UPmovement is an online apparel social enterprise that exists to help restore the freedom of human mobility. They sell fun & colourful socks and donate 100% of profits to help build prosthetic limbs in developing and war-torn countries.
Tom from UPmovement is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. He’s humble and down-to-earth but also a man on a mission – to help restore freedom and help as many amputees all over the world. Based in Melbourne, Tom lost his job in 2020 and his side hustle turned into his full-time business.
In response to COVID-19 and the impact it has had on Australian professionals, they’ve been collaborating with local artists to help promote their work while keeping Australian manufacturers busy making their socks.
We caught up with Tom to learn all about his business, how it got started, the ups and downs, why (and how) he donates 100% of profits, and what’s next for the future. I love Tom’s business and his story and can’t wait to see them go from strength to strength.
How (and why) did you get started?
I started UPmovement in 2019 after graduating with a Masters’ in Prosthetics and Orthotics in Melbourne, Australia.
The idea for this came to me when I was on a Prosthetic rehabilitation placement in Cambodia in 2017. The small rehabilitation centre I worked at in Phnom Penh took care of hundreds of patients. There were not enough trained professionals at the facility to care for these people, and the clinicians were not paid nearly enough to support their families. Some days, we had to turn patients away because we could not look after them.
Upon returning home, I learned that the situation for amputees was even more dire across the globe. I’ve made it my life’s purpose to restore the freedom of human mobility to as many amputees over the world.
What was your launch (and/or the first few months of business) like?
The launch was an interesting experience for me. Every day I experienced imposter syndrome (“omg someone really just paid $100 to my store? I feel guilty!”). My first 20-30 orders were all from friends and family, so I don’t really see that as counting as REAL customers, I got the sense that they were all buying out of support/pity. As you can imagine, the funky sock space is extremely saturated (There are 33 different funky sock companies in Melbourne alone!), so getting new customers was tough. Fair to say, I quickly learned how to talk about the business and how to sell the USP of the business.
Tell us about your products, and what makes your business different
As of October, we sell 30 different designs of funky socks and 3 different face masks. We have 10 designs of socks that have been designed by a local artists and made by local manufacturers. These “Project Oz” socks help grow the reach of each artist, and help them to continue doing what they love. Each artist receives a commission from each pair of their socks sold.
What makes our business different is that we donate 100% of our profits to help build prosthetic limbs in developing and war-torn countries. We’re in business to help save lives.
You donate 100% of your profits which is amazing! Can you talk through your process and why you decided to do this?
Donating 100% of profits sounds daunting and impossible, but it really isn’t! So we pay back manufacturing, any commissions and salaries, and then leave some extra for marketing. Anything else is deemed “profit” and is donated away! This way, we keep the business running smoothly and have room to grow. We are able to grow faster and allocate more money to advertising through grants. For example, we have been granted Google’s Non-Profit grant, which allows us to advertise on Google for free. Winning!
We decided to do 100% because that’s what we are in business for! We didn’t start this to become millionaires or to sell the best funky socks in the world. We’re here to help our social cause and to spread awareness of the issue to the greater population (Prior to us launching, no one knew anything about the prosthetic situation!)
How much have you donated so far?
We are on track to donate over $10,000 since our launch last August. It costs $250 to build a new prosthetic limb, so in our first year of business, we have been able to build 40 new limbs. That’s 40 lives saved, 40 people being able to walk again. That’s why we’re in business.
How do you think donating 100% of your profits has impacted your business?
It’s tough to really understand how much the consumer cares about what percentage of your profits you donate. We know that businesses that say “5% donated” means nothing. But what about 50%? We wanted to do 100% because we wanted to leave the biggest impact and to have the greatest transparency. Otherwise people would ask ‘so where does the other 50% go?’. It’s impacted our business in the sense that we have been able to be as transparent as possible with our consumers. Our consumers know that we aren’t a profiteering business or a business that is using a social cause as bait to increase sales for personal gain. People know that we are genuine and that we are really in business to help our social cause.
Have you considered the environmental impact of your business?
Environmental impacts are extremely important when it comes to running a business. We use Sendle and Australia Post for our delivery, which both provide 100% carbon neutral delivery. All our packaging is through Noissue, which is compostable mailers (made from corn!). We pick our manufacturers that use renewable energy to drive their facilities. Our manufacturer in Australia uses solar power to power their machines! As we move into 2021, we are looking into better materials for our socks.
What has been your most popular product(s) so far?
We started by selling individual socks, but we soon found out that most people buy socks as gifts for others. Therefore, in early 2020 we started releasing 3-pack gift boxes. Pre-build ones or custom made from any of our designs. Our custom box has been the best selling item by far – as people love to pick specific socks for their loved ones!
Where are your products made? What influenced your decision to make the products in this way?
All of our Australian made products are made locally in Melbourne. This was in response to COVID-19, we wanted to help keep more Australians in their jobs! We also always wanted to have locally made socks, but the prices were too high when we started out. We started by having all socks made overseas, and some still are (our original designs).
How do you attract and retain customers?
As much as we run our company like a Charity/NonProfit Organisation, we attract our customers like any other clothing company. At the end of the day, we need customers who like the look of our socks and who buy clothing + gifts online.
We attract most of our new customers through social media advertising (Google, Facebook, Instagram & Pinterest). We have spent this year growing our reach as much as possible and showing our business to as many new people as possible, so that when Christmas shopping time comes, they already know our business and will be more likely to buy from us.
We have seen a huge spike in referral sales, all from word of mouth. Word of mouth is our greatest advertising asset. People that like our business LOVE our business, and can’t wait to tell more people about us. We include business cards and flyers in each order for people to give to others. This has worked incredibly well.
How much time do you spend working on your business?
The honest answer to this, is that running a business is a 24/7 job. It’s on my mind all of the time. Most of the time I’m thinking about ways to advertise the business and promote it better. I’ve woken up at 3am several times with vivid imagery of an advertisement that would work perfectly, and then I have to go and create it instantly. Orders come in all over the week, we get numerous messages and emails a week and always need to be on top of social media content and engagement.
What’s something you’ve learned since starting your business?
The hardest part is getting your first customer, your first real customer. Not your mum or friend that wants to support you. A real customer that doesn’t know you and doesn’t trust you. That’s hard.
I learned that to make the business grow, you need to turn one customer into two, and then two customers into four. With this thinking, I have worked tirelessly to make the customer experience the best out there. If I can make the customer say ‘wow’, then they’ll be back again.
What has been the hardest part of running a business?
Lack of support. COVID-19 has really isolated all of us so we haven’t felt part of the business community at all this year. We had great success in 2019 at markets and stalls, we couldn’t do any of that this year. Everyone else in my circle got a full time job at age 22 and is living the easy life – they’re now buying houses and progressing in their lives. Starting out, I had no support and everyone really did say that I was doing the wrong thing. I had to REALLY push through the criticism to start, that was hard.
What has been the best part of running a business?
Seeing the impact. This social enterprise has quantitative impact that you can actually see. We can see a physical prosthetic leg that we have been able to fund. We can see the physical individual that we have helped. We can see their family and we can see the dramatic improvement to quality of life after an individual receives a prosthetic leg. That’s the best feeling – knowing that you have given someone else a chance at life again.
What tools and software do you use?
Tailwind – Instagram & Pinterest scheduler
Google Analytics – understanding our customer base and seeing how they interact with our business
Shopify – best ecommerce platform by far
What’s next for you and your business?
UPmovement is keen to get back into the physical selling space. Once lockdowns ease, we will be working hard to get spots at the biggest markets and malls across Australia. We are also in talks to get UPmovement socks stocked in small retail stores.
The 8 weeks prior to Christmas are the biggest shopping weeks all year (that’s starting next week!) so we really don’t know how well we’re going to go this year!
Do you have any advice for other business owners who either might be thinking of starting a business?
If you know that what you want to start is the right thing, then push through and start it. You will get a lot of criticism, Australians are really good at that. We’re renowned for having ‘tall poppy syndrome’ – where we criticise and bring other people down to make ourselves feel better. Push through the criticism and once you come out the other side, life is glorious.