While volunteering alongside his now-wife Agata in the streets of Austin, Texas, back in 2008, Air Force veteran Tim Scott found one request to be consistent among the homeless he set out to help: socks.
Among the 3.5 million people who experience homelessness each year—23 percent of whom are military veterans and 35 percent of which are families with children—food and water are the most prevalent needs. But socks offer essential protection against cold and wet conditions and resultant foot ailments—blisters, fungus, frostbite, blood poisoning, bone infections and more.
Too often, however, shelters and individuals alike think to donate everything but socks.
“For most individuals, homelessness is a temporary situation or a momentary setback. There are a number of chronically homeless individuals out there, too, but there are a ton more looking for the help they need to get out of their situation.”
Delivering on this demand, Scott and his wife would stuff socks with bottled water and granola bars to pass out. When they started burning through their student loan money, however, they decided to reach out to a company that could, at the very least, supply a second pair of socks for every pair they purchased.
Alas, that company didn’t exist.
Over the next few years, the duo researched and plotted, then launched Mitscoots Outfitters in 2012.
Like its founding, even the company’s name has a story.
“When I was a kid learning how to spell my name, letters weren’t really my jam—maybe I got kicked in the head by a horse or something,” Scott says. “Whatever the case, instead of ‘Tim Scott,’ I wrote down ‘Mit Scoot.’ The teachers thought it was cute and didn’t correct me for a while. Then, a substitute came in and educated me on the board in front of the whole class and we all had a good laugh. I got stuck with a nickname I couldn’t live down and have secretly hated it ever since.”
When it came time to name his company, Scott told himself it was time to make his nickname mean something good.
“For me, ‘Mitscoots’ symbolizes taking your mistakes and making them your strengths,” he explains. “We hope we can do the same for the guys that come in to work with the stereotype of ‘homeless’ hanging over them.”
Mitscoots raised money through crowd funding and soon after began selling socks, later expanding to include beanies and scarves. For every item sold, they give an equal quality item to someone in need.
The latest and greatest of their products is the durable Cause Cap, which recently launched on Kickstarter and promises shade from the sun. Expected to last at least five years, this hat is made up of resilient fabrics stitched together with heavyweight, abrasion-resistant thread.
“We’re about earning our keep and this cap is the best thing we’ve ever made,” Scott says.
And the company has certainly earned its keep. Mitscoots sells products both online and through more than 100 retail partners across the country. They’ve expanded so quickly that they’ve needed to add to the team to start stickering, packaging and tagging products to ready them for stores’ shelves.
And Scott knew exactly where to look for help.
See, Mitscoots hires a number of individuals they find through organizations that help the homeless transition into stable work conditions. They bring these folks in on a rotation to work out of their Austin facility.
“Well, I knew who needed a job more than anyone else,” Scott explains. “For most individuals, homelessness is a temporary situation or a momentary setback. There are a number of chronically homeless individuals out there, too, but there are a ton more looking for the help they need to get out of their situation.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean the company hires just anybody.
“It’s an interview like any other and requires a resume, too” Scott explains. “It’s a commitment on both sides, but it’s up to the transitioning homeless to take the first step.”
The staff is paid for each item packaged so that they can work at their own pace and be rewarded fairly for their efforts. On average, they’re working about a two- to three-hour day, two to three days a week, and are offered food and drinks on the job.
Best of all, the products they are making go toward helping others in similar shoes—or socks, anyway.
“By bringing them on the team, they are instantly not just receiving help but offering out help through their work for others that were once just like them,” Scott says. “It’s the best group of people I’ve ever been able to work with because they know how important a steady job can be.”
Great products from diligent people who appreciate the work? That’s something we can all be grateful for this Thanksgiving.
Looking to get involved? Feel free to check out volunteer and other opportunities with Mitscoots here.