This article is part of our series on small companies with a big mission in five areas: women, kids, community, planet, and hope. Click here for more articles in the series.
Chances are you have at least a couple of t-shirts that make a statement – not a statement about how much you spent, where you vacationed, or what teams you follow, but rather about the things you believe in.
From foster care to health care and pet rescue to racism, t-shirts are like wearable billboards where we can get something off our chest by literally putting it on our chest.
But when was the last time you made that kind of statement with your feet?
Voyce Threads is a social enterprise that’s all about raising awareness and sparking conversations through creatively mismatched socks. There are socks for animals, socks for teachers, socks for HIV prevention, and more.
Ankles that rankle and socks that sock it to ‘em? We had to find out more.
Creating Narrative “Threads”
It started in 2017 when Drew Shaw published a children’s book based on his experience with Teach for America. Rosewood Circle: The First Day was about a quirky, independent third grader navigating a new school in his mismatched socks.
Originally Drew thought of selling children’s socks designed to reinforce the book’s message about fitting in and standing out, but when he enrolled in a social impact accelerator called Seed Spot, his vision began to grow.
“If you’d told me 3 years ago that I’d have a sock company, I’d have been like ‘Shut up, I don’t know anything about socks,’” Drew laughs. But as an educator and a storyteller, he was drawn to the idea of finding a new way to make a point.
“Thinking about how people tell stories, they don’t use socks. There are tons of hats or t-shirts in the branding world, but not socks. So I thought it was a unique challenge to tell stories on a piece of apparel that doesn’t get noticed all the time.”
With mismatched patterns, distinctive colors, and bold designs, Voyce Threads has clearly figured out how to make sure socks get noticed. But then there’s another challenge: Once you have someone’s attention, what are you going to do with it?
Drew’s breakthrough idea was to partner with nonprofit organizations and use the socks to tell their story in some way. But it wasn’t enough simply to plaster an organization’s logo across a wearer’s ankles. That would be too obvious – a turnoff to some.
Drew’s storytelling leans toward parables rather than sermons, so the sock designs are abstract, even puzzling. The ambiguity is strategic, because it elicits the kind of questions that can start a conversation.
For instance, imagine the person sitting next to you is wearing eye-catching, mismatched socks. On one foot, there’s a bold houndstooth pattern. On the other are three balls of yarn. The scale of the design, the repeating horizontal stripes, and the pink-and-gray color palette all suggest that there’s some thought behind this mismatching, but you can’t quite figure it out.
Wouldn’t you be tempted to ask, “Hey, what’s up with the socks?”
Questions and Causes
For Drew, that’s exactly the point. Socks become a conversational gambit that allow the wearer talk about their passions – in this case, a passion for animals. Houndstooth is a clever reference to dogs, yarn represents the playfulness of cats, and those horizontal stripes are about commonality. “Whether you’re a dog person or a cat person, you just love animals,” Drew says.
These particular socks were created in partnership with the Arizona Humane Society. Each sale generates a donation to the nonprofit partner, but the money is almost incidental, in Drew’s mind.
“Everyone does give-backs and donations,” he says. “Our value proposition is really about telling the story … It’s free marketing. We get customers who care about a specific cause, and we get people who care about fashion. If we can bring those together, we’re creating a double-size market.”
In addition to creating greater awareness and visibility, Drew says that sporting your cause on your socks can help foster a sense of identity. “I hear these little anecdotes all the time: People spot our socks on other people and they recognize each other as kindred spirits. It’s a way to spot others who are ‘in the club,’ so to speak.”
The current roster of nonprofit partners are all Arizona-based, and Drew says the socks are “starting to develop a cult following in the state” even as more and more customers from all over the country discover the company online.
“People care about where they live,” Drew notes, “but at the same time, generous people aren’t geographically restricted.”
A dozen new nonprofit partnerships are in the works, and Drew just launched a Kickstarter campaign to support his vision for growth.
How will he know when the brand has arrived? He’d love to see his storytelling socks gracing the ankles of Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, LeBron James, and Barack Obama. “That would be like, ‘game over,’” he says. “I’d be over the moon. But I don’t want someone who’s famous just for the sake of being famous. I want people who care.”
Spend for good: Priced at $16 a pair, the entire collection is available at the Voyce Threads online store. Sales support nonprofit partners such as Aunt Rita’s Foundation (HIV/AIDS), Social Spin (workforce development), and Circle in the City (homelessness).
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