Seven years ago, Ryan Roff ’09 and a few business partners recognized an opportunity at their feet—or rather on their feet.
“The first leap point for our company was a competition that my two business partners had at work,” said Roff. “They were just talking about who was wearing the cooler socks.”
That friendly contest was the beginning of boldSOCKS, an online retailer that has sold more than 150,000 pairs of creative, quality socks this year.
“What’s happened is people are expressing themselves in different ways,” said Roff. “They are sometimes constrained by wardrobe, whether it’s dress code or profession or whatever it might be; they’re put in a spot where they can’t express themselves in all that many ways. So socks tend to be that one opportunity that they have to express themselves in a unique way.”
And while going from a small company selling socks out of a few basements to developing and selling their own brand—resulting in about $2 million in revenue—is an amazing success story, it’s not the one Roff wants to tell.
“I think there are two components to our story that really resonate with people once they begin to wear our products and our brands,” said Roff. “Number one is that there’s a compelling desire to do good.”
As a Calvin student Roff was challenged to find a new model for business, one that could combine his faith with his entrepreneurial spirit.
“I was asking some pretty hard questions at Calvin of how faith and business might be able to intersect. And that answer did not come easily, but it was necessary,” he said. “You think about all the ways that people maximize profits and growth. Typically, it’s not done in a way that puts the well-being of others first, so I wanted to know how businesses could function differently.”
So when the founders of boldSOCKS created their own brand, Statement Sockwear, they partnered with 20 Liters, an organization that provides clean water for the most vulnerable through long-lasting and innovative water solutions. Each pair of Statement socks sold provides 100 days of clean water for someone in Africa. To date, sales have provided more than 15 million days of clean water.
“Our consumers have an opportunity to participate in a story where they’re saying, ‘Yes I want to be a part of clean water, and I want these statement socks,’” said Roff. “And I think that that started at Calvin in the ways in which I had to figure out how business was going to intersect with faith.”
The second story component is transparency. After facing the realities of the fashion industry and the way workers are often taken advantage of, Roff and others on his team decided to do a six-month audit of their manufacturer, to be sure they weren’t contributing to this problem.
And their Colombian manufacturer “blew us away,” he said. “I was going down there thinking that I was going to have to ask some really difficult questions, and instead I found a vertically integrated manufacturer that was subsidizing food programs, providing scholarships for families so that they could get a better education, providing upward mobility so employees grow with the company, and thoughtfully and creatively valuing and investing in their employees and supply chain.”
These are the parts of Roff’s business story that he wants to share.
“I’m amazed at how this has all panned out because I think God has been preparing our path and orchestrating our next steps one disruption moment or revelation moment at a time. And I think we try as a company to have our hands open for what God might want to do with it and realize that this is just a platform. This is just one more way that he might want to use business to do good; one more way that he might want to use us to be able to tell a redemption story and to love his creation.”