Now that we’ve reached the cold months, many of us will break out thick socks and boots. But for the homeless individuals in our area, the promise of feet protected from the frozen ground is not so certain, which is why socks are the most requested item of clothing at shelters, especially during the winter.
It was this need that formed the idea behind 24-year-old Woodbury native Michael Mader’s funky sock startup, Hippy Feet. Since its launch in September 2016, Hippy Feet has donated more than 5,000 pairs of socks to homeless people throughout the Twin Cities with a buy-one, give-one philosophy. For every pair of colorfully designed socks purchased, another is donated to a local shelter.
Along with creating fashionable socks made in the U.S. out of 85 percent recycled material, Hippy Feet works directly to employ young people affected by homelessness and poverty. “Socks are only a temporary solution to a part of the problem,” Mader says. “I wanted to be able to have a long-term approach to helping individuals—young people in particular—who are homeless, to get back on their feet. I want to provide a support group because homelessness can happen to everybody, and employment is the way to make a change and end the cycle.”
The name Hippy Feet, along with the inspiration behind it, came from Mader’s time at University of Wisconsin-River Falls where he studied marketing while rocking long hair (he’s since donated 12 inches) and an endless collection of crazy socks. “My friends joked and called me a hippie because of the hair and my general attitude and demeanor,” he says. “I believe in the mentality of loving each other and taking care of one another while preserving the environment and doing the best that we can for this world that we share with so many other people.”
After suffering a traumatic brain injury falling off his longboard during the first semester of his senior year, Mader’s recovery set him back on the path to finishing his degree, but jump-started his idea to bring Hippy Feet to life. Although his doctor told him to go on bed rest, Mader didn’t quite listen, instead using the time to research and figure out ways he could use his future to help others.
“I wanted to do something better with my time, more specifically I wanted to do something bigger than myself,” he says.
This passion is part of the reason he’s completely hands-on with Hippy Feet. You may have even seen Mader himself around the city. In addition to visiting shelters at least twice a month to bring socks and share some conversation, he’s been hanging out with Hippy Feet at local events including Pride festivities and the Stone Arch Bridge Festival.
“We did three Pride events across the Midwest this summer,” Mader says. “It’s part of our company values to celebrate people for who they are, and we just want to be an advocate for people.”
This year Hippy Feet will design a custom Holidazzle sock that will only be available at the event. Although only a year old, this organization is already on its way to having a real impact. “I get to wake up every day and if I want to make a change in the immediate world around me, that’s in my hands,” Mader says.
“I can be the change that I want to see in the world.”