Onyapreneur: Michael Elias, Founder of MANRAGS

Originally written by Sandi Sieger for Onyapreneur. Find original blog here.
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When Michael and Tina Elias put a recent call out for consumers to return their old socks to them for up-cycling, they never expected to be inundated with thousands of pairs of socks.

But that’s exactly what happened.

The used socks will be up-cycled, laundered  and donated to people in need overseas (as socks cannot be donated in Australia). Pairs that cannot be salvaged will be recycled into new textiles (ie. t.shirts, underwear, beanies).

Tell us about MANRAGS.

We founded MANRAGS in 2016, quickly establishing ourselves as Australia’s only premium cotton socks and underwear subscription club. We’re now the world’s first and only sock brand taking responsibility for the entire life-cycle of the product. We produce high quality socks and give our customers the opportunity to return their old pairs, regardless of how worn or old, when they’re done with them. We do this by partnering with textile recyclers around the world to re-use old pairs that still have life in them and repurpose old socks that don’t have a second life into new textiles. In return for returning your old socks to us, we offer a credit to be used to purchase new MANRAGS socks.

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What inspired you to start MANRAGS?

A love of colourful socks with a need for high quality. We noticed that as my personal collection grew there was a noticeable difference in quality although not much of a difference in price. We wanted to design a high quality, unique product that was affordable to the masses.

Tell us about your career and background.

Tina is a professional photographer by trade who was always involved in retail fashion ecommerce, having successfully exited one startup in 2014. Tina currently manages and oversees the brand and creative direction of MANRAGS whilst leading product development and manufacturing. We apply a “see, hear and feel” philosophy to everything we do and Tina takes responsibility for everything “see” (aesthetics, design) and “feel” (product, packaging, customer experience).

I’m an ex-banker who spent 13 years across distribution, marketing and strategy roles in corporate finance and banking. Naturally, strategic direction and distribution sits with me and having the ability to bring in management principles from the corporate world has been helpful but also a balancing act. Attempting to introduce corporate methodology and processes into a fast moving startup is a challenge, but focusing on the key principles have been important to structured growth.

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Describe a typical work day for you.

As Founders of a startup no two days are alike, from warehouse and dispatch, to development, to board meetings and investor briefings. The first 3 years we were wearing every hat in a small business, but following last year’s successful Series A crowd-funding equity capital raise, our full-time team of 6 now manage the growth of the company as we continue to make waves around the world with a presence in over 70 countries and counting.

A typical day starts with a 5am wake up, gym at 5:30am and back home by 6:30am. Our 2 kids (Marcus and Isla) will slowly make their way out of bed and get ready for kinder and childcare (that’s more of a workout sometimes than the gym). We’re generally at the office by 8:30am although the time we leave will vary based on what the day holds.

What advice do you have for those wanting to start a business?

Be clear on the problem you are trying to solve and test, test, test. Learn fast and listen to your customers. Our best advances have come from asking our community questions and taking action based on their feedback. Don’t assume anything. Following our raise our very first hire was a Community Engagement Manager. We identified early that community engagement was a key differentiator for us and as we grew we knew this had to be core to our proposition and the essence of our brand.

Our raise gave us the opportunity test numerous growth options and unfortunately not all of them work out, regardless of how much planning goes into them because ultimately you don’t know until you try. It’s very easy to let this get to you, but it’s important to treat these as learnings and keep moving forward. Startups are difficult and there are many moving pieces, heaps of ideas and opportunities. Staying focused and not trying to do everything has been a key learning for us over the last 12 months.

What’s next for you, and MANRAGS?

With the ever-changing landscape we know that it’s no longer good enough to make people look good and feel good. We must be doing good for society. In October we launched our #startwithsocks campaign as well as our circular model. Our circular model gives our customers the opportunity to send back old pairs of MANRAGS for us to either re-use for second life markets or repurpose into new textiles, reducing the  environmental impact on the planet through textile landfill. As part of our commitment to reducing textile waste and attempting to reverse the impact we have made we launched #startwithsocks which gives the Australian public the opportunity to save their socks from landfill and send them to us for repurposing. In just over a month we have saved 3 tonnes of socks from landfill and over 100,000 pairs of socks that would have otherwise ended in the waste bin (you can’t donate old socks in Australia). We’re really excited about the next phase which will see us go through a separation process of the socks we’ve received before repurposing into something new and introducing that to our community.

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