Interview with Emma Mathews, founder of Socko
From idea to execution, Emma Mathews of sustainable brand Socko tells us about her journey of turning her love of craft into a business. Read on to find out about Socko's mission, the value of repair and advice on how to get started with making.
Photography by Jeremy Freeman.
How did you get into your craft?
I’ve been a lifelong maker but self-taught. My parents are both creative professionals and my mum studied textiles. She taught me to sew but was never one for knitting or darning. My earliest memory of taking an interest in knitting specifically is a Galt Toys First Knitting kit. As an only child I had a lot of time to myself, which allowed me to be immersed in hobbies. Mine were all very craft focused, including making outfits for my toys.
When looking to start my own business I wanted to bring my deep-rooted passion for craft together with my communication skills (I studied Graphic Design and subsequently worked in advertising) to make something that people need as well as want.
What is Socko's mission?
Socko is on a mission to extend the active life of clothing by re-teaching the lost art of darning. Once upon a time it was an essential life skill, but darning seems to have skipped a generation (or two) as we became a throwaway society. As we wake up to the reality of these actions, many of us are attempting to produce less waste and treasure what we have. Repair is a fundamental alternative, and we can learn a lot from the way things were done in the past. The motivation may have shifted but the method is the same. To act on this mission, every pair of Socko socks comes with a swatch of yarn and a darning needle. We also sell darning tools and we teach darning workshops online and around the UK.
Photography by Jess Mews.
How do you source your materials and decide on your designs?
A lot of time went into, and still goes into, sourcing suppliers and manufacturers who align with Socko’s sustainability ethics. Our yarn is sourced from surplus and redundant stock of professional yarns from mills around the UK. We work with a wonderful person named David who is the middleman between the large scale producers with excess stock and us. We initially went directly to the mills but really needed someone with established relationships. David opened the door for us and of course, in turn, we're supporting his business. As for the designs, they are ever changing - the nature of using off-cuts means that once they’re gone, they’re gone. Even if the pattern is the same, the colours will always be different.
Our recycled range took the most research and negotiation. If I had held off until I was able to produce a fully recycled range here in the UK, I’m not sure Socko would be around today. There are no off-the-shelf solutions when you are trying something new.
How did your practice come to centre on sustainability?
It actually came about through a discussion with WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) when I was still in the very early stages of planning. I wanted to get a sense of what the most sustainable fibers would be to make socks from. The insight I got from WRAP was that the most sustainable thing you can do is to make a durable, long-lasting product. Further research led me to find that people’s abilities to make basic repairs and alterations had succumbed to the convenience of fast fashion. So as well as using waste to make a product that is made to last, decisions around each element of the business, from packaging to collaborations, all go through me so I can ensure that they are being made with people and planet in mind.
What is some advice you have for aspiring makers?
Just give it a go! What I particularly love about textiles in that nothing is permanent. You can always undo and redo something until you reach an outcome that you are happy with. That’s why when I teach, I like to teach the principles of a sturdy mend because once you understand the rules it’s easier to break them with confidence. This is where your creativity can really shine through and I’m always thrilled to see the ways in which students apply their new-found craft knowledge.