By Marielle Mohs

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — In 2019, Sam Harper and Michael Mader changed the business model of their 3-year-old company Hippy Feet to help create more long term solutions to end homelessness in the Twin Cities.

Originally when they started the eco-friendly, USA made sock company back in 2016, it was a buy one, give one business model, where they would give a free pair of socks to a homeless person, every time they sold a pair of socks. But they quickly realized, giving people socks wasn’t actually getting them off the streets, so they decided to employ people struggling with homelessness, specifically youth, ages 16-24.

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A recent study on homelessness found 49% of the 10,000 homeless people in Minnesota are under the age of 24. “We’ve seen that working with a younger demographic is a good opportunity to intervene in the cycle of homelessness,” said Sam Harper, Hippy Feet co-founder. Since they changed their business model, they’ve employed over 100 homeless youth.

The homeless youth that work at Hippy Feet make $11/hour and they get the money they’ve earned on the spot, instead of waiting for a monthly or bi-monthly paycheck.

Each youth employee packages the socks and signs their initials on the sock label, so consumers know who they are helping employ.

Some of the faces behind the sock signatures are Dakota Washington and Devante Lowe.

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Lowe appreciates the job that gives him compensation immediately. “If I was working a job and I didn’t get my paycheck yet, I’d have an opportunity to make a quick $40-60 bucks just spending a few hours folding socks,” Lowe said. He uses the money he makes at Hippy Feet to help pay for his apartment after couch hopping for most of his childhood. “You got to take action, you can’t just wallow in your own pity,” Lowe added.

Washington is learning insight along the way, motivated by working side by side with the millennial-age founders of Hippy Feet. “It really did inspire me because he told me how he got started and he started at the age of 23 and I’m 23, so I think that’s really cool,” Washington said.

These youth get a paycheck, but they hope society will get a perspective change on homelessness.

“Hardships can happen to anybody,” Washington added, and anybody can find ways to overcome it.

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You can find Hippy Feet socks for sale at Loring Park as part of Hollidazzle. To learn more click here.

Marielle Mohs