Introducing Jollie Socks
Where do I start with a brand like this? Imagine Mother Teresa and Bob Geldof had a lovechild, except that lovechild was a business that gave socks to homeless people instead of making music videos. With a brand like this, I find it’s authenticity a really refreshing factor to see in an industry full of vanity. That’s not to knock the bold people and brands within in the industry whom I have a lot of respect for, it’s just more of a rarity to see a company that is impacting the lives of those in need, while creating premium quality product.
The brand founder and owner, Ed Vickers began his first charitable work when in University. After feeling uneasy witnessing the conditions that the homeless people were living in, he decided to begin volunteer work at a local shelter. It was here that he noticed a factor that was in need of some increased provision. Ed began donating socks he gathered, which received a welcoming reception from the shelters, leading him to design and produce his own sustainable socks under a brand with the ethos that put others before anything else. I guess you could say the ethos is similar to what Toms did, but it is on the other side of the spectrum, with donations being made to the retailers local shelter, a pair of socks are donated with each pair purchased. Solely focusing on that, the business already had a great motive for the general public to get on board with.
An apprenticeship scheme is in the works to begin as soon as possible, involving the process of hiring homeless people to work in the warehouse to package the products, in addition to each tin being packaged it is also signed by the individual themselves – adding a personal feel from the people you, the buyer, and Ed are helping. This scheme makes a life changing opportunity for those who are transitioning out of homelessness into longer term work. In addition to all of this, Ed’s ethos is to prioritise the people in the fulfilment process to create meaningful work opportunities for the people that need it most.
Socks may be overlooked by many, but the importance of foot hygiene for someone walking the streets day and night, with no access to fresh clothing, it can make all the difference. Not to mention that socks are in shortage at most shelters as donations are scarce, with the added factor of them leaving just as quick as they arrive. With over 43 local homeless charities supported, including over 25,000 pairs of socks donated and a target of 35,000 by the end of the year, Jollies is sure to change thousands of lives – and it’s all with the help of you, the public.
Here are a few questions I gathered up, with answers from the man himself…
So Ed, let’s begin with your background in the industry.
I’ve had next to no experience in the Fashion Industry but have always enjoyed designing products and keeping an eye on menswear brands.
What was your previous experience with the homeless? Was it a personal experience/motive for your involvement in their progression? Or was it merely an influence from family and friends to pursue the issue in the country?
My first experience with the homeless was just walking by everyday and feeling a weird mixture of awkwardness and guilt as I never knew what to do. After getting frustrated at this moment, I got involved in a local shelter in Exeter (where I was at Uni) and learned a little more about the issue and got to know some of the locals who were sleeping rough. It was here where I saw the real need for fresh socks and out of all the clothing donated, socks was the least given but most needed item of clothing. Obviously the issues around homelessness are complex, but socks was something even I could get my head around and think of a solution for. That created the desire to start a sock brand with a “Wear a pair. Share a pair.” concept, as its main purpose.
I already know from our previous conversation when we met, that this began as, I guess, a project for you, but at what point did you realise that this is what you want to invest your entire life into.
If you had told me when I was 18 that I would be running a sock company I would have bent double laughing. But after the concept at university proved itself i.e people buying the product not just because they loved the socks but also the idea of giving a pair to their local shelter; it was obvious that there had to be a business model in there somewhere. I was keen to see if it could transition into a more sustainable business as the whole idea was based on giving sustainably and not just rocking up throwing some socks at an issue and then leaving. The idea of starting something from scratch in the social business space was way too exciting to ignore and go and get normal job! Even if I had to be labelled “The sock man” by the homeless of Exeter.
So far with the brand, do you think, personally, that the impact you’re currently making can lead onto a pivotal role in improving a homeless person’s life?
Socks are no doubt a small part in the journey of getting someone off the street and back on their feet (pardon the pun). But Jollie’s as a brand, uses socks as a tool to get everyday people, you and I, more interested in the area of homelessness and hearing about our local homeless projects. Also, when you see the reaction of some of the rough sleepers after being told that the people in their own town have bought them some socks, it’s pretty touching as it’s easy for them to think no one cares; they just see people walking past every day. Our most exciting opportunity to make a serious impact in this area is our Apprenticeship Scheme for those transitioning out of being homeless. We’re calling it “Fulfilment House” and it’s launching it in September. Stay tuned.
A business such as yours has undoubtable potential to make a huge difference in the lives of those who desperately need it. At which milestone would you consider the business as a success in your eyes? Whether it be the number of retailers, a select retailer or even the number of people you’ve helped improve their lives.
Great question. Scaling for the sake of scale doesn’t interest me much, however hitting 100,000 pairs given will be a big moment, as well as our first Fulfilment House graduate getting a full time job. But in the big picture, we want to create the most ethical, socially impactful, enjoyed socks in the world. So I think when we’ve got there that will be success for us.
Your business is on the rise, meaning that the number of homeless people being helped is increasing too. Is there a future for other products within the business to be released as another aid for the homeless?
I think our mission is best achieved by keeping things simple and focusing on making the best socks. However I’m certainly not opposed to some short run collaborations in the future! As long as there’s a clear social purpose behind each product we do.
Would you say the reception of the brand story and motive has taken a good reaction from the public in terms of their involvement with the homeless?
We’ve had amazing feedback from customers who love the idea of “wearing & sharing”. Many people are asking more about their local charity and wanting to continue supporting them beyond socks. We’ve been so encouraged to see that people want to be more than just consumers and I think the issue of Homelessness is an issue that most of us are quite passionate about taken on.
Finally, if you had some words to say to those who aren’t thinking about the issue of homelessness, what would they be?
Remember there’s no such thing as “Homeless people”. Just people. Grab your self some Jollie’s, find out where your local shelter is and get involved!
Myself, and photographer Dan decided to hit the streets to chat to the type of people that Ed’s helping, with a Q&A that gives insight to the life of a homeless person and what they think about Ed’s work.
How are you doing today?
I’m doing alright I suppose, today has been slow so far gathering food and drink but I’ve had a couple of donations.
How long have you being living on the streets?
Roughly over 2 years.
Has that always been local in Bridlington too?
No, I’ve moved around a few places and ended up moving to here.
If it’s not too personal for you to answer, how did you end up in the current position you’re in?
Well, to be honest it’s a very long story but it started with the breakdown of my relationship with my partner. One thing led to another and it became stale and I ended up with no where to live after losing my trade and I struggled to cope with it.
Do have anywhere to stay at any point, such as a shelter one night a week?
I haven’t had anywhere to stay around here.
In terms of help, is there any organisation or people that have offered help to make steps towards you getting off the streets and into a place to stay?
The Christ church has offered me help with food and drink once a week, as well as a bit of money when i’m not there. They’re currently working on trying to get me somewhere to stay, but other than that, there hasn’t been any help really.
What has the reception been overall from the public that see you on a daily basis?
It does depend where you are because i’ve had areas where no one even looks at you, but Bridlington i’ve had a better reception, even though the majority of people walk past and ignore me.
In terms of what the brand, Jollie’s, is doing for the homeless, what do you think about it from your perspective? Because it would be good to know your views, being that his motive behind the brand is to help people on the streets.
I think it’s a really good idea, because you find that a lot of businesses don’t help out the people in the community that are desperate for help. For him to give something that’s well needed for homeless people, makes a big difference that a lot of people won’t realise.
The issue with people living on streets is increasing with a noticeable rise in the numbers of those living in rough conditions. From the viewpoint of the average citizen, it can be easy to become detached from the problem, as most people can’t relate or even judge the story leading to that position without even knowing the person. This is where someone like Ed shows the compassionate side to society that isn’t often seen first person. Ed’s ethos derives from the fact that these people are in fact… people – an important factor that is ironically forgotten by a large number of the public. It’s important to remember that they are family members, someone’s brother, sister, daughter, son… Also, don’t be the person that instantly assumes every homeless person is on paraphernalia, drink etc. Even if they were, there’s always a story behind it, and even taking the time to speak to one of these people, could make a big difference to their day. So, don’t worry about that loose change or even spare notes that you would most likely spend on something that is unnecessary, and donate to your local shelter for someone who is in need of help.