If you have kids who climb then you will very likely have encountered the generally woeful selection of climbing shoes available for them in the shops and climbing walls. Sure, Decathlon do a cheap pair and generally stock a good range of sizes, but if you want any sort of performance out of the shoe then they're not great. A few other manufacturers make junior shoes, but truth be told, they are really only glorified pumps, with little in the way of technical features. Ability and feet grow hand in hand, and it's not long at all before a proper pair of shoes is needed. This first step will, in many cases, be an adult women's shoe as the sizes go down small enough (UK 4), but they will come with an adult price tag which can be harder to stomach when there's a real possibility that your kid will have out-grown them in six months or less.
On a recent climbing trip to France we called at a crag at Sisteron. Walking from the car park to the crag we passed a small climbing shop and poked our heads in to have a look. We didn't really need anything, but it's always nice to look around gear shops right? Anyway, the owner was a thoroughly nice Spanish chap who spoke good English and so we chatted. I spotted some small climbing shoes of a brand and model I hadn't seen before. They were priced at €55 and looked pretty cool. Ocun was the make. He had a full range of half sizes so we tried a pair on our youngest, who was a lowly size 1 at the time, but definitely in need of something to match his ability on the rock. We left the shop with a very excited youngster armed with his first pair of proper shoes. Shoes he could heel hook in and that held their shape when using small edges.
A couple of weeks later he was crowned British Champ for his age group! He may have managed the same in his old shoes, but it was a pretty close run affair so a simple slip or mistake would have cost him. We'd spent literally months looking locally for a suitable pair of shoes, but had given up, only to find some in a back country shop in France.
Dylan tip toeing up a featured wall at Sisteron just metres away from the shop where he'd bought his new shoes just a few hours before.
A few weeks after that I was at Outside in Hathersage. The manager was there and we got chatting about kids shoes. I explained the above scenario and asked why the local shops don't stock a better range of kids models and sizes. He said that the demand simply wasn't there, that they had tried in the past, but that he would give it some thought.
I called at the shop this morning for something else and the manager pointed me at the range of climbing shoes on offer. Sitting proudly amongst the usual kids shoes was a new model, from Ocun, priced at £50. They go up to a size 6, and they've sold one pair already! It felt nice to have had a real conversation, based on real experience, and for somebody to have listened and acted. It may not work, he may be right in that the majority of folk are happy with inexpensive floppy shoes, but I sincerely hope not.
These are the shoes - they're available online too: http://www.outside.co.uk/shop/Rival+Kids+Competition+Shoes