Giving Back, Great Stuff

Do the Right Thing

Donate your unworn shoes, and check out the sweet deal at Gems

December 6, 2009

We don’t really need the Sole of Seattle press release to tell us that Americans have too much of everything, including shoes, still, the figure gives you pause. It’s estimated that we have 1.5 billion pair of unworn, unused shoes languishing in our closets.

If that number make you feel like a jerk, check this out: Every nine seconds, Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based non-profit, gets one of those pair to a person who really needs them. So far, 5.5 million have been donated in 125 countries including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal and the United States. Not bad, but now Seattle’s being asked to step in.

We’re on the jump-end of the local version of a Sole4Soul drive; Gems Sneakershop owner John Mooney, with the help of Katie Oertli, brought the effort to Seattle and got Evo, Ian, Resoul, the Sneakery, EQPT, Rock Paper Scissors, Shoes-n-Feet, Soul Food, and Zebra Club in on the game.

Shoes will be collected at the above mentioned now through the end of December. Seattle sneakers, boots, loafers, and lace-ups will be funneled through the national chapter and distributed to those who need them — warm weather shoes to the needy in warm weather countries, and so forth.

You might consider bringing your unworn kicks to Gems, where a seasonal pop-up shop sweetens the deal.

Stark would be a good way to describe the contrast between the look of a new holiday season candy store and the permanent collection deeper inside Gems. From the street, the sneaker dealer looks like Santa’s sweet tooth workshop, and those who don’t know to ask about the actual shoes won’t even know that behind the wall of Swedish fish and gobstoppers, limited edition New Balances, the latest by Timberland (Mooney’s former employer), and the kicks that came out of the collaboration between Alexander McQueen and Puma are treated like, well, gems in a climate-controlled museum setting.

Mooney says only those in the know will ask where the kicks are at, and when they do, he’ll give them the same set of suspicious instructions (the are-you-setting-me-up? feeling only lasts for a second) that got me to the showroom. It’s a bit like the board game Clue and the movie Willy Wonka inspired the whole thing.

The buzz-generating pop-up is kind of an odd juxtaposition with the secret society-angle on that which is actually Gems’ bread and butter. But then that complexity goes hand-in-hand with how Mooney does business — not many shop owners purposefully seek out practically hidden locations on the lost end of town, and while many are looking to e-commerce as a survival mecanism, he’s sticking to his splash page-only stance.

Even for all his forward-edge footwear trendsetting and post-modern marketing (I heard two BBC news analysts calling pop-up shops the New Big Thing this weekend, so that means the trend – we’ve already seen it here and here btw – is either over or it’s about to get really crazy for the holiday season), what Mooney values most is community.

He wants you to come in, hang out for awhile, and have an experience. Maybe buy some shoes – or, let me not forget why I started this post to begin with – maybe donate some.

So, add good will and good, chilled out times to your holiday shopping to-do and to-do-what’s-right lists. Clean out the dark corners under your bed and in your closet, bring what’s harvested in to Gems, and, while you’re there, grab a handful of Lemon Drops and check out what’s behind Door # 2.

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