Two weeks ago, Socks for Happy People, a philanthropic social venture launched their line of socks-not just socks, but a fun, inspired, joyful product. I had the opportunity of meeting Tom Minter, the co-founder with Richard Taylor, in London, days before their launch. As I sat in the Paddington Station Starbucks recording my interview with Tom amidst blaring music in the background, I was amazed at the unbelievable passion, enthusiasm , visionary and innovative thinking of the co-founder of the brilliant social venture, Socks for Happy People. Socks for Happy People is a business that was created out of inspiration and love of socks, (no less,) and from the insight into the opportunity to create a brand in a market where no one brand stands out.
Socks for Happy People has finally launched its online business selling bright, colorful and inspirational socks after a long journey of ups and downs. In this three part interview we get to hear about the hopes of creating the best sock brand ever; the struggles of starting a social business; and the inspiration and vision for fulfilling a mission of creating good for the world with a successful and thriving enterprise.
In earlier posts we have written about the essential characteristics of a social entrepreneur, those of grit, passion, perseverance and business smarts. Tom and Richard have all those qualities, plus they have happy feet.
Q.Tell me about how you started Socks for Happy People.
I’ve been a sock fan for quite awhile. I love interesting socks and people would comment on my socks. Where did you get those? A lot of people love great socks but very few wore them. Not very many people wake up in the morning and say, I got to go and buy myself some great socks today. If they are faced in front of them, well yeh, I’ll buy them. So, I thought it would be fun to make a really cool sock brand.
Q. I am really interested in the social aspect. Tell me how this began, what was the inspiration.
A. When I finished with my other business. I thought, what is it I really want to do next? and I’m a sock guy. And I believe that you want to something that you are really passionate about and when you get out of bed on the morning. You say, you really want to do this thing. Despite that you can’t think of a single sock brand. So we thought we would try to position ourselves as the most brilliant and magnificent sock company in the history of the world and also with a social aspect in mind. I feel that my personal mission is to help support the universal consciousness. I feel that that an organization for an entrepreneur is no more than a vehicle to magnify your personal mission. There are a lot of people that really feel they have a personal mission to do some great stuff, but as inspiring as our personal missions are, as one person we can only meet a few people a day, so it’s quite limited. But when you have an organization you have the potential of affecting millions of people because you can imbue your mission your passion and purpose and then magnify it to the world. I met Richard when he was in a university and I taught a class there. I gave him a call and we met for coffee. At first he asked: so what, it’s just sock? Well, as we explored it more, he came to understand the power of creating a business they way we would want a business to run.
It’s been an interesting journey. Two and half year-long journey, very frustrating at times. Longer than we had really planned. One of the things when you are creating a social business and an ethical business, you are faced with the choice, do you take the quick and easy path or do we stick with what we believe in. Here’s the thing, do we really believe and do we really live the principles that this company was created on?
We traveled around the world because we wanted find the right place where our socks would be made and that it was congruent with our values. Originally we went to India and our director of sustainability, he has a team in India, that do all his research and development in sustainable materials, was originally working with his team, exploring different avenues for us, but that didn’t work out. Because our socks are not traditional socks, some of the designs are non traditional, they are quite intricate-and later we went to China and we were trying things out in China as well, we found that our standards were higher than they were dealing with. In China they do 50,000 orders. All the companies weren’t set up to work with us, and they really needed to believe in the company and recognize that we were doing something more than just socks.
So even though we were working with companies in India and China what became apparent was that, they were not great innovators. We would say let’s do this, and they would go away and make changes, and it was lost in translation and the bits weren’t right. Every round would take weeks, and it was weeks go by and all of the sudden a year later we didn’t have what we wanted.
Q. I thought I saw on your blog that you were working with a factory in England, looking at the color samples and dyes.
That was the next phase. This wasn’t as simple as we thought. We thought, these companies make hundreds of thousands of socks, it should be easy. So let’s bring it back to UK, it would probably be a little bit more. It became apparent that there is only one manufacturer in the UK left. His operations are so small that it wasn’t right for us. We now have a factory that we work with, they own shares in the factory in India. So we can go to the team and we can discuss exactly what we want and we can make the samples in the UK and then it all gets stored on a computer chip, they e-mail it over, the factory in India has exactly the same machine, and they make the socks exactly how they are designed.
Socks For Happy People is no different than other startups in the uphill battles they have had to face of finding the right manufacturer, getting funding, structuring the pricing and tapping into the personal qualities of perseverance and grit.
After all, like Richard said: "it is, just socks." The story continues in part II of how this startup incorporated a vision to be a triple bottom line company, doing good for the world while doing well with just socks.