Various multicolored, multipatterned socks are shown stacked on shelves in a store.
These five small businesses are keeping feet warm while making a big difference in their communities. — Getty Images/xxwp

Socks protect us from the elements, but these days, they often serve as a fashion statement, too. They are a wardrobe staple where fun and functionality often intersect. Socks are also the clothing item requested the most by homeless shelters, yet are the least donated. These five small businesses are committed to solving this problem and others like it by knitting, designing, and selling this hot commodity and giving back in the process.

Zkano

Once known as the “sock capital of the world,” Fort Payne, Alabama, is home to the Zkano family mill. Zkano is an homage to the Cherokee roots of the company’s town. The name loosely translates to “a state of being good,” which owner Gina Locklear pursues through the thoughtful choices she makes as a manufacturer.

By the late ‘90s, there were about 150 sock mills in Fort Payne that employed more than half of the town. But in the early 2000s, outsourcing grew in popularity, shuttering most of the local industry. The Locklear family was fortunate to keep their mill and pass down the trade. To maintain a competitive edge, Gina rebranded the family business and shifted gears from making classic white athletic socks to creating design-forward, organic cotton socks.

In addition to keeping things close to home, Gina is keen on leading an organic, sustainable lifestyle and has made efforts to honor her personal philosophies and the Zkano name. The company solely uses organic cotton grown in Lubbock, Texas, and low-impact dyes from the Carolinas. Any socks unfit for donating to homeless shelters and community organizations are transformed into fiber, which is then used for automotive carpet padding.

Solmate Socks

Marianne Wakerlin started Solmate Socks in 2000 with the simple thought that “life’s too short for matching socks.” As an expert textile artist, Wakerlin put her efforts into making colorful, unique socks. Once she retired in 2015, her son Randy and daughter-in-law Lisa stepped in.

Made in Hickory, North Carolina, these eclectic socks come in funky patterns that are somewhat mismatched yet complement each other. They are knitted with 100% recycled materials and contain zero added dyes or chemicals. As a certified B Corporation, Solmate Socks is dedicated to putting the Earth first. It ensures environmentally safe manufacturing practices through its partnership with fiber recycler Recover. The company offers many styles, including crew, merino wool, performance, slouch, knee-high, and more, with sizes ranging from baby to adult.

Solmate is passionate about giving back and has donated hundreds of thousands of socks to those in need. In an effort to give back even more, the Give Back Collection benefits a nonprofit with each sale.

John’s Crazy Socks has 34 employees, over half of whom have differing abilities such as Down syndrome, autism, or cerebral palsy. Each order is packaged with care, candy, and a handwritten thank-you note.

Are You Kidding

Are You Kidding is owned by kid brothers Brandon and Sebastian Martinez. These young entrepreneurs began designing and selling their socks commercially in 2014. What started with a pencil-and-paper concept has evolved into more than an apparel enterprise.

Sebastian was particularly enamored by colorful, fun socks as a child and had collected more than 100 pairs by age 7. His mom encouraged him to start sketching his own designs. By 2021, the boys had sold over 100,000 pairs and donated at least 5,000 pairs to various causes.

Early on, the Martinezes knew they wanted to give back to those in need. A prominent aspect of Are You Kidding is the Kids Helping Kids Initiative, which includes partnerships, donations, and funding for schools and charities. Are You Kidding has raised over $300,000 for nonprofits like Stand Up to Cancer and the JDRF Diabetes Foundation.

John's Crazy Socks

In 2016, John Cronin was graduating high school in Huntington Station, New York, and deciding what he wanted to do professionally. A daunting task for any teen, John faced more limited options due to having Down syndrome and that he was unwilling to settle for just any job.

Instead, he wanted to start his own business. His father, Mark, was building online businesses at the time, and John always liked to express himself with socks, so together, they founded John’s Crazy Socks. John’s Crazy Socks offers an inventory of 3,000 styles from over 20 different suppliers. The in-house designs, though, are the most successful.

Through these designs and corporate partnerships, the brand raises awareness about certain causes and donates $2 per sale to the company’s charity partners. Additionally, 5% of its annual revenue is donated to the Special Olympics.

John’s Crazy Socks has 34 employees, over half of whom have differing abilities such as Down syndrome, autism, or cerebral palsy. Each order is packaged with care, candy, and a handwritten thank-you note. The Cronins still hand-deliver some local orders.

Hippy Feet

Michael Mader and Sam Harper are the co-founders of Hippy Feet, a Minneapolis-based sock company that donates one pair of socks to organizations serving homeless youth for every pair sold. Its focus is on selling American-made, eco-friendly socks and apparel that in turn help make a difference for those affected by homelessness.

The brand’s retro designs emulate the ‘70s tube sock, sport that familiar zigzag chevron you’d find on a crocheted blanket, and display other patterns reminiscent of the Flower Power era. Collaborations with Minnesota Vikings players, artists, and influential people provide more variety and opportunity to raise awareness about Hippy Feet and its mission. Quality, value, and comfort also get a big stamp of approval from online reviewer the Sock Dude.

Hippy Feet partners with nonprofits Elpis Enterprises, My Friend’s Place, The Link, and Youth Empowerment Performance Project. To date, the company has catalyzed the employment of 150 homeless youth ranging in age from 16 to 24.

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