Sometimes ideas that will have the most impact come at times when you least expect them. Michael Mader found that out first hand.
Mader suffered a traumatic brain injury after falling off his long board in 2015. The accident left him unable to work or continue attending school at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, forcing him to face a moment of adversity with an unclear future ahead. That’s when he came across a fact that socks are the most requested—but least donated—article of clothing at homeless shelters.
For Mader, a light bulb went off.
“I was in a place of adversity and felt compelled to make a difference in my own life, but more importantly in the lives of those who didn’t have the same opportunities as me,” Mader said. “As an avid fan of funky socks myself, I saw an opportunity to leverage my love for socks and desire to give back.”
That’s when Mader began developing the idea for Hippy Feet—a business that not only donated socks to those in need but also envisioned a greater business model for employing those experiencing homelessness. In the spring of 2016, he received a grant after finishing in first place at the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament. After further research and development, Hippy Feet made its launch in September 2016.
This fall, Hippy Feet is being honored by the mpls downtown council as a recipient of a 2025 Plan Leadership Award. The awards are aimed at recognizing and honoring individuals, organizations and initiatives that help make downtown Minneapolis more vibrant, and Hippy Feet is an example of that mission.
In their first year of business, Hippy Feet donated more than 5,000 pairs of socks, primarily in the Twin Cities area. Hippy Feet created nearly 20 part-time jobs for homeless individuals as well.
“We use some of our internal operations, such as packaging and inventory management, as a means to provide temporary, ‘pop-up’ employment to young people experiencing homelessness,” Mader said. “A significant number of these jobs were created through a photography project called ‘Mile in My Socks,’ which aimed to raise awareness about the realities of youth homelessness through photography and community engagement.”
In order to better understand how to support underprivileged youth in Minneapolis, Hippy Feet has partnered with YouthLink, a non-profit organization that serves homeless youth ages 16-23. In addition, Hippy Feet also works with the mpls downtown council, striving to create new ways to give back to homeless youth.
“The biggest impact that Hippy Feet has on downtown Minneapolis is our ability to create awareness and employment,” Mader said. “Our overall goal is to change the connotation associated with homelessness and to get the whole community involved in our efforts to give back.
“For three of the individuals that we have been able to provide a job, that experience and income has helped them transition off the streets and into housing.”
When it comes to the general public lending a hand, sometimes the simplest of gestures can be enough to make a difference.
“For businesses who are capable, create jobs suitable for those affected by homelessness,” Mader said. “For individuals looking to give back, offer a meal, a spare jacket, a conversation, or even a smile, which can make all the difference in someone who is affected by homelessness. If homelessness is ever to be defeated, it will take the entire Minneapolis community as a whole.”
Minneapolis’ community has done a lot in the past few years to make downtown a more vibrant place for everybody. From the increase in green spaces to the increase in transportation options, The 2025 Plan has been a driving force behind this.
“To me, The 2025 Plan is a plan that makes me incredibly proud to call Minneapolis home,” Mader said. “Downtown Minneapolis offers a communal experience. The focus of the 2025 Plan will surely make Minneapolis a better city, and a city that I can look forward to living in and introducing to friends and family as I grow.”