As part of our founder interview series, we speak with Josh Turner about creating a line of socks, directly tied to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Where did the idea for Stand 4 Socks come from? What were you doing before this?
I have always been an entrepreneur- from selling items around the house, back to family at 9 or eBay power selling at 14. I created a mixed age group club night brand at 17 which really took off with social media…catching the nightclubs and police off guard on quite half term weeks!
After graduating from Birmingham in Business Management I joined the New Entrepreneurs Foundation accelerator in London. Here I was working on a ‘tinder for corporate expenses’, sexy idea, trying to make expenses less clunky. Great idea but certainly not something I knew much about or really cared about. One day, fed up over beers with friends I said ‘Imagine if socks could change the world?”, meant as an off the cuff comment, but as we broke it down nearly everyone wears socks, and if each pair had a positive impact then was it that crazy? That’s how it all started.
It took over three years of research and development to create the perfect sock for Stand 4 Socks. How does the Stand 4 Socks design differ from regular socks?
I know far to much about socks for a 27 year old! Although people give little active thought to our socks like we do our shoes, we actually wear socks on average for 16 hours a day! Therefore, I took all the things that frustrated me about socks such as boring designs, holes after a few wears, falling down and saggy, the ridge on the toes, and we changed it all!
Our socks use materials from bamboo to twisted cotton making them super breathable, but still durable. We have a seamless toe closure to avoid irritation across the toes. A unique arch support system to give you a comfortable support, without being too tight fitting. Finally we reinforce the heel and toes as this is where holes tend to show up first due to having the most friction!
Oh then each pair also has an impact on an important cause, because socks don’t have to be a boring, dull afterthought!
Ethical fashion is an extremely broad topic. How do you interpret the definition of ‘ethical fashion’?
For me ethical fashion is from all aspects of the lifecycle of the product. From the materials used throughout and the amount of packaging it comes in, to the production conditions and workers rights. These might be the more obvious points, but it is that hard to do and too many brands don’t make that little bit of an extra effort to work with responsible suppliers and factories. For me we also look at the post sale impact as well, if our socks can last at least say 2x longer than a high street brands, then in a sense the customer needs to buy them less often meaning less unnecessary impact. Beyond the basics, our socks then have a deeper purpose around generating tangible impacts like giving another pair to a homeless person, or starting conversations around important causes. As brands we need to look at the tangible and intangible impacts of our products. I do feel as an industry it is moving in the right direction, driven by consumers choices more than anything else.
When you shop for clothes, what are the three most important things that you consider before buying?
- Do I like the item, like the colour, fit or style (before I even notice the brand).
- Where is it made and what material is it? Not thinking I am a textile expert, but I can quickly tell the difference between polyester or organic cotton. Price impacts both of these, but if one lasts three times longer then put that into the price calculation.
- What is the story behind the brand? Have I heard it before? Is it something unique that I can share with others and be proud of wearing? or is it a spin off brand of a big multinational? Who is the founder?
Why did you decide to tie Stand 4 Socks with specific United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and which goals do you see resonating the most with your supporters?
We wanted to change the world with socks, but no idea where to start not coming from a charity background myself. I explored models like Toms where we could donate socks to Africa, or elderly, but are we really having the biggest impact we could have? The UN Global Goals just seemed like a natural place to start and meant we could hit multiple causes in multiple countries from day one. Hard to say which resonates better, we often find customers don’t know about the goals so we find we are educating them. Our Gender Equality ranges has always been most popular with men which is great to see! Overall homelessness has increasingly been our most popular range.
How does buying a pair of Stand 4 Socks advance the related SDG (Sustainable Development Goals) of that specific pair?
Two fold. On one side you are having a tangible impact on that cause, for example for SDG 6 Clean Water, your socks will help provide a years safe drinking water. Whereas, with our homeless range, buying just one pair also provides especially made thick antibacterial pair to a homeless person!
Then on the other hand, your socks are also raising awareness of that cause. Like the old Livestrong Rubber bands, our socks have a small cause logo stitched onto the ankle which will show what yours Stand 4, this could be a water drop for Clean Water, a Pencil for Education and so on. We often hear from customers stories from customers when people notice the bold colours and emblem and ask where the socks are from – they get to turn around and enjoy telling the story themselves. It creates a powerful connection...
While it is apparent that Stand 4 Socks has a clear mission to create a positive impact, how do you tie those same values into your production practices? For instance, how do you limit your environmental impact, or ensure safe and fair working conditions during production?
Any production or activity will have some kind of impact on the world. We work closely with our supply chain from the start making them clear on our values and expectations. Although this probably took longer than expected we are really proud of what we have now created. We only use textiles that are Oeko Tex certified from harmful substances, and then production that is SEDEX audited on employees conditions. We are very proud that our partners don’t only hit the expectations of SEDEX but in a lot of cases exceed them. Our factory recently took a department which was around 30% long term disabled, up to 100% which in Turkey is very impressive.
It's also important to think of the full life cycle of your product. If we can cut out packaging or waste, we do. For example, our socks we donate to homeless used to be pack in unnecessary plastic bags, so we took that to zero. Our main sock packaging has reduced by 65% in the last year.
Do you think the fashion industry has the power to become and fair and equitable source of economic development for emerging markets? If so, how?
100%. It needs to be driven by all aspects though, from retail buyers to consumers – not just brands. If we stop judging ‘value’ on the price we pay for fashion products, and start to look at the full ‘cost’ of products, we can use our consumer pounds and power to change whole industries. This will then lead back to the source of production on what is acceptable and expected, but it’s a huge challenge.
The industry is competitive and people are always looking for shortcuts, and where they can cut costs. Especially in emerging countries, the government and regulations have a huge role to play, it's probably far better than it was 15 years ago, but certainly not there yet.
As consumers, what can we do to help create a more positive fashion industry?
Expect more always. When we change our views on what’s acceptable to us and Stand4 then the industry will really change. When one product costs x and another is 5x cheaper, we really need to ask more questions. Social media has come a long way in giving consumers a stronger voice, and if you look at the data on millennials motivations and buying habits it's encouraging for the future.
Consumers need to champion good brands, and tell their story. Again really analyse their definition of ‘value and cost’ in making purchase decisions.
How would you like to see Stand 4 Socks grow in the future?
We have huge ambitions, changing the world through socks is just the start. We want to support the creation of a world where every transaction can have a positive impact – if we can prove something as small and dull as socks can, anything can from buying a cup of coffee to a house!
We are really excited about collaborations and partnerships currently with Stand 4, but also looking at other areas we can dip the Stand 4 toe into. Markets where consumer experience and quality have been lacking for many years and where we feel we can generate some real positive impact from disrupting – watch this space!