Hav A Sole Gives the Gift of Sneakers to Those in Need

At only 9-years-old, Rikki Mendias faced one of the most challenging moments of his life as he dealt with the hardship of homelessness. Eventually Rikki and his mom ended up in a shelter where his life would change forever. A woman who formerly lived at the shelter noticed that Rikki had holes in his shoes and decided to give Rikki two new pairs of Vans – it was that moment that Rikki knew that shoes needed to be a part of his life forever.

Growing up around Los Angeles, Rikki became more aware of sneaker culture as he got older. Those early years of living in shelters and going without caused Rikki to develop an intense focus on growing his collection. Once Rikki could afford to buy sneakers, he wanted to get every colorway and silhouette imaginable. By the time Rikki turned 30, he had more sneakers than he could count, but for some reason, he didn’t feel satisfied.

Rikki always loved the confidence that kicks gave him, a feeling he first experienced that fateful day when he was given those Vans. As he thought about that day more and more, Rikki realized that it wasn’t just about the sneakers or the confidence that resonated with him after all these years – it was the selflessness.

From there Rikki knew what he had to do. He loaded up his sneaker collection and began driving around the streets of LA looking for people in need of shoes. He started sharing his journey on social media and telling the stories of the people that he met on the street. One thing led to another and Hav A Sole was born.

Since 2014, Hav A Sole has provided at-risk youth and homeless people with quality footwear to encourage happiness, confidence, and health. Hav A Sole has developed its own community, traveling across the country to give sneakers to people from city-to-city. As Hav A Sole approaches their 8th Anniversary in 2022, the organization has given away 37,000 pairs of sneakers, but for Rikki – this is just the beginning.

Learn more about Hav A Sole as founder Rikki Mendias talks to us about expanding the organization to other cities, their new paid internship opportunity, the aftermath of COVID, debunking the sneakerhead stereotype, and more.

Nice Kicks: A lot has changed since you first started Hav A Sole. How does it feel?

Rikki Mendias: “Yeah, it’s been a long journey. We’ve been able to do so much and made an appearance on the Ellen show. We also did something on The Home Edit with Harry Ratchford and Kevin Hart. It’s super crazy. We’ve been giving out more shoes and really tapping into the sneaker community. It’s been great.”

How have opportunities like The Ellen Show and The Home Edit impacted Hav A Sole?

“It’s added a lot of awareness. People that have watched either of those shows have been really kind to us; A lot of funding coming in and a lot of new friends on social media. It’s been great.”

How has COVID affected what you guys are doing?

“The biggest challenge was funding through COVID, but I decided right in March of 2020 that we couldn’t slow down our efforts. When the city said that most non-profits would be considered [essential], we were able to do work. So we started a program right in March. It was called ‘Stay Home and Stay Active.’ We partnered with Watts Skills Academy and the Watts Rams. We challenged the kids to do a workout program, and upon completing the program, we would drop off a pair of shoes to their doorstep. So it was kind of like a sneaker delivery service, mixed-in with keeping them healthy, and just working on their mental health. At the time we didn’t know how long the quarantine would last, so we were hoping to maybe be back in a couple of weeks. Then it turned into a year, and then into 2 years. I knew that for their mental health we had to do something, but the biggest challenge was definitely just trying to keep the funding coming in while everybody’s going through this crazy time.”

How do sneakers contribute to mental health? What benefits do they bring to the soul?

“It’s interesting to think about. I’m in a different space now as far as how I collect shoes. Some of the young kids in LA that we work with, I’ve heard from them time and time again, ‘I’ve never had a pair of Jordans.’ You can see their confidence shift. You can see it’s a boost of joy. You can see so much from one pair of shoes.”

How has Hav A Sole changed your perspective on sneakers? Do you still sneaker shop for yourself? What is that part of your life like now?

“I love sneakers still. I don’t really shop for them anymore, but I just got gifted a pair of the Union Dunk Lows. I love sneakers, but I’m actually going through my closet now to get rid of some that I don’t need anymore, clothing as well. For so long I held on to so much. It was just like, ‘Man, what am I really doing?’ When Hav A Sole first started, that was kind of my thought process like, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ Collecting all these shoes just lost its meaning for me. I was in a tough place and depressed. I was only wearing 4-5 shoes and had like 150. I just started questioning myself. My career wasn’t good or anywhere where I wanted it to be. It was tough, but out of that struggle came something really beautiful. The decision to give away my collection led to Hav A Sole.”

How many shoes has Hav A Sole given away?

“Over 37,000. It’s been quite the journey. We’ve been able to visit 36 major cities.”

What cities will Hav A Sole be visiting next?

“We’ve just now opened up in Dallas, we’re building a team there. We’re also working on Portland and Indianapolis. These are cities that we’ve been to and just felt so much love and support. In Indianapolis, we work with the Pacers, we work with Finish Line. In Dallas we’ve worked with the Dallas Mavericks and the Dallas Wings in Dallas. We also have some really great support from Nike.”

What else are you guys trying to bring to fruition at the moment, or is expanding your main focus at this point?

I wouldn’t say the main focus. I have so many projects that I’m trying to work on. We have a program called ‘Hav A Sole for Success.’ It’s a paid internship. It’ll be coming up in July or September. It’s a 6-week-program and we pay the interns. They get to learn how to run a non-profit. We assign them roles like volunteer coordinator, social media manager, and a few other positions. They come into the space and run the nonprofit for us, and get to see what it’s about. We talk about financial literacy, relationship building, how to build a LinkedIn profile, how to build a resume, and have amazing entrepreneurs and community leaders come in to meet them and inspire them. The theme of Hav a Sole for Success is ‘Dream Out Loud.’ We give them a safe place to dream and then we identify those dreams. From there, we figure out how to accomplish the dreams. So that’s something that’s coming up and is one of my main focuses. And then also the expansion. I really want to figure out how we can have a presence without me being in these other cities. It’s always been a dream of mine to expand, but how and when – I couldn’t figure it out. I always wanted to be there. It’s a big challenge for me to let go a little bit and let the amazing teams that we’re building out there just do their thing.”

How can people get involved with Hav A Sole?

“We really do need help right now – specifically funding. That’s our biggest need at the moment. I’m the only one on staff. The company has never had more than two employees. We’re getting ready to apply for some funding to see if we can hire another person to come in here and help me. It’s a grassroots organization. It’s not easy being the only person on staff. Of course we get volunteers, but having a paid position at the organization, someone that’s also passionate about the sneaker culture, and just creating in general, is who we’re looking to hire. I want to fill five roles, but let’s start with one first. As far as other ways to help, if they can’t give up their time, then it’ll just be just spreading awareness. Maybe they can host a fundraiser on their Facebook or do some crowdfunding, and tap into a new social media presence within their network. I just picked up 500 shoes from Stashed in San Francisco. They’re all brand new adidas. They’re some incredible sneakers. On top of that, Nike sends us 2-3 boxes a week. With it just being me, I’ve paused on taking sneaker donations because we have so many shoes, and me doing this by myself, I can’t really continue to take them. There’s a quality check about them too that we need to make sure happens. So if we get a box of shoes that are no good at all, I don’t have the time to take those and try to get them recycled. So there’s a lot that goes on. We’re in a great place, but I feel like once we fill that position, then we’ll be able to grow a little bit higher.”

You mentioned that people could host a fundraiser on their Facebook to support Hav A Sole. I’m always curious about how the organizations receive those funds and if the funds actually make it into the right hands. What’s the process like?

“Facebook campaigns and Instagram campaigns don’t take a percentage. So if you donate $100, then $100 will come in about 8 weeks. Those are great. GoFundMe has been kind of a new platform for us, but they take a small percentage. The only one I don’t really know too much about is the AmazonSmile campaign. I turned down AmazonSmile because people have to spend a lot of money to barely get change. It would be like $100 for .10 cents.”

Have you seen the need for shoes rise after COVID or during the pandemic?

“Not just for sneakers, but for love. People need love and opportunities, to work and find what they love to do. But I think sneakers are definitely in there as far as a need. If we’re talking about people struggling with homelessness, one of the largest needs, along with socks, is underwear.  Then you think about families below the poverty line, you think about low income households – there’s a need for all that. People are struggling to keep jobs and the pandemic was a hard hit for so many people. We just wanted to try our best to be able to bring love into a community through sneaker culture. For me, it all starts with the feet. I really do believe in having the proper footwear. It really motivates you and inspires you to start your journey, wherever you’re walking. You start walking in that direction because of your feet and having something that you can be proud of is important.”

Are there any certain types of shoes or footwear that Hav A Sole needs more of?

“I would say just youth sizes in general, like elementary school kids. We want brand new shoes. I know that’s not an option for a lot of people, so we’re trying to tap into some of the larger companies to get a steady flow of that. As of right now, and historically for Hav A Sole, we’ve been focused on middle school and high school because that’s when they start to get the adult sized feet. We have so many adult sizes that we could make that happen for larger events, but we want to give back to the little kids too. That’s where we lack – the youth sizes.”

Are you guys planning on going on tour anytime soon?

“The next one is probably going to be in February. We just did Indianapolis, Cleveland, Memphis, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, and Seattle. Then I included Dallas for an event which was incredible. We partnered with the Dallas Wings. We coordinate our road trips around All Star Weekend because we do have some NBA partners. So this next one is in February and that’s going to be in Utah, which is one of my favorite cities. It’s just such a beautiful landscape. We’ll probably do a West Coast tour again. Get up to the Bay Area, then Portland, and shoot over to Salt Lake City, then down to Vegas. So that’ll be in February. SoleSavy just donated funds to buy a new van. We’ll be able to do more outreach with that. I want to have the interior designed like a sneaker closet. That way we’ll be able to have a fun way to distribute shoes and make that one of our newest programs. Not newest, but kind of just more access. It’s called ‘Hav A Sole on Wheels.’ We’ve actually done it since the very beginning, but having our own van will allow us to do it more consistently.”

Sneaker culture sometimes gets a bad rap. How does it feel to debunk the sneakerhead stereotype, or do you think that doesn’t exist?

“I think there is some selfishness to the sneaker culture, but I’ve seen the sneaker culture come through with our partnerships with Jason Markk, Riff, Nike, and all these companies – if there’s a direction and you open up people’s eyes, [sneakerheads] are the most generous. We’ve done stuff at ComplexCon and I’ve seen the sneaker community really show up when they know of the opportunity. For me, I had my blinders on when I was getting my shoes and stuff. I was like, ‘Okay, how am I going to get my shoes?’ I would never think about, ‘How am I going to get another pair for my homie?’ So yeah, I can speak for myself being a lover of sneaker culture, and I know that if [sneakerheads] are presented with an opportunity to give, they show up. But at the same time, we have the reselling game and we got bots. That’s not a fault of somebody who really loves sneakers and wants to collect sneakers. I think that’s where the bad rap starts to come from because it creates pressure for people to want to get the shoes more for themselves, and not look out for others. So it’s not even about the heart of that one kid that loves to collect sneakers. It’s now about the pressure that he feels because he knows that on a Saturday morning at 7am, that bots are going to hit the app, or bots are going to hit this release, and he’ll have no opportunity to get this pair. So I think that kind of creates resentment and pressure. If it was more fair and you had a better opportunity to get these shoes, and you didn’t always take that L, it would relieve some of that pressure.”

Hav A Sole is coming up on its 8th Anniversary. What do you hope to accomplish by the 10th year?

“Year 10, I feel like those three cities that I mentioned will be up and running. I feel like the communities in those chapters will be impacted. I want to do more ‘Hav A Sole for Success’ programming in those cities. I think we’re blessed to be in LA, a city that has so many resources and opportunities, and just incredible networks of people doing so many amazing things. When I go to some of the smaller cities and tap in with the youth that are the same ages as the youth I’m working with in LA, their opportunities are much smaller. I want to encourage them to dream bigger and I want to see what I can do to put them on a path of accomplishing their dreams – the same path we’re headed down. We’re trying to do what we can and it all really started with sneaker culture. It’s exciting. I can’t believe we’re almost 8-years-old. It’s crazy to me.”

Keep up with Hav A Sole by following them on Instagram.

All photos provided by Rikki Mendias.

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