9.5” was practically on repeat the entire afternoon. “These look way too small” came next.

This was routinely followed by “these fit and my foot looks so much smaller.” The shoe horn in the box, along with the stretch socks, were signs that these shoes weren’t the run of the mill.

At some point the rumbling around the center moved from the sizing to the price. Only a few of our testers had ever considered buying a shoe for over $100. With an average age over 75, this group predated expensive sneakers. A few had priced true orthopedic shoes, but most found the idea preposterous.

Until they tried the shoe on.

The shoe is easy to get into. The toe box is very roomy. The midsole is very supportive. The suede material is very soft to the hand.

They understood that this was the type of shoe they needed.

That’s when many of them wouldn’t wear them home.

“These are too nice to wear outside on a day like today,” they would argue. This was their Yeezy, their Jordan, their Supreme. We told them that we offered discounts and would have less expensive models in the future.

But for now, this was for special occasions. We told them that we needed them to provide feedback but we understood their concern.

We will keep our eyes on the secondary market but I doubt this group will be reselling their new kicks any time soon. Not one of the fifty testers left an email address on their sign up form.

But I wouldn’t be mad at them if they were still hustling.

In all we had a wonderful time fitting our group of weartesters. We have more planned in the near future, but it will be difficult to top the smiles from this collection of happy campers. Even if we did bring them the wrong size

Good things. .


The Business of Design from a Studio in Harlem.

Jeffrey Alan Henderson

Written by

Founder of And Them Creative Consultancy — Trying to focus on design, education, inclusion and family. I said trying.


The Business of Design from a Studio in Harlem.

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