A few years ago, while on a trip to China, the former CEO of Orem-based Sewell Direct noticed an abundance of small children walking around in squeaky shoes. He thought they were cute, and bought some for his own children. When friends and family noticed and exclaimed over them, he decided to find a way to manufacture them, adding a line of toddler shoes to Sewell Direct’s e-commerce, a far cry from Sewell Direct’s other businesses, which sell things like bulk cables and travel backpacks.

Current CEO Dave Sewell said the shoes, called “ikiki” which translates from Japanese to “come and go,” became a hit among young children, with a squeaky noise that sounds a lot like a dog toy and colorful designs. But the squeaky shoe has an added benefit: The squeaker, located in the heel, promotes healthy heel-to-toe walking, as kids love to hear the squeaky sound, he said.

The shoes have the seal of approval from the American Podiatric Medical Association for their quality, and the company is constantly making little changes based on customer feedback to make the shoes more durable and comfortable.

“We got real excited ... hearing from parents that their child was walking better due to positive reinforcement for heel-to-toe walking provided by the squeaker,” Sewell said. “We have had a number of children with various kinds of disabilities and walking disorders who walk in a more healthy manner after being ‘trained’ by our shoes.”

Other parents, Sewell said, have even said the shoes helped their children become motivated to take first steps because they wanted to hear the squeaking noise. But worry not, parents — ikiki shoes have a patented switch so the squeaker can be turned off anytime. The shoes have gained popularity even among celebrities — according to social media manager Laura Williams, the shoes have been worn by the children of Chrissy Teigen, Serena Williams, Chris Rock and Jeff Goldblum.

The shoe features a single strap design and a wide fit to make it easy for kids to put on themselves, or for parents to help kids put them on. But they also had an unintentional feature: Parents found the shoes easily fit over corrective braces.

For years, almost like ordering an item of the secret menu of a restaurant, customers could call in an request to order a pair of shoes in two different sizes, to better accommodate a brace. Just last month, after figuring out a way to better track inventory, ikiki made buying individual shoes available on their website.

Product Manager Kelson Stephenson said the shoes are still made in pairs, but the new and improved tracking system allows the company to keep track of all the shoes that have been split into “singles.” The company always tries to listen and apply feedback from customers, Stephenson said, and figuring out a way to make it easier to get single shoes for kids with corrective braces was an important part of that.

“We want every child to get the chance to enjoy cute, comfortable and fun shoes,” Williams said. “Hearing the feedback from parents who haven’t always had an easy time finding shoes for their little ones, and who adore ikikis, really makes me love being part of a brand who cares the way we do.”

Sewell said the price of buying different-sized shoes is only a few dollars more than buying a pair of same size shoes to offset the cost of stocking single shoes; while a pair of same-size shoes costs $29.95, Sewell said, a pair of different-sized shoes costs closer to $34. Currently the shoes come in sizes 3-13, with kids ages 7 to 8 being the oldest group that can fit in the shoes.

So far, the response to the new policy has been positive, Williams said.

“Even people who don’t necessarily need just the one different size shoes, we’ve had a lot of positive feedback from them supporting us.”

Now that the company has launched the ability to purchase individual shoes, they’re also looking to expand featured designs and create a sandal more suitable for warmer weather; but more importantly, they hope to continue to service kids with special needs and their parents.

“When we first started, servicing kids who had to wear braces was not something we thought about ... I feel excited and honored to be able to offer something relatively unique that serves the needs of children with these disabilities,” Sewell said. “It is one of the most heartwarming things about coming to work.”

Carley Porter covers northern Utah County and business for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at cporter@heraldextra.com.

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