Alex Casey speaks to the driving force behind Send Our Socks about his ‘audacious’ goal to send thousands of NZ-made wool socks to Ukraine.
Last year Wellington advertising creative Chris Childerhouse was reading news from Ukraine and, like many of us, feeling a deep sense of despair. “I just couldn’t quite believe that there was a war happening in Europe in the year 2022,” he recalls. To try and combat feelings of helplessness, the self-described “problem solver” got to work. “I just started to think about if New Zealand had anything that we could offer,” he explains. “Everyone’s sending tanks and guns and missiles and stuff like that, but we’re not really set up to do that.”
It was when he was reading about the bitterly cold conditions that some parts of Ukraine are facing over winter – temperatures plummeting to negative 20 degrees in parts – that inspiration struck. “I sort of thought, ‘man, we’ve got heaps of wool and we’ve got tonnes of sheep’,” he says. “I quickly realised that socks would probably the easiest and smallest unit that we could create.” From that brainwave, the idea for SOS: Send Our Socks was born, a crowdfunded campaign to send 10,000 pairs of New Zealand made wool socks to people in Ukraine.
With a background of 25 years in advertising and media, Childerhouse began reaching out to his contacts to see if there was enthusiasm for the idea. The New Zealand Sock Company got on board as the suppliers, offering up thousands of pairs of wool socks already in stock and the promise to produce more “if it goes gangbusters”. Humanitarian organisation Mahi For Ukraine signed on to support with delivery logistics, with spokesperson Viktoriya Pashorina-Nichols recalling the organisation was “delighted” to hear the pitch back in November.
“Any support that a person living in Ukraine can get is extremely highly valued and appreciated, given the horrific circumstances that the people are living in,” she says. “Many Ukrainians are living and fighting among the rubble of destroyed houses, with no power or running water due to Russia’s terrorist attacks on the country’s infrastructure, and the prospect of a harsh winter under such conditions is unimaginable.” Childerhouse puts things even more simply: “I just thought a pair of warm socks might make a really crappy situation slightly more bearable.”
As well as being immediately useful to individuals in need, Childerhouse says the woolly sock is an “enduring” New Zealand symbol. “When I was thinking about this, it was around Christmas time, and obviously everyone gets socks at Christmas,” he says. “I thought it could be a real sweet connection between New Zealand and Ukraine.” He describes himself as a “wool convert” from a young age, fondly remembering going on long walks and fording rivers with his dad, who passed on the old trail wisdom that even wet wool will still keep you warm.
When we talk, the campaign has been live for a few hours had already raised nearly $2,000. But Childerhouse admits his goal is much more ambitious. “Our goal is $200,000,” he says. “I wanted to set a fairly audacious amount.” Each pair of socks costs $20 to produce and deliver to Ukraine, but Childerhouse says people are welcome to donate as little as $1 to support the cause. “Every little bit counts and makes a meaningful difference,” says Pashorina-Nichols, who also encourages New Zealanders to read a list of other trusted initiatives on their website.
Speaking on a sunny morning from Wellington, Childerhouse hopes that SOS is one small way for New Zealanders to feel less removed from a tragic situation happening on the other side of the world. “I know it’s lovely, hot and summery here and life feels pretty cool, but a long way way away it’s pretty terrible and freezing cold.” Although he doesn’t want to speak too soon – the campaign is still a way off meeting its target – he says the process has already taught him that it is possible for anyone to make a difference, no matter how small.
“I haven’t pulled this off yet but hopefully this works,” he says. “And hopefully a few people get some warm socks and know that they’ve got some friends in New Zealand thinking of them.”