August 18, 2020
Socks That Restore Freedom. Q&A with UPmovement's Founder Tom Henskens
Author: ALTSO Staff
In 2019, we began our partnership with UPmovement, an Australian sock company and social enterprise created to sell socks while helping persons living with disabilities worldwide. Check out our interview with founder Tom Henskens.
Tell us the story of how UpMovement was founded.
UPmovement was born in 2017 when I was on a university placement in Cambodia for my Masters in Prosthetics and Orthotics. I knew a little about the history of Cambodia prior to this trip, though I was really stunned by the severe lack of resources and intense need for prosthetic care throughout the country.
The small rehabilitation centre I worked within 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 own families. The resources available were in horrible condition and the facility had shrunk significantly due to loss of funding.
Coming back to Australia, I learned that the situation was much worse in many other countries across the world. For example, in South Sudan there is only one prosthetics clinic for the whole country, with 12 staff, and an average of 60,000 patients annually. Globally, there are 35 million amputees who lose their limb due to various reasons (Disease, Road accidents, War, Acts of Terror, Famine etc.) But for many developing and war-torn countries, there just aren’t enough resources and trained professionals to help build new prosthetic limbs for amputees.
Being an amputee in a developing country is extremely difficult. For many cultures, physical abnormalities are shunned upon and these amputees are not looked after and cannot find proper rehabilitation and care. Amputees can end up in below-poverty line work that is dangerous and risky (ie. Garbage sorting, begging, sex work).
The struggle is amplified for their immediate families too. For many families in developing and war-torn countries, sustaining one's family can be even tougher, given that many live just above, or even below the poverty line. This can be inflated when one member of the family loses a limb. The family then has to use whatever money they have to provide for the healthcare and rehabilitation. Limb loss doesn't just affect the individual, it affects the whole family
This is why we exist - to be able to support NGO's on the ground in target countries to provide free orthopedic care to those most in need. UPmovement makes and provides fun & colourful socks with 100% of profits being donated to help provide free orthopedic care to those most in need across the developing world.
Why socks? We wanted to sell something that is trending in Western culture, and is somewhat relevant to lower limbs/our social cause. Now people can wear fun socks, and know that their purchase has helped someone else walk again/for the first time.
How did you find ALTSO and decide you wanted to partner with us?
I came across ALTSO after returning home from my University placement and began looking for ways in which I could help the amputee situation. To my disbelief, there really weren’t any charities at all in Australia that focused on amputees in developing countries (rather than just in Australia). As I searched I found that ALTSO was by far the most accessible and the most prominent online with their work. What drew me to ALTSO was that they built their own modular legs and were able to provide orthopedic care at a much lower cost than many other companies.
Where does your passion for mobility and mobility causes come from?
Mobility is something that many people take for granted. It’s not something that we really think about a lot in our everyday lives. Every day we are able to get out of bed and go anywhere with relative ease. We can run, jump, climb, hop and skip all we want while there are others out there who can only dream of such freedom. Mobility helps us to be human. It helps us provide for our families and communities. Mobility brings us all together.
It's a strange time for everyone. How has the pandemic affected UpMovement and how have you pivoted during this time of crisis?
COVID-19 has been a devastating event for everyone over the course of this year, with many losing their jobs, income and their overall quality of life. At UPmovement, we ourselves lost our whole supply chain. 75% of our monthly income (from markets and stalls) and your major fundraising event Rocktoberfest were also cancelled. However, we didn’t want to throw in the towel because our cause continues to affect millions of people worldwide, and it will forever be our duty to help them.
Therefore, on April 20th, we launched Project Oz - an effort to do our bit to help small businesses and artists in Australia that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19 and bring UPmovement’s supply chain roaring back to life. UPmovement brought out a line of socks that were 1) Manufactured by small businesses in Australia 2) Designed by Australian artists.
Funfetti is one of UpMovement's new designed by local Australian artist Topsy Turvy Studio.
Our first step was to move manufacturing back to Melbourne. We originally had our socks made overseas due to lower manufacturing costs, however as the current situation has worsened, we wanted to do as much as we could to support more local manufacturers. Despite the fact that manufacturing would be more expensive, the value of supporting local manufacturers would outweigh the bigger cost.
Artists are one of the hardest-hit groups during this pandemic, with many not eligible for government support. Through Project Oz, we were able to support several artists by having them design some new socks patterns for us! We wanted these designs to be unique to them that highlights their style of work. By collaborating, we have been able to help grow their audience and reach, so more people can see their amazing talent and work.
As the virus continues to spread, the market continues to change. Here in Australia, we are in the midst of a second wave that has led to Melbourne being in complete lockdown for 6 weeks. One of the most trending new products that we have all had to buy is face masks. So we decided to begin hand making our own masks to help with ALTSO’s Reopening Fund. In our first week since launching masks, we have already sold over 50! 100% of proceeds from masks will go towards ALTSO’s Reopening Fund.
Check out UPmovement's awesome socks and masks and get one for yourself!