The Hav A Sole Story with Rikki Mendias

Question: Tell us a little bit about yourself and the Hav A Sole story for the two listeners that don’t know about Hav A Sole

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Rikki- “Hav A Sole is a non profit organization, but much much more than that to me. We are 5.5 years old, we give out sneakers to communities that might need them. In those 5.5 years, we realized right off the bat that it wasn’t about the sneakers but about that one on one connection we made with the people. My love for sneakers goes back to when I was 9 years old. Early/Mid 1991,  my mom went to jail, we lost the apartment, and I was homeless. She got out a year later, we moved into a shelter. She couldn’t afford to buy me shoes. This woman that lived at the shelter before us, named Becky, she noticed I had big holes in my shoes. She offered to take us to the Vans store and buy me a pair of shoes. It was my lucky day because it was buy 1 get 1 half off so I actually got 2 pairs that day. I was 10 years old and fell in love with sneakers that moment. I grew up as a troubled youth, had a lot of trauma- I did not graduate from high school, never went to college. Landed that job at Costco, I had a job at Toys R Us, I had a pet store job, all these jobs that were really just passing time – in my eyes. Got fired from Costco, then landed into commercial production as a Production Assistant. I found photography and just making my way in life. I thought that photography was something that I was supposed to do with my life and that it was something special to me. But then, as I was still collecting shoes throughout the years, I had 150 pairs- my career as a photographer wasn’t really meaningful or making money at it. I was disappointed and in a sad place. One night, I couldn’t sleep and I decided to give me sneakers away. That was the birth of Hav a Sole.“

Question:  Brennan told me that you recently had a road trip from coast to coast and you dedicated it to someone special – do you mind sharing with our listeners what that road trip was and what it meant to you?

Rikki- “Right off the jump, when HavASole first started. I know that I wanted to give away shoes to other communities. We launched a program called “HavASolefulTrip” where we would pick some large cities that needed some extra love. We would go city to city in a minivan. This year 2020, this is road trip number 8. We’ve been planning this since 2019, there’s a lot of planning that goes into it. 

Unfortunately, Kobe passed in late January. The numbers just meant that we needed to dedicate it to him. Him wearing 8 on his jersey and this being our 8th road trip. We decided to extend it past Chicago and visit his hometown in Philadelphia. We spent 22 days on the road in February and gave out over 350 pairs of shoes. We took 8 pairs of Kobes to his city of Philadelphia. It is just something that I will never forget. There was a lot of love and support in each city. It was what we can do to honor him.”

Hav A Sole Eight for 8 Video

Question: Kobe has had a big impact on the LA community. I wasn’t a big Lakers fan, but you couldn’t get away from it. You were submerged into it in Southern California. Can you share how Kobe’s been an influence to you?

Rikki- “For me, I was more of a Shaq fan. I loved the Lakers at the time. More so, my best friend Dash was a Kobe fan for his whole life and to be transparent It was something special that we could do for Dash as well. His birthday is August 24th and as you know, that is 8 and 24 on his jersey. I think Kobe’s birthday is one day before Dash’s. It just meant so much. And for me, I wanted to work with Kobe and Vanessa in the community as they have a foundation that is geared towards lifting up  the homeless community and we do a lot of work with the homeless community as well. And it just seemed so right. The first 2 people that I thought about were my brother and Dash as they were HUGE HUGE Kobe fans. I was more of a fan of the father that he was, the philanthropist that he was. I was just impressed with him supporting women sports and supporting the younger player. The mentor figure that he had become. That’s what I was really impressed by when I thought about Kobe.”

Question: I wanted to ask you as our podcast is really geared around retail leaders in the retail industry – Brennan and I both come from the footwear industry. Can you share how retail leaders can benefit a non-profit organization like yours?

Rikki- “From the footwear industry stand point, it would be donating new and very gently worn sneakers. But, what I think about when you ask me that question is how related the two industries are. Especially with HavASole and a company like Finish Line or Nike brand, you think about the ability to make someone’s day in store. I think about all the times that when we put shoes on feet and I know that the employees are doing the same thing. Brighten up someone’s day with a pair of sneakers. Just because they are paying for it doesn’t mean you can’t make someone’s day a little more special with your energy. Retail is what you make of it. It is not easy. Customers are not always right. I’ve been there. I’ve seen that. But it is still an opportunity to lift somebody  up. If  they’re having a hard day, you can make it a little more special. But, if people want to support us, just make a donation towards the mission”

Question: I love that you said that, relating the two industries. Both industries are about service. It makes me remember,  the HaVASole Experience- The Try on Experience- Do you mind sharing that with the listeners? How did you land on that?

Rikki- “I wanted somebody to have the choice. The simplest thing was choice. So how do we break that down and make it more creative. Make it more fun and inspiring for people of all ages. It just grew from driving around in my Ford Explorer the first 6 months and having a variety of sneakers and people’s sizes. What would happen is that when someone would ask for some change, I’d respond with “I don’t have change, but I do have a pair of sneakers, what size are you?” They would say an 11 or a woman would say a 9 and I would dive into the Explorer and say, “this is what I have in your size. Feel free to choose.” It makes all the difference in the world. From there, let’s elevate the experience, let’s create a pop up store. So with some of our local partners like the Covenant house, we had our first ever – CovernantCon, where we treated it like a convention/festival for some of the homeless youth there. Gave them an experience with Nike, Jason Markk, Tacos and a Live DJ, a real experience for them to enjoy a retail experience Everything we’ve done is modeled after what the retail shoe industry is. 

The customer service they need- they don’t get to experience too often”


Brennan: At what point in your mind, did this become REAL. When did you decide it was time to grow Hav A Sole and scaling the impact from driving around in the Ford Explorer?

Rikki- “From the moment I said it, that night, I couldn’t sleep. I went searching for more purpose in my life and the answer was giving out my sneaker collection. I jumped on a phone call with a friend, they said “ I don’t know if its a good idea… You’re not going to do it.”. What happens when someone tells you that you’re not going to do something? You usually end up doing it. In that conversation, I said “I know what I’m going to call it. “ My friend said “what?”

“I’m going to call it Hav A Sole”

When I said those words, I went immediately to Go Daddy and grabbed the domain and all that. 

I just knew that I was on something special.

It did start out as a passion project but right off the jump, I don’t know, but it was the perfect storm of events. I had low rent, I was working a freelance job which allowed me – if I got 2 of those freelance days a month, that would pay my rent. So I had very low rent, I had a lot of time to work on my new passion project. Getting shoes out to the people, documenting it with my photography. From there, it just started to grow. I just knew we had to get more serious about this. Get a board of directors, who are amazing- Shout out to Brennan who is one of our board, I don’t know if they know that. But,  Brennan Decker is on our board so thank you for all the work that you have done for us. 

I still don’t have a high school diploma so to have all this business knowledge that I am learning each day with the amazing team that we have, it is really special.

It just makes me feel that anybody can do whatever they want just you have to go for it.”

Brennan: Tell us a little bit about Dash and Dash’s involvement

Rikki- “Dash and I met at a Taco Tuesday party, maybe 2011 and we just vibed. We didn’t exchange numbers that night,  but Dash found me on Instagram and took a look at my photography was like,        ”Man, I love your work,  we should do something together”  “Let’s shoot the clothing line that he had going” and  I was like, “Man, I’m down, Let’s go. “ So we had lunch, kind of brainstormed, and then we knocked out that photo shoot. And it’s just something about Dash. There was just this gentle, loving and kind, great sense of humor, like  people that you want to be around. So we just connected on so many different levels early on and became best friends years before Hav a Sole. And Hav a Sole Hit, and I told him about the idea and he said “I got 20 pairs for you here” So from there, he’s just from day one. He was out there giving out pairs of shoes. I think that the third or fourth pair that everyone out was a Nike Blazer SB that was donated by Dash. And we threw that on social media. And, you know, it’s dope to see that your donation ends up on somebody that might need it. So I do remember that his nickname was barefoot and he’s been here since Day one. He’s now the Operations Manager. He has a salary. It’s tough right now because of COVID-19 currently happening throughout the world and it’s this huge pandemic and it’s tough for a lot of people. But, we’re very fortunate enough to take a salary during this time and still do the work. We have a program called Stay Home and Stay Active, where we challenge some of our youth partners to work out and do a reading program. And you know, when they are finished with their workout program, we will deliver a pair of shoes to their doorstep. And it’s been a way for us to still be engaged with the community because I feel like Dash and I are similar where we need the human connection and even though we’re not hugging them like we used to or shaking hands like we used to and we’re wearing gloves and a mask. It’s still there – you can still see the joy behind the mask, in their eyes when you know we deliver a pair of shoes. So, we’re still staying creative with how we help the community.”

Question: I was just digging through your website the other day and it seems like you guys go on your road trips together a lot . Do you have a favorite memory of Dash during one of your Hav A Sole trips that you want to share with the listeners?

Rikki -”One of my favorite moments would be from Road Trip #1 back in 2014. We’re going to go to San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.  We met one of our biggest supporters, Steven Simon. He’s based in San Francisco. He’s the co-owner of the Indiana Pacers. And we just wanted to talk to him. We shared one of the videos. We just had a great casual meeting. He stated “However I can support, let me know” He also said “You are going to be in Portland, the Pacers are going to play in Portland in a couple days! Let me see if I can get you tickets!” So that was going to mean that we had to skip Seattle because the game was in Portland a few days later than what we expected to be and we wanted to keep a quick timeline. So we decided “Let’s skip Seattle, and we’ll just go from Portland to Salt Lake City” Then Steve called me and said “Hey, sorry, I wasn’t able to get tickets. They’re all tied up.”

So we put Seattle back on the map. I remember we were just at the California/Oregon border and we’re at the Shell gas station, Dash and I were getting gas for the minivan and this guy walked up. He said “You got $5?”. I looked around asking myself “Where’d that come from?” And I was like “No, man. Sorry”  Then, five minutes later, he’s said “Hey, you got some weed?” and was from a different direction was like, “What the hell?”  Same voice.  But said “No man. Sorry, I don’t”. And then he comes up and he starts talking to Dash. But he’s rhyming all of his words in mid conversation and Dash said “Oh, that’s a cool freestyle!” He responded “I’m not freestyling, I’m just talking to you” And we asked his name. He said “My name is Harlan” I said “Harlan, man” – I looked down at his feet cause you know, a lot of people – the first thing you do is look at somebody’s shoes.  So I looked down and they’re all muddy. His socks are all muddy and we said “Harlan, we might have an extra pair of shoes for you if you could use them” Harlan responded “Yeah, that would be cool”

We pulled out a pair of Jordan Retro 6’s in size 11 and laced him up. I asked him if we can grab a photo and I still remember that photo. He kind of looks up to the sky, both hands are out, towards the sky. It was a great photo. We had this great moment. We got back into the van and as we were getting ready to pull off, he knocked on the window, we rolled down the window and Harlan said “Hey man, Jesus told me, Don’t go to Seattle ” We said goodbye then rolled up the window. Dash looked at me and asked “did you tell him where we were going?” I replied “No, man, did you?” And in that moment, we both agreed that we had to skip Seattle again. It’s just something crazy. Those little moments that you never know are there unless you pay close attention. That’s one of the moments that was like “Wow, this is really crazy, but what is it crazy? I don’t think so”

Question: So that was the road trip back in 2014. Road trip #1. Fast Forward to almost six years, $1.5 million worth of shoes given to the communities across the country. You adapted to COVID-19. How did you figure that piece out? Because the world has stopped but you can pull up Instagram and the smiles are there and love is being shared. You are still connected and inspiring the community. 

Rikki- “That’s a good question. It’s the passion. I mean, you still have to love one another and find a way to do it.  I mean, you still have to love one another and find a way to do it. Even though I can’t hug my mom or see all my other friends and it’s challenging. But you still have to find a way to lift people up. And I think that it was just a natural thing for us to say. The kids were having a tough time right now they’re all out of school. How can we uplift them as well and keep them inspired and motivated? Because I know for me, I’m really not feeling that motivated right now. So maybe me trying to motivate them will actually motivate myself. And I feel like it just was a natural fit to say: Okay, all right, kids, you work out, you read a book, we will deliver a pair of shoes straight to your doorstep. And then we had an event yesterday where we delivered 40 pairs to the staff at Simple Wholesome,  which is a local LA Mom and Pop grocery store/restaurant. Just to let them know, that we know that they’re staying open for this community and providing a safe place for people to grab their essential items. We see you and we just want to lift you up and say, “Hey, we appreciate the work that you’re doing remaining open even though it’s dangerous, here’s some sneakers”. We were able to partner with Foot Locker on that program. And I think that’s a great thing, Foot Locker and Hav A Sole come together to be able to put shoes on some of the essential workers out there that are working every day and the crazy thing is that they’re short staffed.  I mean, so they can only have so many people because their numbers are hurting. And so this means the shorter amount of people still need to put in the hours and more. So they’re working overtime. And for us to come by and drop off some cool sneakers, I think was the highlight. And I look forward to hitting up some more grocery stores to just let them know that.”

Question: Is there anything Retail Managers/Retail Leaders, really anyone out there can do if they want to have a bigger impact on local non profit organizations?

Rikki- “I think it starts with their team in store, the way they communicate, the way they motivate their team, It has to start there. They have to be willing to want to lift up their team. From there, it can dive into the community. There are millions of great organizations out there, there are a lot. So, pick what you’re passionate about. If it’s saving the planet, go save the planet. You just gotta do it. You’ve got to get out there and make it happen. Talk to the people. Even though we’re supposed to be divided right now, try to find a way to stay connected. Hop on your FaceTime and just dive into the community because there’s a lot of people still doing the work, and when this is all over, there’s still work to be done. You know, there’s still a lot of sadness out there, and we gotta just counter that with kindness. My advice would be start with your team in store and then motivate your team to dive into the community.”

Question: Is there any events that are going on that you want to share? Any programs going on that you want to share? Giving Tuesday is coming up in a few days on May 5th, how can people join Hav A Sole on Tuesday May 5th and help spread the message? 

Rikki- “We have a goal of raising $5000. And what we want to do with that goal is match each dollar with one rep from the Hav A Sole Stay Home and Stay Active Workout program. So what we’re going to do with whatever number we raise, we’re going to have teams from all over the United State post on their social media, tag Hav A Sole with their workout and tally it up to the number that we raise. So that means, you can either donate to the monetary goal or you can donate towards the match goal with your exercise and tag Hav A Sole- we will retag and repost to share.”

Favorite Rikki Quote #1

  • “It’s the passion, you have to still love one another and find a way to do it. Even though I can’t hug my mom or see all my other friends, it’s challenging but you still have to find a way to lift people up”

Favorite Rikki Quote #2

  • “It starts with the team in store, the way they communicate, the way they motivate their team. It HAS to start there. They have to be willing to want to lift up their team. From there, it can dive into the community” 

Favorite Rikki Quote #3

  • “Those little moments that you never know are there unless you pay close attention. That’s one of the moments that was like “Wow, this is really crazy, but what is it crazy? I don’t think so”

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