Amidst the fear and frustration caused by the coronavirus shutdown, some good news can still be found. Our society’s response to the pandemic seems to be demonstrating the ends to which some people will seek courageous solutions to vexing problems, and that when things seem to be at their worst, some are motivated to be at their best.
An example of that is Stefan Lewinger, a University of Georgia graduate and CEO and co-founder (along with Futhum Tewolde) of Sock Fancy — a subscription-based sock service headquartered in Atlanta.
Sock Fancy, faced with the same business challenges so many other companies are battling during the recent economic downturn, decided to focus less on its own needs, and instead, work to meet a need in the community.
“Everything went to a standstill in March for everybody,” Lewinger said. “Everything got flipped on its head. Businesses are closed. We’re all working from home and trying to make sense of everything that’s going on. Our business is no different, so we were just trying to figure out what the next step is for us. Meanwhile, you’ve got this massive pandemic that’s affecting so many people from a health perspective, from a supply chain perspective, and every day you’re hearing on the news about a shortage of masks or the need to protect yourself or about what you can do to make yourself or your community a little safer.”
Lewinger’s idea was to focus Sock Fancy’s manufacturing efforts on the construction of masks in an attempt to make sure the stock of personal protective equipment (PPE) that hospitals needed wasn’t threatened by demand from the public.
“It really kind of hit the whole team within a couple days, Lewinger said. “We all said this is something we have to do. And we have a really close relationship with our manufacturers. We’re able to source suppliers really quickly, so for us it was a no brainer. We knew it would be a great opportunity to not only provide a service and a good, but also give back to the community.”
Sock Fancy is distributing the masks using a one-for-one model. For every mask it sells to a consumer, it’s donating a mask to someone in need. Lewinger says he’s been thrilled with the response thus far.
“The numbers are really exciting,” Lewinger said. “We’re happy that we’re going to be donating 25,000 masks starting next week, and we expect that number to probably double by then. So we’re on our way toward our ultimate goal of donating 100,000 masks to communities in need.”
Sock Fancy’s success in distributing masks is partially attributable to the community it’s built around its core product. Lewinger says they have more than 10,000 active subscribers to their service who enjoy the company’s bright and colorful product.
“You can obviously find socks,” Lewinger said. “Everybody we sell to has drawers full of the thing we’re selling, but we found a real big opportunity to create a brand around it, and I don’t want to say ‘brand’ in an empty way because there is a lot of passion there with the people who are wearing socks and who are into their socks, or people who are into giving good gifts or giving something that’s really fun to their dad who doesn’t know he’s got the worst sock game in the world, so he needs something to kind of spice up the wardrobe a little bit.”
The same sense of style Sock Fancy provides for footwear, it also brings to its masks.
“We want you to feel OK wearing [masks],” Lewinger said. “We don’t want you going around looking like Bane from BatMan and walking into your supermarket and having everyone be scared of you. There’s a little bit of a cultural shift going on, and I think if we can help ease that landing so people feel more comfortable wearing masks it’s good, because it is going to be safer for everybody at the end if we take certain precautions to protect ourselves. So we want to make sure there’s a little levity to an otherwise drab situation.”
Lewinger is quick to point out that Sock Fancy’s masks aren’t for surgical or clinical use, but they are made in accordance with new CDC guidelines for cloth face coverings, and the supply they’re manufacturing helps to ensure that medical masks stay in the hands of the medical community.
“We don’t want to take anything from the health community,” Lewinger said. “We don’t want to take actual PPE away from hospitals that need it, and people who are being treated for COVID. You want to be able to provide an alternative. These cloth masks are that alternative because they’re not taking away from the supply of the hospital, but they’re providing some level of security and protection for the public.”
In addition to offering customers the opportunity to buy masks, Sock Fancy is also challenging the public to help determine where the donated masks are sent.
“We’re actually leaning on our community to help dictate that conversation a little bit,” Lewinger said. “On our website, we have a section where you can submit an organization that you think is in need of these masks. We have a big, long running list from hospitals, to pharmacies, first responders, nursing homes, supermarkets and food banks. We want these masks to get into the direct hand of the people who need them right away. We don’t want them to get stuck in a centralized location that has to be waited on for distribution, or people have to fight over the supply. We want to give these to people who will be able to wear them right away.”
Lewinger’s story is an example of how UGA grads can leverage their degrees to make a positive impact on the world, and Sock Fancy is another in a long list of business success stories cultivated on the Athens campus. Lewinger credits his time at UGA for inspiring him, even though, at one point, he had a completely different career path in mind.
“When I was at Georgia I was a political science major. I was going to get into law. I had dreams of being a sports agent,” Lewinger said. “But when I graduated, it just felt like I kind of wanted to carve my own path and have an impact. I felt like I knew a really good way to do that. The idea of building a brand is something I’d always wanted to do. And with Sock Fancy we’ve found there are a lot of passionate people around socks.”
That passion and community built around socks has seemed to translate to Sock Fancy’s masks as well.
“The response has been amazing,” Lewinger said. “We couldn’t be happier with it.”
DawgNation is proud to partner with Sock Fancy in its mission to deliver 100,000 masks to those in need, and we’re inviting our readers to join in as well. Visit SockFancy.com/masks and use the promo code: DAWGNATION at check out to save 10 percent on your mask purchase. For every mask sold, Sock Fancy will donate a mask to a daycare center (or similar facility) here in Georgia.