Rishika Bhalla, a recent graduate of our MA Design Management course, has kickstarted her career by encouraging ‘sneakerheads’ to spruce up their old shoes and give them a new life. We caught up with Rishika to find out more about her initiative, Sole Circle UK.
Can you tell us more about Sole Circle UK and how it started?
Sole Circle UK is all about cleaning up old unwanted sneakers and redistributing them to the wider community through our chosen charity partner Shoe Aid. It all stems from my involvement in sneaker culture. I’m a sneaker enthusiast and an avid collector, and I’m a part of a sneaker community through the well-known retailer Offspring. Offspring has several locations across the UK including a flagship store located in London Selfridges on Oxford Street.
Offspring creates virtual events and opportunities for ‘Sneakerheads’ to get involved with sneaker culture through their Instagram page. One of these was their Reel to Real competition which involved members of the community suggesting ideas on how they would push sneaker culture forward. As part of your entry you needed to put together a 30 second elevator pitch and a supporting Instagram post to explain your idea.
My idea was Sole Circle UK and I was shortlisted as one of the five top entries which then led to me having a meeting with the previously undisclosed brand partner, who turned out to be NIKE. To my surprise I ended up being chosen as the winner for this competition, and my initiative was supported by NIKE and Offspring as they helped me to kickstart what I’d proposed.
I’ve always been the type of person to think beyond my own life and focus on the wider world and during my studies at BCU, I became more drawn to projects that would make a positive impact. I want to help move things in a better direction, whether that be in terms of sustainability or helping underprivileged people.
What do you enjoy most about the project?
The highlight for me was introducing Sneakerheads to the potential they have when it comes to positively impacting other people's lives. Sneaker culture is often seen to revolve around having the most exclusive pair of sneakers available on the market, and there’s a stigma that Sneakerheads don't think about anything other than material goods. To see so many people from the community come together and take part, to support not only Sole Circle UK, but our official charity partner Shoe Aid, was a beautiful moment!
During lockdown, we held a virtual clean up session on Zoom with NIKE partner and shoe cleaning brand Jason Markk. Over 200 community members got involved from their own home and picked up some tips on how best to clean and take care of their sneakers to ensure they could be worn for a long time.
The biggest takeaway from this project is definitely the positive impact the sneaker community has had towards the issue of shoe poverty in the UK, but if we’re talking about the creative process then I definitely have to mention the photo shoots, they were a lot of fun!
What are your future plans for the initiative?
I want to continue contributing towards solving the issue of shoe poverty in the UK, as well as creating a space for sneakerheads to connect, not only to share their passion for sneakers, but to share their want and ability to make a difference in the world.
I hope that through Sole Circle UK I can introduce more people to what sneaker culture has to offer, and continue to pair that with charitable work that enables people from different walks of life to learn from one another and demonstrate gratitude.
Why should people support Sole Circle UK and how can they go about doing that?
We’re not only contributing towards solving the issue of shoe poverty but we’re also contributing towards the issue of sustainability. Millions of sneakers and shoes go to landfill on a weekly basis, but we are refurbishing and re-allocating these pairs, and giving them new life.
Sole Circle UK is all about community, and we aim to extend the hand of sneaker culture to those who may not already be involved, and allow them feel like there’s a place for them to be a part of our creative and compassionate community.
Hatchery runner up
STEAM Hatchery is STEAMhouse’s new programme for students and recent graduates to turn their business ideas into real-life ventures. Out of the 60 student participants involved, Sole Circle landed as a runnner-up, allowing Rishika a £2,000 prize to help the development of her business venture. Rishika was also awarded a place in STEAMhouse's Business Incubator, an invaluable chance to network and gain experience in a hub for startups.