”What if socks could change the world?”
That’s the simple question that Josh Turner asked his friends over a beer. The budding entrepreneur was looking for a way improve the world we live in and he found it in a simple everyday item.
The result was Stand4Socks, a social enterprise that sells world-class technical socks while also giving back to various causes from gender equality to children’s education in war-torn countries.
Each pair of socks is tied to a worthy cause. For example, if you buy a pair of socks under the homeless range, a thick durable pair will be given to someone in need.
It’s a simple idea that is gaining traction. We caught up with Josh to find out more about his journey to date.
Did you always want to build a social enterprise?
I never actively thought about starting one. I think for me it’s the millennial mindset. We are more ethically and socially conscious about how products are made and the impact they have on the world. It was almost like, why wouldn’t I give back? Why wouldn’t I make the product ethically?
Tell us about the causes that you’re helping.
When we started, it was all about the United Nations Global Goals and international impacts. Initially, they were the biggest causes that we were addressing. We were a year and a bit in before we launched homelessness as part of what we do.
We were walking to work in Manchester past at least 20 or 30 homeless people per day. We were feeling great about ourselves and the people we were helping in 9 different countries across 12 different causes but actually ignoring those closest to home and also in need. It’s now 60% of what we do.
Has your rapid growth surprised you?
I think it did at the time but when you logically think about it, it makes sense. If someone can buy a pair of socks and vaccinate three kids against measles why wouldn’t they? I think consumers really connect with what we do.
Why do you think the company has been so successful?
I think the concept of using socks to change the world is something that people want to be a part of. It’s not something that you come across every day. It stands out. We wear socks every day and they are usually pretty dull and boring but these socks are the opposite of that.
It’s not revolutionary. We’re taking charities and socks, dull things that have been around for years. We’re combining them together in a way that’s exciting.
What’s been the company’s biggest achievement so far?
It’s hard to say. Every couple of months there is something else that catches us off guard. Winning the Great British Highstreet Entrepreneur last year was great because we’re more online so it was a shock to be even short-listed in that category, let alone to win it.
What challenges have you faced?
I think communicating what we do is a challenge because there’s a legacy of people buying socks in Primark for a pound or they can buy Paul Smith socks for twenty pounds. People don’t realise the quality and the ethics that go into how our socks are made.
People often say I could go buy ten pairs of socks in Primark and give them to homeless people. You could, but that’s not really addressing the problem and it’s supporting unsustainable supply chains. That’s always a challenge. The product we are selling is in a mass market where we are competing against all the big brands.
Finance is also always a challenge. We have had no investment to date so we’re still very much a bootstrap business.
Do you think sustainable fashion is a growing industry?
100%! I think it is driven by millennials. I think older generations do engage with it but probably not at the same level. I’m not sure if it’s because of social media but there is far more transparency. People would rather pay a bit more money for something proper and they expect brands to act a certain way. It’s no longer a nice thing to do, it’s a must-do for employees who want to work for companies and for consumers who want to buy from brands.
What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting their own social enterprise?
A lot of people spend far too long researching, analysing and overthinking everything. If you go out and just start doing it you are going to learn what’s right and what’s wrong a lot quicker. You need to be able to change and pivot towards what works. You also need a clear purpose and vision of why you’re doing it. The model of the business might change but that shouldn’t change the focus.
What’s the one thing you wish people knew about your business?
It sounds silly when I say it but there’s a lot of sock tech that we put into our socks. 80% of your sock drawer will not have the things that our socks have. Because of the social side, design and everything else people don’t look at that aspect.
People don’t want their socks to be uncomfortable. They don’t want their socks to have holes in them. We use technology, innovation, materials and design to stop all those things and to make them better. A lot of people just see us as, A. design and B. cause, but there is actually a lot of underlying technology.
What does the future hold for Stand4Socks?
From the very start, we wanted to create a world where every transaction however big or small has a positive impact on the world. If we can prove that something as boring and dull as socks can change the world then anything can. The future for us is anything aligned with that. We’re looking at future products like underwear and hats. Stand4Ventures which is what Stand4Socks goes under is looking at lots of different businesses that all have a shared vision but are doing it in their own direction and way.