TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas - A couple of Lake Travis high school friends teamed up to start a nonprofit, The Snkr Truck, to give shoes to kids and adults in marginalized communities. “I founded the Snkr Truck in 2019 and today we've given back 265 pairs,” Souptik ‘Soupy’ De says.
Unlike most, De and his best friend and Snkr Truck associate director, Arthur Blake spent their Labor Day weekend giving back to the community.
“I've always been an avid shoe lover, I remember, I didn't have too many friends or anything when I first moved here and my parents gave me a new pair of shoes, kind of like these, and I remember how much it changed me because they gave me a lot of confidence to walk into school and be myself and not be stressed out that I didn't have anyone, that I was kind of alone," De remembers.
De has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. He started off selling shoes in eighth grade but as time went by, he knew his shoe business was meant for more. "That kind of inspired me to go beyond that and kind of unite the sneaker community into something really positive,” De says. “This is what I've gotten so far, it's been a big journey and I'd rather be doing this than being out at the lake."
Their work far exceeds what most people think 16 and 17-year-olds are doing.
"I started looking into it and I saw that in Austin there weren’t too many opportunities to give back shoes," De says. "So many of these retailers and businesses, they have hundreds of shoes in the back inventory and no one collects them."
De says he might be the founder of the project, but it takes two young men to run the operation. That’s where his best friend Arthur Blake comes in. “When Woupy came to me and he started talking about how he started a sneaker truck and how he was planning on giving back to Austin as much as possible, I instantly knew that that was something I could really get behind," Blake says.
These are big lessons to learn from teenagers, but there's an even bigger lesson in working together. In a time when race is at the forefront of our culture, these two are embracing race.
De is a first-generation Indian American and Blake’s mother is from Venezuela. "I know it starts with one pair at a time and it starts in Austin and helping the community that I'm in right now,” De says. “But I know that one day I can go back to where my parents are from Calcutta, India and from there do the same thing."
With their different cultures, they feel lucky to be friends.
"[Arthur] has become so used to my household so my mom has kind of taken him in as a second son that's what she calls him,” De said. “I've been exposed to some aspects of his life that are different from mine and I love that because it's something I would never get to see if I didn't have that opportunity."
The teenagers wrap up at the storage center in Lakeway and make the half-hour drive for delivery at Foster Village in North Austin.
Despite their mature business venture, a ride in the car with these two will prove they’re still teenagers. "He always misses the turns!” Blake says jokingly about his friend as he explains the first time they met. “We had two mutual friends. He knew them because they're in his grade. I knew them through boy scouts, so we just ended up rooming together through them and then we've just been friends since then."
And when these two are not doing deliveries, they’re just being kids. “We went to a big concert in San Antonio and that's probably my favorite memory," De says.
"Mala Luna, it was 2019 and we saw The Baby, Playboi Carti, kind of all of our favorite artists,” Blake says.
“I remember seeing him after school the next morning and I was like that was fun, I have a calculus test today so that's nice," De says laughing as they pull into Foster Village in North Austin.
As they begin unloading the shoes, they say it’s important to recognize some kids don't get the same chances they do and they’re hoping to make the gap a little bit smaller one sole at a time.
“What really gets me going is what we're working with… shoes,” De says. “Shoes are so impactful because when you do get a new pair, it doesn't matter how old they are you can be an infant, you can be elderly you still get that same smile on your face when you open the box and it's all crinkly can you take out the shoe and if it's a little tight, you run down the hall, you start running down the halls just to make sure that they still work and that bouncy feeling, I just know that when I work on this, I can give that back and that keeps me going and makes me more motivated to grow the Snkr Truck as much as possible."
"We're so fortunate to live in the area we are and to go to the school that we go to and every time we go to Austin and donate from the Snkr Truck to organizations were able to see like people who are less fortunate than us and it really really has made an impact on me personally and it makes me realize like how fortunate and amazing it is that I'm able to live in this area, so I just want to give back to other people so they can still try to feel the same happiness and being as fortunate as I am, so I just want to give back to make other people's lives better," Blake says.
The Snkr Truck just got a $15,000 donation from Shopify, they're now working on how to grow their social entrepreneur venture.