Last year was dominated by the proliferation COVID-19 cases, dangerous wildfires and political upheaval. Meanwhile, a lot of people were stuck at home feeling restless.
During that period of helplessness, Boston-raised 27-year-old Leah Tavares wanted to contribute something good to society. In October, she founded what would become a special, personal project as well as a way to make change for communities in need.
“Through the entire year being quarantined, I just kept thinking of ways that I could help other people, or just be involved,” Tavares, a Boston College alumna, said. “It just came to me one day that I wanted to give back, and so I just kicked things off.”
From that desire to give back emerged “Other 1s Foundation.” Named after its purpose, the organization collects pairs of all-white Nike Air Force 1 sneakers — sometimes considered a “one-time-wear” — and gives them to those in need of shoes.
“Within the Black community, this one sneaker is such a stable,” Tavares said. “I chose this sneaker because those old pairs, let’s repurpose them, let’s give them away, let’s give them back to other people who might need them.”
The organization seeks to collect used Air Force 1s from individuals willing to donate. There are currently two drop-off locations — one in Boston at Laced on Mass. Ave and the other at Famous Nobodys in the Bronx, New York City.
Tavares aims to collect 100 pairs for her first round of donations that will be sent to five local organizations in Cape Verde, where her family is from.
“I always wanted to help out my country, and I know this is just one small way,” Tavares said. “I definitely want to do a lot more back home.”
Representatives from For Life Inc. and members from its Cape Verde For Life project will help distribute the shoes to young children and families, she said.
Tracey Concilio, a long-time friend of Tavares’ who donated to the organization, said it’s important to help low-income families who do not have access to products, such as Air Force 1s, that people in the United States often take for granted.
“Everyone wears Air Forces over here,” Concilio said. “People will wear them, maybe once or twice, and then they become creased or white Air Forces tend to get dirty really quick. So most of us … won’t wear them again or some people even just throw them out.”
Beside donating shoes in-person, donators can ship their shoes, buy gift cards to shoe stores so Tavares can buy a brand-new pair, donate to the organization directly or purchase merchandise Tavares made — 100 percent of the funds will go to Other 1s.
Amrisa Niranjan, a brand director at Unilever — a global consumer goods company — said she wanted to support Other 1s because, as an immigrant from Guyana, Niranjan, she had received sneakers from the United States.
“One of the first pairs of sneakers that I got from [my parents] was a pair of Air Force 1s,” Niranjan said. “When I saw that she was sending Air Force 1s to kids in a post-colonial country, I thought ‘Oh that’s like me.’”
She said when she got her pair, it was a “big flex” to have Nikes, and she wanted to help give kids the same joy she experienced as a child.
To contribute to the cause, Niranjan purchased a pair of child-sized sneakers — some around the same shoe size she was upon receiving her first pair. The idea of receiving a brand-new set of Air Force 1s was special to Niranjan, she said, who had — literally — been in those children’s shoes before.
“It was nice to imagine myself giving the same sneakers that were sent to me to another little kid or a little girl or person,” she said. “That was basically my motivation.”
Niranjan said people can judge others based on their footwear. Even though she said she believes people should see each other for who they are, having a pair of Nikes can “boost your confidence.”
Other 1s is currently limited to two drop-off locations, but Tavares said she expects it to grow in the future. Through her organization, she said she wants the rest of the world to give back however they can.
“I hope to be able to just show that giving back is cool,” Tavares said. “We should always give back, it’s part of our humanity.”