by Sunny Sharma
Have you ever considered purchasing a pair of socks that could lead to feeding the hungry, planting trees and educating the youth in rural countries? Now, you can!
From a young age, Prashant Mehta said he was encouraged to give back because of the teachings of his mother. Whenever he received a birthday gift or money, he allotted some to charity. He said his mom always reminded him that “no matter how bad things seem, there is always someone else who is suffering more.”
Momma Mehta’s wise words shaped her son’s mindset that led him to start a social enterprise called Conscious Step. It promises to solve world problems like hunger, education and the environment…with socks. Mehta’s well-packaged “socks that fight for causes that matter,” took some time to emerge.
Each pair of socks purchased is made of quality material, and crafted with the highest ethical standards, and each design is matched to one of three social causes. It allows individuals to purchase socks that contribute to different charitable causes, which ties in well with modern-day charitable giving trends.
At the time, jobless Prashant traveled back to Australia, where he had studied for some time during college.
I was having a hard time getting the job I wanted in finance for three months,” he said. “I started doing volunteer work—on a microfinance project my friends were working on—to help a small village in Nepal grow out of the poverty cycle. We would provide loans to support various parts of the community—the education system, farming, etc.—that they wouldn’t be able to get from the bank otherwise. Working on that project made me more self-aware. I realized I wanted a job that would not only make me happy, but would help others.”
Even after such an epiphany, to do nonprofit work in the finance industry was proving difficult to secure. That’s when Prashant decided to start his own with help from two of his friends.
The team, made up of three young men, later initiated the cause to help the world around them. The partners include Hassan Ahmed, a doctor and entrepreneur, Adam Long, the company’s marketing strategist and Mehta, the financier. Conscious Step launched in October 2013 as a crowdfunding campaign in Sydney, Australia, and now operates out of New York.
Prashant said that his team agreed their mission was to create, impact and spread awareness for the Millenium Development Goals set by the U.N., which are eight goals agreed upon by the United Nations.
Mehta’s company is not unheard of. He is part of a flourishing league of individuals spearheading the “social enterprise,” which applies commercial strategies to make greater gains in the improvement of the human condition.
I watched people show-off their ‘giving’ habits on social media, or wear a ‘Livestrong’ armband to connect themselves to the greater good in the world (recognition),” he said. “I witnessed people give back money at grocery stores on top of their bill (convenience). I continue to watch people stand up and spend their lives fighting for causes that have affected or inspired them as people, looking to make the difference. Hungry children, disturbed realities of the environment, an ongoing growth of the wealth gap. We inspire to spread awareness and educate people on the issues that affect our world, while allowing giving back to be a part of everyone’s day-to-day lives.”
But why choose socks as a way to give back? Prashant explains the simple reasoning behind their genius concept:
Socks are a product that everyone needs with little brand loyalty, he said. “We sell better products to produce sustainability (organic/fair-trade), which create positive impact without changing habits of one’s day-to-day lives. By using socks as our gateway to fight poverty, it is a way for people to feel great when putting on their socks in the morning.”
The social enterprise was not an easy feat to get up and running, Prashant said, considering his partners were long-distance for some time.
Like many things in life, starting a business is a marathon, not a sprint,” he said. “It’s a tedious process requiring a great deal of patience, and positive attitude through a never-ending stream of ups-and-downs. Hassan and I come from completely opposite sides of the world. As our crowdfunding project was near ready to be launched, my limited visa in Australia had expired. We’d spent the next six months on opposite sides of the world fighting to reach our goal of $20,000 and fulfill orders. By working odd hours to continue to keep communication and inspiration strong, we were able to pass our goal in the final hours of our campaign, and after winning a series of competitions, we were able to move to New York to begin establishing a global presence.”
Now, Conscious Step operates out of Alley NYC, a shared co-working space in midtown Manhattan.
This opportunity allows us to build a network of people, all hustling for their own hopes and dreams,” Prashant said. “It reminds us that we could be working harder to see the efforts of those around us, and keeps us inspired to continue learning and improving ourselves. Most importantly, the Alley is a direct reflection of the compassionate attitude we inspire to create through Conscious Step.”
As for Mehta’s favorite part of the workday, he said it’s designing the socks.
Each sock is designed through color affiliations to support a cause,” he said. “For example, we’ve used school bus colors for our original ‘education’ sock. Our designs will begin to reflect seasonal fashion, nonetheless an embroidery is placed above the ankle, allowing the onlooker to see what cause is being supported.”
After purchasing a pair of socks, Prashant said he wants customers to feel comfortable, and know that they made a difference.
For many who don’t get the time to volunteer, whose profession or career path has taken them away from their beliefs of giving back, or people who like fashionable socks, we want them to feel good in their day-to-day lives,” Prashant said. “They are making a difference in small ways, because it’s that attitude that will inspire a global shift in consciousness.”
As for Mehta’s personal consciousness, he said the company is a direct reflection of his deepest values.
It embodies the values from my name, which my mom reminds me reflects calmness, patience and a peaceful attitude,” he said. “It allows me to be the change I want to see in the world, as Mahatma Ghandi continues to remind us in our everyday lives. Through the early stages of this experience, I’ve begun to understand the sacrifices many people have made to make the world a better place. Giving up money, friendships, dreams and expectations, to be the change they want to see in the world. We are small heroes who get their greatest satisfaction from within.”
By purchasing a pair of socks, Prashant said you are doing a lot more than just supporting clean water or planting trees, because each purchase is quantifiable.
Our tree socks, for example, don’t just plant trees,” he said. “They plant trees in Ghana. If you want to learn more ways to do so, you can be and are connected to the project. As we expand, there are going to be more opportunities to learn and be a part of the story. We want to make a change, so that people aren’t just making a donation that they forget about.”
With this model, purchasing socks allows consumers to contribute to various causes that are traceable. Some of those causes are listed below:
Action Against Hunger– We’ve been able to deliver more than 6,000 food packages to malnourished children in Sub-Sahara Africa.
Trees for the Future – We have planted more than 20,000 in Ghana since last October.
Engineers Without Boarders Australia– We have donated hundreds of hours to support sanitation in schools in Nepal. Through this, we support girls going to school because toilets/sanitation systems are not working.
For #WorldAIDSDay on December 1, Prashant said they launched a new sock to raise HIV awareness. Each pair sold provides one week of HIV therapy to a pregnant women suffering through UNAIDS.
This year, their socks were featured in the Golden Globe gift bags, and they recently sponsored an event at Columbia University for its Social Enterprise conference, which included former Vice President Al Gore.
As for the future, Prashant said they are always looking to partner with more charities, such as better ways to support clean water in India.
Conscious Step has blessed me with stronger perspective, allowing me to better understand that the problems that affect myself and those around me cannot be compared to the suffering millions around the world continue to face,” Prashant said.
Feature Image: Co-Founders Prashant Mehta and Hassan Ahmed