Sock on: UMD students sell a pair, donate a pair with Soks Co.
If Grandma gets you this pair of socks for Christmas, you'll need to write two thank-you cards -- one from you, and one from the community member who received a donated pair.
If Grandma gets you this pair of socks for Christmas, you’ll need to write two thank-you cards - one from you, and one from the community member who received a donated pair.
Four University of Minnesota Duluth students are taking the buy-a-pair, donate-a-pair model popularized by Toms Shoes and selling socks that will benefit the Damiano Center and people who rely on its emergency services. Buy a pair of Soks Co. socks , and a pair of warm merino wool socks is donated to Damiano.
"One item that's always requested nationwide at shelters, the No. 1 item, is socks," said co-owner Patrick Wolf. "The reception we've received has been amazing."
Wolf got together with business partners Austin Nelson, Eric Smedsrud and Jon Eastlund in an entrepreneurship class this semester and looked not for the quickest buck but the most obvious way to make a difference.
"Everyone else starts out thinking, what can we do to make money?" Wolf recounted. "And we sat there thinking, how can we meet a need in our community?"
Soks Co., which for now sells only online at Soks.shop, offers merino wool and cable-knit cotton socks sourced from a manufacturer in Seattle. The same wool socks, which are sold for $10 a pair, are the ones donated to Damiano.
"One of the big things about merino wool, in summer or winter, is compared to cotton, it's nicer if you're outside all day and more durable," Nelson said.
After just a month of social media and word-of-mouth marketing, the brand is taking off.
"It seems to be going really well," said Damiano Center's development director. "They're donating us 58 pairs of socks, which is incredible because socks are one of the most needed items here at Damiano."
The goal is to get in storefronts and start to gain recognition as a well-known Duluth brand. This is more than a class project, after all.
"It's helpful to have a brand people recognize when you approach these stores, and to have proven our mission and what we stand for," Nelson said. "People aren't just going to want to buy a product; they want to buy a product with purpose, which is where our mission came from (purpose with every pair)."
Wolf said there isn't much competition in the sock space in Duluth, so that means less worry about competing and more focus on expanding the brand and doing the most good with it.
The students behind Soks Co. are going after nonprofit status and, for now, will donate any profit the company makes to Damiano. While that profit has proved elusive right away, the four recently donated $50 of their own money anyway, Mueller said.
"People are really excited to see there are solutions to our problems," Wolf said.
How Swede it is
Another group of UMD business students - three exchange students from Sweden - built their own gift-minded enterprise this semester.
Through Sally's Chocolate, the three offered Marabou chocolate bars from the Scandinavian country. It's a Swedish Hershey's bar of sorts that is notably lacking from shelves in Duluth.
"We saw a big demand and sold them all in four weeks," said Oscar S'rli, who started the venture with Pär Wallin and Tora Nilsson Herhold, who all attend Linnaeus University back home.
They tested the market in a pretty low-risk way: By buying a few dozen Marabou bars from Ikea in the Twin Cities and building a buzz around it with classmates.
While the three are closing up shop while they finish the semester and prepare to travel a bit before heading back to Sweden, there is still the chance you could see more Marabou in Duluth someday.
"We've noticed this could work here, so I think we're going to keep thinking about this and in the future maybe have our own chocolate," Wallin said.