Andre McDonnell is the definition of a Sneakerhead. And while he collects thousands of pairs of sneakers, they aren’t for his personal collection. They’re for the homeless.
McDonnell is the founder and CEO of It’s From The Sole, an organization that collects sneakers, refurbishes them, and gives them to those in need. As explained on their website, “After a chance encounter with a barefoot homeless gentleman…overwhelmed with emotion, McDonnell approached the man and offered him the pair of sneakers he was wearing at the time. Moved by the experience to do more, It’s From the Sole was born.”
McDonnell’s goal is to encourage those sneaker collectors, wearers, and resellers to pick at least one pair from their large collections, and donate it to those who may not have any shoes at all.
In a time when sneakers are dominating all aspects of our culture, collected by the hundreds, and even used to demonstrate status, providing the homeless with high-end sneakers not only gives them something to cover their feet, but brings a sense of dignity to a group of people who are often ignored.
McDonnell’s work has been life-changing for thousands in New York. So much so, he recently received an NAACP Humanitarian award for his incredible contributions to society.
MELO sat down with McDonnell to discuss how It’s From The Sole began, the most gratifying moments, and how anyone can help “give to those in need, from the soul of your heart, to the soles of their feet.”
When helping the homeless, people typically give food or money, what inspired you to give sneakers?
Well my team and I are heavily involved in the sneaker culture. I’ve been in retail for 15+ years so I’ve collected several sneakers that were give to me through clients or from my job providing me with footwear. But we wanted to take a culture and show another side of it. For example: whether your a SneakerHead, Sneaker Wearer or even a re-seller, we aren’t knocking what you are doing, but for every person who says they want a specific pair of sneakers there is someone out there who NEEDS a pair of sneakers.
Your non-profit has already had lots of success, what was the hardest part of getting it started?
Funding Funding Funding. Listen, we are still growing as a Non-Profit. There are expectations that have to be met and also pros and cons around the business. We just wanted to take what we love (Sneakers) and provide them for the homeless, we weren’t even thinking about becoming a Non-Profit until family and friends were like “Hey you guys might have something here, give it a try.” So that’s when we started to look into this whole Non-Profit side of it and here we are. But I would have to say funding, Our team is small. There is myself The Founder, Ruby Lassi who handles our Public Relations and Marketing, and Michael who handles our Social Media Panels. I would love to one day compensate these guys for the hard work they’ve contributed. But you know what beats hard work and dedication? Passion. We are taking something we love and sharing that with someone to help them throughout their situation and whatever they may be going through.
Can you give us insight into the process of collecting, preparing, and actually giving away the sneakers?
Well it all started with friends, family, my job and some of my greatest clients. Talking it up and letting everyone know what it is we are doing to help our city with this huge problem we are having. Collecting sneakers has been great. We’ve gotten support from Adidas, Bloomingdale’s, Vans, and now New Balance and also the Discovery Channel. But when those big Market Brands aren’t contributing, we think of great initiatives that may help us collect footwear. We’ve done Sneaker Drives, as well as a 2 Mile Run where you come run to help the homeless and provide a pair of sneakers at the run. When we donate the sneakers we are totally hands on. We don’t to go to shelters, only because these shelters have rules and we respect them. But we want to engage with the homeless you know. We like speaking with them, getting to know them, comparing and contrasting thoughts with them – it’s such a great feeling. I tell you.
Can you recall a specific situation in which the work you do was most gratifying?
The first day of It’s From The Sole, I was playing in a neighborhood basketball game and as I’m leaving I notice this man was walking around barefoot. It hit me hard and I ask him “Sir what size sneaker you wear, would you Happen to know?” He said, “Size 12, man.” I told him he could have my brand new pair of Kobe Bryant sneakers that had released that week. They were given to me as a gift from one of my NBA Clients, and I also gave him the shoes I always wore to walk home in after a pickup game. This left me barefoot, and I decide to take a cab home from Downtown Lower Manhattan to Utica Ave in Brooklyn. And that’s when It’s From The Sole was born.
In this day in age, sneakers are cherished, collected, and thought to be one of the most high-end accessories you can wear. Beyond just putting shoes on their feet, what do you think this donation means to the homeless in regards to our sneaker-obsessed culture?
It shows another side of the culture. We aren’t telling you to give us you most limited Jordan’s or your most cherished piece in your collection. But we are asking you to consider sharing that one pair of sneakers you may have bought for a special occasion, or because you just needed some kicks to wear for a event, or even a pair you don’t care about anymore. Give it to us, or better yet, please come with us to donate them. We refurbish the kicks, give them new laces and insoles, and give to someone who would love and cherish them like it was their most favorite pair of sneakers in their collection. We just want to take a passion that we have in sneakers, take that and provide for someone who may never have the opportunity to purchase a pair.
You’re also into fashion. As a Sneakerhead, what are some of your favorite sneakers released in the past year and why?
Well I love the fact that these brands have collaborated with art designers, or your Hip-Hop Artist, or athletes, and even DJs. I like to shine light on that because it show creativity from another person’s point of view. But in the past year I would have to say the Yeezy Boost 750 that released here in NYC during NBA All Star weekend were crazy. Ye and his creative background with music and art also brought his talents to Adidas and came up with some pretty unique stuff. But I also like Carmelo Anthony’s signature sneaker. When it comes to Jordan Brand I like how they’re focusing more on their athletes like Chris Paul and Melo and now Blake and kinda giving them their own retro line aspect of footwear. This way they’re able to build their own legacy. Other then that- great collabs like Jeremy Scott with Adidas, Dover Street Market getting together with Designer and Influencer Ronnie Fieg and Puma, Mayor whom is a huge Sneaker Ambassador and him doing a sneaker with FILA, the list goes on.
How can we donate? Do you take volunteers? Do you have any plans to expand your outreach?
Yes. This is great let’s work together please come out with us we can tackle the streets of NYC. We go on runs on a weekly basis. We normally rotate the days throughout the week when we go to shine light in all five boroughs.
Do you have new or gently used sneakers that you are never going to wear? Donate them to this amazing cause by emailing email@example.com.
Providing this service to the less fortunate isn’t free, Any monetary donation really helps. To donate, please visit itsfromthesole.org and click DONATE.