A Passion for Socks Inspired Hippy Feet to Support the Homeless

People become entrepreneurs for all sorts of reasons. Some have an unwavering drive to bring a new product or idea to market while some see it as an alternative to working for someone else. For Michael Mader, it was about making a difference.

While taking a semester off from college to heal following a traumatic brain injury, Mader was inspired to create a business that would support the homeless.

With the help of his family and friends, Mader got back on his feet, returned to college and picked up the thread of this dream. The experience taught Mader how essential a strong support network is for people to overcome unforeseen circumstances. Without his, he feared he would have wound up on the streets. It was a wake-up call.

“That injury lead me to believe that I was capable of more,” Mader said. “And I wanted to do something that was bigger than anything I had done before and bigger than myself.”

Step by step

In 2016, Mader launched Hippy Feet, with socks as a vehicle to give back and treat social need.

For every pair of socks sold, Hippy Feet, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, donates a pair of socks to a homeless shelter. Through a partnership with YouthLink, the company helps provide jobs for homeless youth.

“What we’re offering is not just about the paycheck or the income that we provide them,” Mader said. “It’s about the opportunity that we help create for them.”

The young adults train on basic job skills and learn roles like inventory management and package design. Through the employment program, participants gain confidence and their work experience helps the young adults find more consistent part-time work elsewhere, or even a full-time job.

Hippy Feet is a public benefit corporation, essentially a for-profit business that prioritizes its mission.

“Our goal is to prevent homelessness, support those experiencing homelessness and educate the general public about how we can better support the population of homeless,” Mader said.

Learn more about Mader and Hippy Feet here.

This video is part of “Living for the City,” a Rewire initiative made possible by The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and was produced in partnership with Social Alliance Enterprise Twin Cities.

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