Every business has to answer the question, “Why?” Why this business? Why this approach? What motivates you to start the venture and what will help you power through the inevitable bumps along the way? For John’s Crazy Socks, the inspiration comes from our namesake, John Cronin. It is a story of love, an openness to adventure, a sense of self expressed through fashion and a desire to spread joy. Those are hallmarks of John’s life and they are what motivates and shapes John’s Crazy Socks.
To understand our “why,” you need to understand John. He is my youngest of three sons, a young man who is finishing his schooling and ready for a next phase in life. He has Down syndrome, which is a central part to his life, but not the defining characteristic.
Down syndrome is a genetic disease that results form have an extra chromosome. Its most common form is called Trisomy-21 because there are three 21 chromosomes. We know some factors that correlate with a greater likelihood of having a child with Down syndrome, but we do not know why it happens. According to the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS), “one in every 691 babies in the United States is born with Down syndrome, making Down syndrome the most common genetic condition. Approximately 400,000 Americans have Down syndrome and about 6,000 babies with Down syndrome are born in the United States each year.”
There is no one manifestation of the extra chromosome, but a range of features. Every person with Down Syndrome has some aspects of the syndrome including some of the most recognizable traits: mental retardation, low muscle tone and an upward slant to the eyes. There are some unusual commonalities too: everyone with Down syndrome has a single deep crease across the center of the palm. There are a range of other physical symptoms that people with Down Syndrome may or may not have. For example, John was born with a blocked intestine, something that occurs in approximately 10 percent of newborns with Down syndrome. He also had a significant heart defect which is true of 40 to 50 percent of Down syndrome births. (He had surgeries to repair both defects by the time he was three months old.)
A recently as the 1970’s, the life-expectancy of a person with Down Syndrome was 25, but now it extends into their 60’s and keeps growing. Some of the dramatic change is because of the ability to repair the heart defects that killed so many in infancy, some because of advances in medical treatment and some because of changes in the way we accept people with Down syndrome in our lives.
Today, John is a healthy, active, dynamic young man. If you meet him, you will notice some of the manifestations of Down syndrome, yet those will soon fade as the force of his personality pushes it to the background and you see John as a person. He is not defined by Down syndrome any more than you ae defined by your height. John is friendly, gregarious, social and inquisitive. Yes, he has some intellectual limitations, but he has a deep love of learning. He’s also asking questions and looking up information online. (John is a big fan of “his devices.”)
If you know John, you quickly understand that loves school to the point where he hates to miss it. I remember an early Monday morning over the summer, I was driving his older brother to a job and there was John in front of our house, dancing and laughing, he was so happy to go off to his summer school program. He loves school, every part of it: the classroom work, the hanging with friends, the interactions with teachers and the afternoon activities. He goes in with enthusiasm and energy and those investments leads to wondrous results. We’ve been fortunate to have a school system, the Huntington School District, that has provided a strong, flexible and creative special education program. John and we, as his family, have bene fortunate that John has received such great support from so many teachers, aides, administrators and coaches. He has come to learn that being independent does not mean being isolated, that it is not a sign of weakness to seek help.
John now splits his time between the high school, where he learns life skills, and the tech school, where he is studying retailing. He chose retailing because, as he put it, “I like customer service because I like making people happy.”
Despite his early medical issues, John is now an enthusiastic athlete participating in the Special Olympics. He saw his older brothers playing on various teams and he wanted to do the same so John engages in soccer, floor hockey, basketball, bowling, track and field and snowshoe. John has been invited to the New York State Games on numerous occasions and has even been named as an alternate to the U.S. National Snowshoe Team for the 2017 World Games in Austria. He loves to compete, yet takes a positive attitude towards his competition, serving as a role model in the way he shakes hands and congratulates others in victory or defeat.
John has an innate understanding that happiness comes from doing for others and appreciating what we have. He always thanking his coaches and teachers. He seeks out what he can do that will bring joy to another. I have seen him walk over to a classmate who was dejected, gently to him and ask if he can help. John will offer the timely hug, do a favor without being asked and relish giving gifts. He finds a way to turn the mundane – a Saturday run to the recycling center – into a fun excursion. Spending much of his school time in a special education program, that has other students with Down syndrome as well as autism and other mental challenges, John has a tremendous capacity for understanding and valuing differences and diversity. Perhaps it is his comfortin his own skin combined with his empathy that gives John a way of bringing a smile to people’s faces because he naturally shares joy with others.
John’s spirit and much of his outlook on the world informs how we approach John’s Crazy socks. But these warm personal traits do not a business make (no matter how many times John says he wants to open a “Fun Store.”) Yet his outlook contributes to the environment that gave rise to John’s Crazy Socks.
Any sort of creation requires some fertile ground. In our case, I had started an organization, Paumonok Innovations, to create online informational sites and niche online stores. Having run other businesses and having John work at an earlier venture, he was always talking about working with Dad when he got out of school. He would say we should open “The Fun Store,” where people could come, have fun and we could make them laugh.
John is studying retailing and often spoke about working in a store. He’s also looking for what he will do next once school finishes. (You see his concerns are the same as the “regular” population.)
Throw into that mix John’s fascination with and love of colorful, creative socks. John has a strong sense of self and he loves to express that self through his fashion choices. (See a photos below of a three day sample of his socks form this past summer. Notice how the summer did not dissuade him form wearing Christmas socks.)
Some days he’s carefully matched (“See Dad, this grey shirt goes with these blue pants and these blue socks). Other days, he’s a mad mix of plaids, stripes and colors that make sense to John and maybe no one else. (His brother James would often say, “Dad, you’re not going to let him go to school dressed like that, are you?” as I ushered John out the door.) John’s keen to see what others are wearing and what’s new at the stores or in fashion circles, not so he can determine what trends to follow, but so he can find ties to add to his highly personal mix.
In one of our conversations, John suggested that we should have a store selling socks. He went on about what types of socks we could sell. “Bacon, we definitely have to have Bacon socks.” That seed immediately took root. We spoke about building a website. John said he wanted to make videos to tell people about the socks. Most of all, he thought people would be happy if they could wear fun socks.
We nurtured those roots to grow them into this nascent business. We take our “why” directly from John. We start with the socks. We seek out socks that will charm you, encourage you and most of all, make you love them. Like John’s sense of fashion, there is no one pair of socks for everyone as we each have our own personality and our own style. And each person will wear his or her pair of socks differently.
And we want to make people happy: happy with their socks, happy with the service, happy with the way we treat them. This too is inspired by John and his caring nature, the way he treats others well. It comes from seeing how people often underestimate this young man with Down syndrome and none of us ever want to be underestimated.
This venture is an act of love. We are a tightly bonded, father and son team. I do not want to let John down and he does not want to let me down, which provides tremendous drive. We’re both competitors who know what it means to work for a long term goal and we are in this for the long haul. We want to make people happy, to recognize their individuality and their spirit. We do that by offering socks, not just any socks, but fun, colorful, creative socks that people will love. We will pay attention to each person, treat everyone with dignity and respect and make that manifest in all we do, from the way we answer the phone to the socks we select, to the design of our website to the packaging of our socks to the shipping and customer service we provide.
We started this journey to spread joy. We will only benefit if we take care of our customers. The more we can do for our customers, the better we will do. know our main benefit will come from serving our customers. And we will share those benefits by donating a portion of our revenues to the Special Olympics because John loves that program so much and has benefited so much from it.
We do not want to just run a business; we are on a mission. It’s personal: it is a gift I can give my son. And John has his name on it. We will do everything we can to make good on our promises.