“We sell one shoe at a time,” a sign in a Taipei shoe store reads.
The store is one of more than 100 in the Family Shoes chain, which provides a service described as being available only in Taiwan.
In collaboration with the Cheng Feng-hsi Foundation for Culture and Education, Family Shoes caters to people whose feet are different sizes due to polio or other medical conditions.
The chain’s customers can buy single shoes or pairs of two different sizes.
Each store’s sign features a logo of a heart shape made of a foot and a wheel, and Chinese characters that say: “Single Shoes Bank.”
The idea originated with the Cheng Feng-hsi Foundation, a charity set up in 1977 to commemorate its namesake, a teacher and writer who overcame the difficulties of congenital leg deformity to achieve household fame.
The foundation was established by Cheng’s wife, Wu Chi-chao, two years after he died of liver cancer at the age of 31.
Without the single shoe service, people with different-sized feet would have to either buy two pairs of shoes and wear only one from each pair, buy sole inserts or order custom-made shoes.
Due to rising labor costs, prices have become prohibitive for most people with special needs, said Ho Ying-yi (何穎怡), a music critic with polio.
However, for the past 22 years, registered members of the shoe bank have been able to buy what they need at Family Shoes, which has its own factories, and is the only company in Taiwan supporting the program.
In other countries, there are programs allowing people with special needs to exchange single shoes, but the concept of a single shoes bank can only be found in Taiwan, said Lin Tze-hui (林姿慧), head of the Cheng Feng-hsi Foundation’s department of social welfare.
In addition to allowing people to buy single shoes, once a season the bank lists unwanted single shoes on the foundation’s Web site and gives them to members for free, Lin said.
Ho still buys her shoes in Taiwan even though she moved to Canada years ago.
Since the start of the program, about 20,000 shoes have been sold to thousands of customers, Family Shoes vice precident Sheng Kuo-cheng (沈國政) said.