Good sneakers take you good places. That’s the motto of a dynamic trio, high school seniors Curtis Harrison, Kellen Newman, and Spencer Boyd, who founded and are leading the nonprofit Sole Bros Inc. In June, they returned from a second mission trip to Jamaica outfitting youth with nearly new sneakers and hosting their Be The Brand Workshop alongside the Rujohn Nation Foundation.
You can change the world with a dream and some friends.While many adults think of Generation Z as “lost,” Newman argues, “Our generation is not lost, we just seek to be inspired.” And because the Sole Bros recognize that there is a need for inspiration amongst their peers, they have taken on the reins to #BetheINSPIRATION.
Harrison, Boyd and Newman began Sole Bros Inc. in 2015 while in eighth grade at Seven Hills (Harrison and Boyd) and Walnut Hills (Newman). They were riding to a polo match and talking about something near and dear to their hearts: shoes.
Boyd's mom was driving that day and she was lamenting hearing them talk about wanting the greatest and latest sneaker release while knowing that there are children in Jamaica wearing shoes made out of cardboard. And that is when a light went off in their heads, specifically Harrison’s. He said, “I couldn’t imagine that there were kids that had never experienced the joy of slipping their feet into a brand new, fresh pair of sneakers.” They knew then they had to do something.
Conveniently enough, many entrepreneurs and philanthropists were at the polo match. When the trio told them that they were considering collecting and donating sneakers to kids in Jamaica, the entrepreneurs and philanthropists proceeded to tell them that they needed to raise funds, get a shipping partner, and create a website. No one told them they couldn’t do it; they just told them how to do it.
The three young men sat down for hours comprising their brand guidelines. They wanted to captivate the senses in their brand values. They wanted the brand to smell like the rubber soles of sneakers, to look like elite athletes, and to feel like they were changing lives. After comprising their brand guidelines, the Sole Bros started collecting gently used and nearly new sneakers in the spring of 2015.
In just one year, with the help of their shipping partner, DHL, they collected and shipped over 1,000 shoes for children in Jamaica. But that large number didn’t come easy. They had to plan and set up the logistics of the entire process.
The group first called upon their classmates to join them in collecting shoes at their local schools. Over time, they have hosted shoe drives at various churches, high schools, and elementary schools. After they’ve collected the shoes they then host shoe-cleaning events, where they engaged groups of 15-30 high school students to diligently help sort, clean, and bag sneakers, adding inspirational quotes to each bag. When asked what is to be expected at the typical Sole Bro volunteer event, board member Breiland Anderson said, “Come prepared to work and change lives—also have fun!” They’ve even engaged volunteers from elementary schools as young as six and seven years old to write their inspirational quote cards. These cards include encouraging words like, “Be happy, be bright, be you.”
Anderson witnessed the blossoming of the Sole Bro’s ambitious plan as a volunteer at their various pop-ups, shoe cleanings, and fundraisers. “Spencer, Kellen, and Curtis were actually making an impact and I wasn’t doing anything. So I figured I should try to figure out how I can help.” And after volunteering for over two years, Anderson joined the Sole Bros board in 2017.
Just one year after their ambitious launch, the Sole Bros ventured out on their first mission trip with Rujohn Nation, an organization dedicated to providing various workshops and scholarships to under-resourced students across Jamaica. The founders of the organization, King Bach (of Vine and Netflix fame) and his sister Christina Bachelor, invited the young teens to share their story amongst the other philanthropists and celebrities on the trip. Not only did the boys wow their audience, but they also inspired the local children. Their hope was to encourage athleticism through the sneakers for students without the resources to access them on their own.
Since their carpool ideation session, the Sole Bros have shipped over 6,000 pairs of sneakers to kids in need in both Montego Bay and Kingston, Jamaica, the Volta region of Ghana, and both Houston and Beaumont, Texas in the wake of the Hurricane Harvey flooding. In 2017 they became self-published authors with a children’s book entitled Sole Bros Change The World.
Becoming role models inspired the Sole Bros to create a roadmap for the next generation. Kids in Gen Z are digital natives, constantly consuming media that is trying to shape their values. They aren't struggling with knowing who they are, but with sticking to their true identity. The Sole Bros wanted to inspire into not only those they were helping, but those who they were enlisting to help as well.
Because they navigated branding at such a young age, the Sole Bros were well versed in brand identity, or the externalization values for both organizations and individuals. During their most recent mission trip in the summer of 2019, the group toured schools in Kingston and Montego Bay where they hosted their first Be The Brand Workshops. The workshops were to empower youth and teach them how to establish personal brand values for life.
The brand values were intended to help the students externalize their internal values despite their circumstances, including a lack of resources and support for nontraditional career paths. During the workshop, students created their own vision boards with clippings from various magazines to map out what they dreamed for their future. After creating a tangible model for their internal values, the students became more attuned with who they were.
Although they hold a united brand identity of elite athletes, scholars, and international philanthropists, they each bring a valuable skill set to the organization. Boyd prides himself in bringing the leadership component. “Leadership and a businessman’s mindset are things I always bring to the table,” Boyd said. “It’s helped to form the actual business side of our nonprofit.”
Anderson brings the logical, engineer thinking. He prides himself on being able to pack their large shipments of shoes efficiently and solve most of their task heavy issues.
Newman supplies creativity to the group. “Sometimes we can get caught up in the funding and logistics of events and I pride myself on bringing lots of energy and joy to get through those tough times.”
Harrison is the heart. He loves that they are changing kids’ lives through their philanthropic work.
The Sole Bros recently opened a Sneaker Closet in the West End neighborhood of Cincinnati. They distribute sneakers a few times a month to local kids in order to boost their self-confidence and prevent bullying based on unstylish shoes. In a world of fast fashion and never-ending trends, there is an increasing level of pressure on both parents and students to buy the latest and greatest sneaker releases. The Sole Bros work to alleviate the stress of fast fashion through their Sneaker Closet installments of nearly new and newly purchased sneakers.
The unique four are far more than international philanthropists. They each perform as elite athletes and young scholars at their high schools. Harrison, a senior at Seven Hills, has been playing varsity basketball since his freshman year and just received his first offer from an NCAA Division I school, the University of Buffalo. Newman, a senior at Lakota East, plays football, lacrosse, and runs track. Anderson plays lacrosse at Lakota East. Boyd, now a senior at Seven Hills, plays baseball and swims competitively. Imagine balancing year-round demanding sports and leading a nonprofit at just sixteen and seventeen-years old!
In just the past six months, volunteers for Sole Bros have contributed almost 3,000 hours of service, from speaking at various congregations, hosting a New Year’s fundraiser, spearheading the #Warm4theWinter volunteer event at the Urban League Center, hosting numerous shoe drives, and prepping and embarking upon their second mission trip to Jamaica.
As the Sole Bros approach their final year of high school, the group hopes to open three more Sneaker Closets across Cincinnati to continue to prevent bullying, encourage athleticism, and promote improved self-confidence. The group also will be hosting a back-to-school event for students in August. At the event, free shoes ranging from children’s to size 15, free haircuts, and food will be available to all students to promote self-confidence and improved self-esteem before the start of the new school year.
The Sole Bros’ mission to help under-resourced kids while also broadening their peer’s understanding of local and international need continues. “Kids our age have become a lot more aware of the disparities around the world because of us,” said Newman. “We’ve shown them that you are never too young to do something big.”
To learn more about volunteering with Sole Bros Inc, visit https://cincinnaticares.org/listing-item/sole-bros/.
Rikki Joiner joined the Sole Bros as their social media and branding expert in the Fall of 2018, managing their posts, creative directing video shoots, and spearheading numerous digital marketing campaigns. As a Walnut Hills High School AP scholar, she is also committed to design, photography, and digital marketing. She is a summer intern for Cincinnati Cares performing as the lead social media strategist for the Give One For Cincy digital marketing campaign. After her summer internship ends, she intends to continue volunteering with Cincinnati Cares as a lead social media strategist.