The DeKalb Difference Blog

The Sneaker Boutique In DeKalb County With The Mission To Educate Coders

On the bustling streets of downtown Decatur, one business stands out for its unique approach to fashion, gaming and community building: Soleplay.

Soleplay, under the leadership of Owner TJ Bennett, is not just a sneaker retail destination; it’s a community catalyst focused on the motto “fashion, gaming, innovation.”

So what is Soleplay exactly? Located at 106 East Ponce De Leon Ave., Decatur, GA 30030, on one side it’s a retail storefront with sneakers and fashion apparel. On the other, it’s a gaming lounge with dozens of computers where people can play games and learn how to code. In order to spark interest in technology among young people, particularly in the Black community, Bennett leverages interest in fashion and sneakers to promote STEM learning and bridge the digital divide.

As TJ told the local news outlet Decaturish, “Whether it is coding, graphic design, or playing professionally, we want the community to know about the opportunities to help minimize the digital gap for minorities in the gaming space. With gaming being projected to be a 300+ billion-dollar industry by 2025, we can look forward to the many job opportunities this growth will bring.”

Soleplay’s journey began with TJ’s love for iconic sneaker brands like Nike and Jordan. And he realized he had an opportunity to connect to people’s love for fashion through the store and act as a catalyst to get young people interested in coding. His set up also addresses the disparities in digital and mental health in marginalized groups. With a background in communications and a master’s degree in public administration, Bennett understands the power of meaningful connections and community engagement.

“When we connect with our community, we create ripples of positive change that resonate far and wide, making our home a better place, one pair of sneakers at a time,” Bennett said. “Breaking down barriers to STEM isn’t just about the future; it’s about shaping the present for the next generation and uplifting underserved communities today. By igniting the spark of curiosity and possibility in young minds, we empower them to dream big, break barriers and redefine what’s achievable.”

At Soleplay, people can learn crucial coding skills, take part in gaming competitions and hear about gaming-related job opportunities. Collaborations with schools, like Decatur High School, help provide access to opportunities that may not be available elsewhere.

Soleplay recently collaborated with the Atlanta Braves, 100 Girls of Code and Microsoft for a  baseball cleat design competition. Fifteen teenaged designers, all girls, created custom cleats for Braves’ player Ozzie Albies. The designs on the cleats told the story of how Albies came from the tiny island of Curaçao to the Atlanta Braves.

Other ways Soleplay interacts with the community are through pop-ups, like one at Atlanta Fashion Week and a collaboration with the Atlanta Falcons and Microsoft for the “My Cause, My Cleats” initiative, which will give 10 high school students ages 14-18 the chance to design custom cleats for three Atlanta Falcons players.

Mental health is another area Soleplay has tackled through its “Soul Circle” initiative. This mental health awareness program includes Instagram live sessions, meditation classes, and yoga events, held on Saturday mornings. Soleplay provides mental health resources during sneaker releases, placing cards in every box shipped out or sold, offering information and support right in the box.

Soleplay focuses on financial literacy with a program called Fashion and Finance. The company also collaborates with the unconventional Aristotle Varner, a stock trader who uses his expansive social media following to educate people about the stock market and investing. Varner owns a multimillion-dollar stock trading and sports betting community called Honey Drip Network and is the author of Beginner’s Guide to Investing. Soleplay teaches its customers, games and coders how to invest in stocks and comprehend the costs involved by using shoe companies as a realistic example. For instance, sales associates at Soleplay will present a price comparison between buying shares in Nike and buying a pair of sneakers. The long-term objective is to empower people to make educated financial decisions.

Soleplay started in Lawrenceville, Georgia, in 2014 and today has outposts in Decatur and Dothan, Alabama. “During my visit to scout for a location for Soleplay in Decatur, I had the privilege of engaging with local community leaders, such as Ed and Shirley Bayliss, and found myself not only welcomed but inspired by the community gatherings, the residents and the flourishing neighboring businesses,” TJ said. “DeKalb County embodies the warmth and intimacy of a tight-knit community paired with vibrant urban life. This blend makes DeKalb County the perfect setting for businesses like Soleplay, committed to forging meaningful connections within the community.”

TJ also credits his investors, Raj Guidwani, Vini Kirpalani, Sanjai Kirpalani and Neo Rama, for backing his objective to make a positive impact on the community.

Soleplay is a powerful example of how a retail business can use fashion to focus on community education and engagement, provide opportunities, and make a positive difference in the lives of the people it serves.

Soleplay Decatur 106 E. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur, GA 30030. For more information and find out about upcoming events, visit Soleplay.

If you have a business you’d like to locate in DeKalb County, please contact Decide DeKalb to find out how more about how businesses thrive in DeKalb.