If you’ve never done it before, starting your own microenterprise can seem daunting. There’s all the usual risks with running any business; the fear of failure, the burden of administration, long hours and determination needed just to get it off the ground. And then there’s the inspiration to begin with, where to start?
For Geraldine Maddrell, the inspiration came from the story of a young man in New York who’d started selling funky socks. This seemed like a fun and easy thing to begin with; we all need socks, right? For Geraldine, however, this business was not to be her own. Geraldine is the mother of an extraordinary 18 year old and it was for, and with, Sophie that she saw an opportunity to build Sophie’s Sox.
Buying and selling socks is a fairly simple process, but Geraldine and Sophie wanted also to design and create, to make something unique and special to Sophie and find a process that was challenging, fun and creative. Sophie loves painting and the idea was to investigate whether her artistic talents could be incorporated into the designs.
Design & Development
A small grant provided the opportunity for Geraldine and Sophie to engage with Catherine Taylor, a local business woman with an amazing set of creative and business skills. Most recently a costume and prop maker, Catherine’s background in textile design and her teaching experience made her the perfect mentor for Sophie and together they explored all manner of designs and techniques.
The objective from the start was to find a process that Sophie could repeat herself, independently to produce a sock she could truly call her own. This prototyping phase was incredibly exciting and each new challenge and failure provided an opportunity to learn and progress. After several months of dipping, scrunching, dyeing, painting and waxing, a technique was perfected that was unique, fun, manageable and, more than anything, produced some fabulously wild looking socks.
With a grand launch event planned, production moved up a gear and socks in various stages of drying and dyeing could be found hanging from every available surface at the workshop. Held at the gorgeous Saga bookshop on South Terrace, the launch – attended by family, friends, her growing network and our very own mayor – was a great success.
A number of boutique retailers responded well to stocking the designs, production at the small workshop continued and sales were good. They provided an income stream that allowed Sophie to engage with her true love of adrenalin sports – quad biking, rally driving and jet skiing (to name a few). From this success, talks began as to “where next” for Sophie’s Sox.
What makes this unique?
Seems like a great little story, right? A successful microenterprise that began with a simple idea, very little funding and the creativity and determination of a mother and daughter. That is true but there’s another dimension to this story that makes it all the more interesting and inspirational. Sophie has both Down Syndrome and Autism. At 18 years old, her communication is limited and she needs near constant care and supervision. Exploring dyeing techniques, colour combinations and the whole development cycle with Sophie takes an incredible amount of patience.
We have momentary glimpses into Sophie’s world where she responds, signs or makes a noise and everyone around Sophie lives for those moments, those connections we enjoy and take for granted with others.
Her routine brings her to the workshop in the heart of Fremantle almost daily. Catherine, her design mentor has already prepped the production line of dyes, tools, socks and space for her arrival and after a few moments of settling in the work begins. Sophie now recognises her work environment and those around her and is not only engaging in the process, but anticipating the next step and always pausing to connect with those around her.
Sophie’s an entertainer, never happier herself than when she’s the centre of attention and making people laugh. It has been as a direct result of Sophie’s development, interactions and influence that the Tickled Tiger range of socks evolved. Likely due to her own enjoyment of being tickled, she one day insisted each new pair was deserving of the same frivolous attention. As the production line rolls on, each individual sock, hand dyed and painted by Sophie, is halted from progressing. Sophie looks around to ensure she has an audience then dances her fingers across the toes prompting giggles and encouragement from her colleagues.
This venture is so much more than a sock business. The community that has grown around Sophie, the friends she has made, the new experiences, her personal growth and development, her communication skills and her engagement with others over the past year or so having improved beyond everyone’s expectations. This one young woman has brought together an amazing group of creatives, carers and local businesses. For those of us who know, work and play with Sophie we understand how she enriches our lives, encourages us to slow down and offers a different perspective on what we regard as important or rewarding.
Sophie’s Sox is a great microenterprise here in Freo and for a small business producing tiny batches of bright, hand dyed, groovy socks it is making a surprising and honest contribution to our business and social economy.
Sophie could never have done this without the support of her community; but it’s been wonderful to learn that with this network it really does seem as if anything is possible. As the threads and connections she builds extend further and further, so more are inspired and want to be part of her journey. This is certainly true of the Department of Communities (Housing) who, having heard of Sophie’s business, recently offered to partner and offer a much larger space to ramp up production and look at how Sophie’s success could be shared with others.
A Growing Enterprise
The new Freo Microenterprise Hub will be fitted out to be fully accessible and a space for locals who are looking to work, connect, start, grow, access information and support to set up and run their own micro enterprises. Situated on High Street, Fremantle, and with the support of specialists like Catherine, Geraldine and Sophie hope to share their experiences and provide a space for people from marginalised communities to begin the process of securing a nourishing and rewarding future for themselves. The Freo Microenterprise Hub will aim to provide a range of support services to include local youths, people with disabilities, migrants and refugees, people with psychosocial disorders.
I wonder how many other Sophie’s there are out there, people who may be dismissed or marginalised, regarded as having little to offer others when in fact their contribution is immeasurable. The business economy doesn’t need to be big to be successful, success can be measured in many different ways and for Sophie, making a little spare cash is great but the true success has been in the learning experience for all, seeing Sophie’s development, the growing community around her and now how this one micro enterprise will inspire others.
See Sophie and Catherine at work in this small video clip – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVHFdg3JgvE&feature=youtu.be