I grew up in the Netherlands in a family that was always involved in shoe retail and shoe repair. When I was 18 I decided to follow in my family footsteps so I began an eight year apprenticeship program in orthopaedic shoe making. I have been a custom shoe maker for more than 25 years and I continue to enjoy every aspect of my career; the creativity, helping people with their mobility, and the long-term relationships I develop with my customers (I have been working with some of my them my entire career!).
People require custom shoes when regular or orthopedic off-the-shelf footwear is not an option because of a foot deformity or abnormality. Custom shoes are designed to exactly meet the specific needs of the individual patient. I can create whatever special features each patient requires including: strengthening the sides or top of the shoes, building up the internal elevation, interpreted AFO’s, stiffening soles, making high ankle supports, adding a protective diabetic lining, creating internal rocker soles and more.
Custom shoes make a world of difference. Often when my patients return the following year for a new pair they tell me how their shoes have transformed their lives. Once a young mother told me her new ankle boots enabled her to carry her children around. Some of my patients are unable to go to the washroom in the middle of the night without putting their shoes on. Others simply cannot walk without their shoes or they have a foot condition resulting from diabetes that puts their foot health at risk if they are not wearing their shoes.
Although I am based in Red Deer I make custom shoes for patients across Canada. Patients who live too far from my clinic are assessed by a Pedorthist in their hometown. Then the Pedorthist sends me the details I need to create the custom shoes for their patient. If a patient is out of town, it takes between six and eight weeks for them to receive their custom shoes after I receive the scan of their cast and the last has been designed. However, when I see a patient in my own clinic and I’m able to do the casting and measuring myself, I can usually bypass the test fitting stage so their shoes are ready in three weeks.
In recent years technology has helped me to reduce the time and cost of custom shoes and also to improve their fit and function. I now use Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAD/CAM) to create custom shoes and then outsource the manufacturing. Like me, the next generation of master craftsman will focus on the engineering and design of the shoes and they will no longer be involved in the actual making of them. These advancements are great news as there are still many people who are living with the effects of polio. Diabetic foot conditions are also on the rise so custom shoes will be required to keep people mobile for years to come.
By Johan Steenwyk, C. Ped Tech (C), C. Ped (C), Red Deer, AB