These Sneaker Ads Have a Larger Message to Send About Homelessness


Sometimes a fashion ad can actually do some good.

The latest ads for fresh kicks come courtesy of the Ollie Gang Shop, a sneaker store located in Bucharest, Romania. The photos, which Ollie Gang released on Facebook, feature covetable bright Nike, New Balance and ASICS sneakers, worn by individuals who appear to be homeless.

At a glance, the ads might appear to be exploitative, blithely using the gritty reality of homelessness as a backdrop for glamorous fashion (something, unfortunately, fashion photographers are prone to do). 

But Ollie Gang Shop was actually making a much more important point.

Ollie Gang Shop/Facebook
Ollie Gang Shop/Facebook
Ollie Gang Shop/Facebook
Ollie Gang Shop/Facebook
Ollie Gang Shop/Facebook
Ollie Gang Shop/Facebook

The Ollie Gang Shop's photos, shot by photographer Andrei Nemirschi, were part of a campaign to support the Street Store, a pop-up "shop" composed entirely of donated items for those in need to come and take — for free. 

Bucharest's Street Store, which Ollie Gang Shop called the "coolest street humanitarian event," was reportedly the 330th edition of the concept, which started in January 2014 in South Africa. 

The organizers of the original Street Store were co-workers at ad agency M&C Saatchi Abel. They were simply looking for a way to address the homelessness they saw every day in Cape Town, South Africa. 

"We often see homeless people, and we wanted to do something to help, but it's tough. Where do you take donations, and who gets them?" co-founder Kayli Vee Levitan told design site Between 10 and 5 in 2014. "We needed a middle ground — somewhere easy to donate and easy to receive."

"It makes it easy to make donations, as it is hosted in a public area, but it also dignifies the receiving process," she added. 

Realizing that homelessness isn't a problem limited to Cape Town, they decided to open up the concept to volunteers worldwide. That's led to pop-up Street Stores in São Paulo; San Diego, California; Winnipeg, Canada; Accra, Ghana; Manchester, England; Auckland, New Zealand; Herzliya, Israel and more.

The Street Store/Facebook

Bucharest is the latest city to create a Street Store to benefit its homeless population; the Romanian outpost took place earlier this month, on Oct. 3. 

"The guys organizing The Street Store in Bucharest wanted to do more for the homeless than donate used clothes and shoes, so they started asking brands if they would be willing to help," Alexandra Betiu of the Ollie Gang Shop told Mic. "Ollie Gang Shop was not only happy to donate 100 pairs of new sneakers at the event, but also came up with this unconventional call-to-action idea."

The resulting photos might have ignited some backlash, but drawing that attention was the point, according to those behind the campaign: to raise awareness of homelessness and get people to donate to the Bucharest Street Store pop-up.

"The people in the ads are indeed homeless," Betiu said. "They were happy to take part of our campaign in exchange for financial help, food and clothes and shoes donated at The Street Store by us, and by everybody that got in touch with the campaign and joined the cause."

Nov. 2, 2015, 10:53 a.m.: This story has been updated.