13 best kids’ shoe brands that don’t sacrifice style for comfort and support

Keep your children kitted out in the finest of footwear

Heidi Scrimgeour@heidiscrim
Thursday 20 August 2020 09:00
We tested the quality of materials used and how robust the shoes were
We tested the quality of materials used and how robust the shoes were

It’s widely known that ill-fitting shoes can cause serious damage to children’s delicate feet and bones, which is why measuring your child’s feet before buying new shoes is so important.

These days, queuing in-store for a professional foot measuring service can be quite a mission, so measuring feet at home is also an option – to help you ensure the perfect fit, lots of retailers now offer comprehensive sizing advice on their websites.

Fit is the most important element when it comes to buying shoes for kids, according to Susannah Davda, director of The Shoe Consultant.

“If you are having your children's feet measured in-store, ask the fitter to do the measuring before your kids even look at the selection of styles,” she says.

“That way, your children will know they can only choose from the shoes brought out from the stockroom in their size. Stock levels vary, and some shoe styles aren't suitable for certain foot shapes or fittings. Save yourself the grief that comes with disappointed children not being allowed the style they love,” Davda adds.

She also recommends going to a retailer whose staff have been trained by The Society of Shoe Fitters. “It can be worth going out of your way to an independent shoe shop to receive a top notch shoe fitting service. SSF training is the gold standard in the footwear industry.

Keep in mind that your child’s feet won’t necessarily fall into standard fittings, so it’s worth shopping around for a shoe brand that does half sizes and different width measurements – not all retailers do.

“Shoes which come in a variety of width fittings are important, because our kids' feet need to be able to spread to support their weight,” adds Davda. “Squashed feet – in width or length – can cause balance problems and even gait issues, as well as affecting normal foot growth.”

Consider that buying cheap can be a false economy when it comes to shoes for kids. “If your ethics allow, leather linings are great for children of all ages,” says Davda.

“They absorb moisture away from the wearer's feet, ensuring they stay dry and comfortable. When our kids' feet are clammy, they can slip about in their shoes. This affects the fit and can cause blisters. Synthetic linings are particularly unpleasant to wear for kids who have reached adolescence,” adds Davda.

Finally, don’t be surprised if your child’s feet have grown several sizes since you last kitted them out with new shoes.

But remember that no other item of clothing plays such an important role in supporting your child’s physical development – when it comes to shoes for kids, it’s well worth investing in the best pair money can buy.

When it came to choosing which brands and shoes to feature, we looked for designs that appealed to our little testers – they got to choose the shoes we tested, so their own sense of style drove the process.

We also looked at the quality of materials used and how robust the shoes were. Finally, we reviewed the range of shoes on offer to check there was something to appeal to everyone and also took price and value into account.

Our young testers wore all the shoes in this round-up over a two-week period, road testing them on long walks, bike rides and while playing in the garden and at the park.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.

Vivo Barefoot gobi kids

Vivo Barefoot was founded on the principle that the human foot is a biomechanical masterpiece with more than 200,000 nerve endings and is somewhat compromised in a contemporary shoe. Its shoes are designed to give you maximum sensory feedback, as nature intended, and have the thinnest sole possible to prevent restricting the foot’s natural movement.

IndyBest pick: Vivo Barefoot gobi kids

This stylish offering, inspired by the classic desert boot, is designed to allow growing feet to experience barefoot movement and sensory feedback. It’s made from wild hide leather (that is sourced from small scale farms in Ethiopia) and has a soft leather lining and footbed as well as a removable thermal insole. Our six-year-old tester took an instant shine to these boots and now wears them at every opportunity – as someone who kicks her shoes off at the drop of a hat, we’re fairly sure this is because she loves the barefoot feeling provided by these boots.

Keen older kids' uneek SNK

Committed to advocacy, conservation and creating shoes that make a difference, Keen supports non-profit partners that align with its values, and has donated more than £13m in cash and product donations so far. The brand sources environmentally preferred leather where possible – currently more than 95 per cent of the leather it uses comes from tanneries that are certified by the Leather Working Group, an organisation that audits tanneries for environmental performance. The brand has also eliminated pesticides and biocides, creating insoles infused with probiotic technology that naturally breaks down odour in sweat without the use of heavy metals or hazardous chemicals.

IndyBest pick: Keen older kids' uneek SNK

The breathable knit upper on this distinctive shoe is made from entirely recycled PET plastic bottles, which impressed our environmentally conscious tester. The result is a water-repellent open-air trainer that’s ideal for warm, sunny days. The insole provides arch support, and the adjustable fit was great for our tester, they even commented on the shoelaces being much funkier than standard shoes.

Boden fun low tops multi glitter

Founded in 1991 as a mail order business, Boden is a British clothing retailer that sells online and via a mail order catalogue. Specialising in casual clothing in bright colours and distinctive patterns, the brand has a collection for older children and teenagers – aged nine to 16, as well as mini Boden, for younger kids.

IndyBest pick: Boden fun low tops multi glitter

These glittery leather low tops have a star printed canvas lining and an adjustable touch and close fastening, which made them easy for our six-year-old tester to take on and off. They are special enough to be party shoes, but are equally robust enough for a stint at the park if your little one insists on wearing them constantly.

La Redoute kids ankle boots with star print

La Redoute is the only online brand that creates, distributes, and delivers its product line from France to customers around the world. Its kids’ footwear is stylish but affordable, and it sells a mixture of its own and external brands.

IndyBest pick: La Redoute kids ankle boots with star print

The star print on these trendy slip-on boots made them appeal to our tester, while the price impressed her mum. The uppers are made from 100 per cent synthetic materials, as you’d expect for such affordable footwear, but our tester found them to be a good fit and hard-wearing, with plenty of support on a long walk. We like the camel colour – a lovely change from black boots – but they’re also available in navy blue.

Geox kilwi girl

Geox considers itself a pioneering brand that combines innovative solutions and clever tech to create breathable, waterproof footwear for all ages. It reckons it’s created the perfect microclimate inside its shoes to make sure children’s feet stay dry and comfortable in all weathers. Kids love the stylish, contemporary designs and we like the patented, perforated sole which provides breathability and excellent grip.

IndyBest pick: Geox kilwi girl

With an antibacterial sole and a removable insole, these stylish and breathable baseball style boots are the last word in cool, according to our six-year-old tester. She loved the graffiti print and we loved the fact they’re made from recycled materials as part of the brand’s partnership with the World Wildlife Fund.

Kickers mens jarle lace

Kickers do more than just school shoes, but it has more than 130 school styles available and has recently launched its “Back to School” hub on its website, which includes a new online measuring tool designed to take the stress out of buying school shoes for September. Parents can confidently measure their children's feet at home, eliminating the need for shoe shopping while social distancing. Kickers has also updated its exchange policy, so you can exchange shoes free of charge if you order online and they don’t fit.

IndyBest pick: Kickers mens jarle lace

With a quality leather upper, these sophisticated shoes were our teenage tester’s choice from the Kickers range for a smart but stylish back to school look. They feature the distinctive Kickers tab and branding on the heel, which appeals to style-conscious teens. These shoes have a cushion foam footbed for comfort, plus micro-fresh technology that helps to eliminate odours.

M&S kids' knitted trainers

M&S – one of the UK’s largest clothing retailers – was founded more than a century ago. Its school uniform and footwear for kids are popular with parents, and for good reason too.

IndyBest pick: M&S kids' knitted trainers

The squidgy foam insoles in these knitted lace-up trainers make them remarkably comfy, according to our tester. Even the most stylish shoes for kids can be cumbersome – but these live up to their “light as air” name. As well as being lightweight and therefore good for running races, our tester loved the fact that the uppers are made from recycled plastic bottles. They’re also vegan-friendly and machine-washable.

Clarks aeon pace

Is there a more famous children’s shoe brand in the UK? We don’t think so. Clarks has been kitting out kids’ feet for almost 200 years. Parents everywhere love its in-store fitting service and the fact that its shoes come in half sizes and various widths. Whether you’re buying your baby’s first pair of shoes or footwear for a style-conscious teen, Clarks has it covered. Despite being a classic children’s shoe brand, its designs have stayed contemporary.

IndyBest pick: Clarks aeon pace

Clarks has so many stylish shoe options that our six-year-old tester had a hard time choosing which ones to test. In the end she settled on these and has barely taken them off since they arrived. They’re easy to get on and off, thanks to the single riptape fastening, and the cleated rubber outsole offered plenty of stability on a long and muddy forest walk. They’re available in whole and half sizes and different widths.

Giesswein merino runners men

Originally founded as a family business and now run by the third generation, Giesswein is on a mission to highlight the positive attributes of wool and optimise its benefits to create unique products. It develops and produces unique fabrics from its own production in Tyrol, Austria, and has become Europe's largest producer of 100 per cent virgin wool clothing.

IndyBest pick: Giesswein merino runners men

We’ll be honest, our 15-year-old tester wasn’t sure about these trainers when we first asked him to put them to the test, but they’re now his favourite footwear by a mile. Made from 100 per cent merino wool, they’re lightweight, flexible and even sweet-smelling – merino wool is a natural odour regulator. They can be worn without socks – a highlight for a style-conscious teen, and they’re machine washable, which is a real bonus. Our tester is already eyeing up a second pair. There’s a lovely range for younger children, too.

Treads Monaco

Treads specialises in sturdy school shoes for both boys and girls. It’s applied the materials and technology used in making construction footwear to make the most robust school shoes we’ve ever tested. We love that the shoes have what the brand calls dual fit technology, so you can get an extra half size for a perfect fit by removing the insole. Each pair of shoes sold comes with an impressive guarantee – you can return them free of charge within 12 months of the day of purchased if it falls short of its quality standards. You can also return any pair of shoes, even if they’ve been worn, for a full refund if you’re not happy with your purchase.

IndyBest pick: Treads Monaco

Concealed elastic under the tongue means these didn’t come loose after wearing (as many slip-on shoes seem to), and the sole is thick and sturdy but still flexible enough for comfort. An excellent all-rounder that might just take us back to school, too.

Salt-Water surfer white

Salt-Water sandals are created from specially treated natural leathers so you can wear them on the beach and even in the sea without worrying about damaging them. The brand was founded in the early 1940s and the sandals were originally made primarily from scrap leather left over from making men's shoes.

IndyBest pick: Salt-Water surfer white

Our tester was delighted to be allowed to wade in the waves wearing these sandals and was pleased with how quickly they dried. The two-strap style has an adjustable toe buckle and ankle strap for a really comfortable fit. The spongy sole gave good grip and the buckles are rust-proof. The sandals can also be hand washed with a gentle detergent.

Start Rite imagine black patent girls T-bar buckle school shoes

Synonymous with stylish but practical shoes, Start Rite is a British family-run brand that has been in existence for eight generations – that’s 228 years. The brand works with biomechanics experts to create shoes that support children’s physical development. We love that it does whole, half and multi-width fittings – if only more children’s footwear brands did this.

IndyBest pick: Start Rite imagine black patent girls T-bar buckle school shoes

Our six-year-old tester chose these chunky black patent school shoes with classic T-bar fastening. They have leather linings to help little feet breathe. We love the thick, durable sole and fashionable brogue detailing.

Bobux dimension II

Bobux was established in New Zealand in 1991 when founders Chris and Colleen Bennett struggled to find shoes for their baby daughter. The brand created the world’s first soft shoe for babies and has been making footwear that supports natural movement for growing feet ever since. As well as being passionate about designing shoes that support healthy foot development, Bobux makes some of the most stylish shoes we’ve seen. We really wish they made shoes in grown-up sizes.

IndyBest pick: Bobux dimension II

This might look like a standard black trainer but it’s not – billed as a flexible performance shoe that’s designed for dynamic movement, it has an ultra-lightweight durable sole. The nylon knit fabric with merino layer lets little feet breathe and regulates temperature, and the wrap-around strap with elastic attachment ensures a really comfortable fit. On the sole, the tread is angled for a sturdy grip, which our sporty six-year-old tester says makes her run faster.

The verdict: Kids' shoe brands

We found this a hard call. We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of the brands in this round-up, but we think the best brand for children’s shoes is Vivo Barefoot, based on the fact that these are the shoes that our tester wanted to wear most frequently. Giesswein also deserves a special mention – our teenage tester loved the innovative design of the wool trainers. And Clarks is still absolutely nailing it when it comes to quality footwear for kids that won’t break the bank.

For more footwear reviews, read our round-up of the best kids' school shoes

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.