Nicole Hulbert couldn’t believe her eyes as she stood in the shoe section of Nordstrom, looking at the sneakers in front of her. Calling her husband to come see them for herself, his first reaction was to exclaim, “No way!” before telling her to buy a half a dozen pairs — much to the amusement of the sales clerk.
After Hulbert posted a picture on Facebook of these shoes that unzip from end to end, it immediately became clear that the world has been waiting for this.
“Special needs moms,” the post read. “I’m so excited about these shoes I just found Laura at Nordstrom! They are ‘Billy’ brand. Where have these been all my life?! Unbelievably easy to get on over braces!”
Now shared over 261K times, liked 92K times, and commented on nearly 30K times, Hulbert tells Babble that the response is overwhelming — but that more importantly, she’s glad to help get the word out about the importance of adaptive clothing for kids with special needs.
“It feels good to be a voice for people who don’t know where to look to find these shoes,” she says. “It hopefully lets the clothing industry know that there is a real need out there for parents who are struggling.”
Clearly, judging by the response, there is a need — which I can personally attest to.
My own 10-year-old daughter often wears braces on her legs due to a disability, and she would be the first person to tell you that wearing shoes over braces is often worse than wearing the braces themselves.
“I hate that I have to wear the same shoes every day,” she tells me. “And they are hard to get on; I don’t like that you have to put my shoes on because I can’t get them on, and then we are late to school.”
Yes, sometimes we are late to school — but I’d like to point out that it’s not entirely my fault. Mornings are busy, and the last thing I need is to spend 20 minutes completely unlacing a pair of shoes, cramming a pair of braces into them, lacing them back up, and then trying to get my child into the car while she complains that she doesn’t want to wear the same ugly shoes every day.
Honestly, I can’t argue with her. The whole process is ridiculous, and she’s right — her shoes are ugly, but they were the only pair that the specialty shoe store (which is 45 minutes away from our house) could retrofit to her braces. By that, I mean order them extra wide and two sizes bigger — then rip the soles out, extend the laces, and charge me twice as much.
So, do I want shoes that completely unzip? Yes, please.
Made by a company named Billy Footwear that boasts a “universal design, with fashion in mind,” the shoes shown in Hulbert’s post unzip from end to end. With the company co-founded by — you guessed it — a guy named Billy (who is also disabled), this is the first time that I’ve seen adaptive shoes that actually make sense. They look easy to get on, stylish, and don’t have a hefty price tag. It’s no wonder people are going crazy over Hulbert’s find.
“I always dreaded her getting new braces, because that meant I knew I had to go find new shoes to fit over them, and it was a struggle!” she says, echoing my sentiments.
Her own daughter, Laura, is 16 years old and is diagnosed with microcephaly.
“Her brain is underdeveloped, so she is severely cognitively impaired,” Hulbert explains. “She is nonverbal and needs help with all daily tasks eating and dressing. I tend to buy mostly comfortable, easy-to-put-on clothing since she is difficult to dress and doesn’t ‘help.’ I like to buy pants that won’t show a bulky brief underneath, and shirts long enough to cover any gaps so her brief doesn’t show, but shoes have always been the hardest thing to find.”
Hopefully now, the struggle can end.
“Giving people more independence is a wonderful thing,” she says. “And making things easier for caregivers who have to do everything for someone is awesome, too.”
It really is time, don’t you think? Disabled or not, we all wear clothes, and thankfully, the fashion industry is starting to take note of that. From Target’s adaptive clothing line that includes shirts with abdominal access for feeding tubes and diaper-friendly leggings, to Runway of Dreams, that works with multiple clothing manufacturers to make their clothing disability-friendly, long-overdue options are slowly becoming available to a wider market.
For now, though, Hulbert is thrilled to have found an easier and more fashionable option when it comes to shoes.
“They look absolutely adorable on her!” she says. “Her teachers at school love them, and her personal care attendants think they are as fabulous as I do!”
Even my daughter agrees.