Shoe shopping has always been difficult for me. I was born with classical Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and, along with faulty connective tissue and loose joints, I was born with flat feet. I have weak ankles, huge bunions on both big toes, crooked and curled smaller toes, stretched Achilles tendons, and a variety of other issues that make finding a comfortable, supportive, stylish pair of shoes about as easy as finding a double-rainbow.
I thought I was stuck with athletic shoes or boring shoes until I found Lainie & Trend-ABLE. Lainie’s fight and enthusiasm reminded me that having a disability does not mean being unstylish—it just may take a little extra searching to find that special shoe.
I wore saddle shoes for the early part of my life and, once those weren’t supportive enough anymore, I switched to all-white K-Swiss sneakers—no light-up sneakers or sparkly princess shoes for me. As I got older and made shoe choices for myself, I wore whatever shoes I wanted. When I realized that was a terrible idea in terms of support and foot pain, I switched to wearing Dansko shoes for work and Fit Flops in the summer. I was set. So I thought.
After twelve knee surgeries, my surgeon decided the best way to help my right knee would be a brace. There were no surgical options available, so a brace it would have to be. When I saw my orthotist, she discussed stabilizing my knee and my ankle which meant I would need a knee-ankle-foot orthotic—a KAFO. I was not thrilled. Not only would I have about five pounds of metal and plastic to lug around with me everywhere, it would be warm, I’d have to find wide-legged pants to wear with it, and I’d need to find shoes that would allow room for the foot plate of the brace while still fitting my other foot.
It was a tall order to fill. I asked my orthotist if I would be able to wear sandals instead of being stuck in close-toed shoes year-round. She hesitated and said, maybe if they had a back strap and a deep enough foot bed. When I finally got my KAFO and saw the extra wide foot plate and ankle joint, I was discouraged. There was no way I was going to find a pair of sandals that would work.
That didn’t stop be from trying. I ordered shoes from all sorts of websites, but I was disappointed each time the shoes didn’t fit with my brace. I went to local shoe stores and tried shoes on with my non-braced foot, hoping they would fit the braced foot when I got home. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.) I searched online but came up empty. I asked my medical providers who sometimes gave half-heartedly recommendations. I posted in various Facebook groups and asked other places on social media, but no one had any suggestions.
Out of desperation and stubbornness, I searched the Internet again. This is when I found Trend-ABLE. I read Lainie’s story, I looked through the blog posts and photos, and thought, “She GETS it.” Her recommendations weren’t just pie-in-the-sky wishes; she actually wore AFOs and tried these shoes (and other fashion). While her AFOs were a bit slimmer than mine, she understood the desire to be mobile AND stylish—and there was no reason we couldn’t be both. As summer came around to Wisconsin again, I decided I would resume my sandal search—with Lainie and Trend-ABLE’s help. I eventually settled on revere's Geneva sandals.
I was intrigued by how the company seemed to cater to people who needed adjustable shoes— removable and replaceable shoe beds and lots of adjustable Velcro straps. I ordered a pair, and when they arrived, I was immediately distressed with how narrow the shoe was, especially considering I ordered wide width shoes. However, I then removed the foot bed and saw it was much bigger than I originally thought. Plus, the shoes are made of leather which I knew would stretch. I started to get a little more excited.
I clamped my brace on and adjusted the straps on it and the sandal. I put on the other sandal on my non-braced foot. Everything went on okay, but standing was the real test. Would the foot plate stay in place? Would these shoes be comfortable at all? Would my non-braced foot be swimming in a shoe too big? Would my damaged toes find a comfortable place to sit?
The answer: YES! My brace stayed put! I was able to walk without worrying that the foot plate would slide out. My non-braced foot had just the right amount of room. The leather squeaked and stretched, but they fit AND they worked with my brace!
Suddenly, a new world was open to me. Because the only pair of shoes I had to wear was a pair of athletic shoes, my outfits mostly consisted of sweat pants and t-shirts. Now I don’t have to wear pants all summer; I can wear shorts or a dress if I want to and have cute sandals to go with it. I can dress up a bit more for date night with my husband, maybe adding a few pieces of jewelry. The self-confidence I had when I dressed up for work or put time and effort into my appearance are now possible again–all because of these shoes and because of Lainie and Trend-ABLE.
As people with disabilities, we are asked to give up so much just to live a life that isn’t confined to a bed or our homes. It doesn’t matter if our braces, wheelchairs, crutches, or other medical equipment is fashionable or fun–it just needs to function. Lainie and Trend-ABLE fight against that mind set, knowing that shoes that are stylish and accommodate our braces are important in a way that people without restrictions cannot understand. I am grateful for the work she does, the boundaries and ideals she pushes against, and the freedom she is offering to people whose disability isn’t their fashion sense.