Social Enterprise: Hippy Feet
When Michael Mader and Sam Harper founded Minneapolis-based sock brand Hippy Feet in 2016, they followed the one-for-one business model made popular by Toms shoes. For each pair of socks sold, Hippy Feet donated another pair to a local individual experiencing homelessness.
“We donated over 20,000 pairs of socks under that model, but Sam and I quickly realized that we could be doing a whole lot more,” Mader says. “We found ourselves giving socks to a lot of the same people repeatedly, and while they were very grateful for the socks, they were still homeless, and their life hadn’t actually improved outside of that donation of a physical good.”
So in 2018, Hippy Feet, a certified B Corp., launched the Pop-Up Employment program. The company would bring its socks and packaging supplies to local youth shelters and nonprofits where it would pay individuals to help package the goods. “It was a truly barrier-free employment opportunity. People didn’t have to worry about finding us, there was no application, and we didn’t care if they had experience,” Mader says.
It worked well until Covid-19 prevented Hippy Feet from visiting shelters and nonprofits. “As social distancing practices became a little more liberal, we began to host all of our employees back at our office,” Mader says.
Hippy Feet needs the staffing: Sales for the direct-to-consumer brand spiked last year as consumers turned to online shopping during the pandemic and in response to apparel extensions Hippy Feet added to its line. In 2020, Hippy Feet’s revenue increased 157 percent over the previous year.
In June, Hippy Feet began offering regular employment to small groups of youths and young adults experiencing homelessness to pack and fulfill orders. Now, they’re working on employee retention. “We’re now trying to keep our employees for an extended period of time to provide them with more consistent, stable forms of income and access to our network,” Mader says. Once an employee is ready for more responsibility, the company helps connect them to other programs and jobs.
In less than three years, Hippy Feet has provided jobs for more than 130 homeless youths and young adults, generating more than 4,200 hours of employment.
“Our current program works so well because it is built so that all of our employees are truly integral to our internal operations,” Mader says. “That’s key. Our products can’t exist without our program, and our program can’t exist without our products.”