Austin
5:10 am
Fri May 3, 2013

This Air Force Vet Makes Socks for Austin's Homeless. Here’s Why.

Story as it aired on KUT 90.5 FM

As you got ready this morning, how much did you think about which socks to wear? Socks are one of those items most people don’t dwell on. But an Austin Air Force veteran learned the importance of a pair of good, clean socks the hard way -- which led him to start his own socially conscious sock company.

Tim Scott named his company MitScoots, a tough name to pronounce, which comes from Scott’s childhood. As a 5-year-old with dyslexia, he was learning to write his name. Tim became Mit. And Scott became Scoot.

MitScoots shares a space with a nonprofit off Bee Cave Road, where employees label and package the socks by hand.

Scott’s love for socks comes from his time in the military. That’s the only part of his military service he’ll talk about. Other memories are still too raw.

“When you first join the military, they take away all your stuff,” Scott said. “And they gave me six pairs of socks.”

Scott also got shirts and camo pants. He didn’t realize that those would be his only clothes for a long time.

“You wear them every day,” he said. “You’d have to wear them in combat boots, you’d have to march in them.”

The Texas heat and the heat from some overseas places Scott doesn’t want to mention made wearing dirty, sweat-soaked socks unbearable.

“At the end of the day, I am happy to take off what was a gross pair of socks, and then I would think, good thing I have another pair tomorrow.”

The experience made an impression. When Scott left the military he started volunteering for nonprofits that serve the homeless. He remembers the people he encountered always asked for socks. Flashing back to his military days, it hit him. He knew he needed to find a way to provide free socks to people.

“Our label, on the back, it has a pretty prominent sentence. It says, ‘When you see a problem, do something about it,’” he said. “Under that, it says, ‘We do three things: we sell great American socks. For every pair you purchase, we give away another pair to someone in need and finally, we take pride in employing the less fortunate. So wear this pair and do more with your socks.’”

On that morning, employees Mike Walker and his girlfriend Uta Dittmer showed up to work covered in mosquito bites. They’d been camping; they lost their home after Walker was injured a few years ago.

He was a paint contractor. One day, he was sitting on his porch when lightning struck him in the face. He suffered third degree burns. For nine months, he says, his mind would go in and out of consciousness while his body healed at the hospital. He lived ,but lost every material possession.

Scott stands by Walker’s side showing him how to fold socks. Walker struggles, but Dittmer is fast. She says she fell in love with Walker when they met seven years ago at Barton Springs. She was a tourist from Germany, an artist. He had a good job.

“I was never homeless before, I had never slept in a tent before this happened, but now I had to learn it all,” she said. “We sometimes get really upset about the situation and get angry at each other, and we have to reconfirm and tell each other that it’s the circumstances and not the person that makes you angry or upset.”

Dittmer says the jobs Scott provides for her and Walker are invaluable. She dreams of the day she and Walker will be able to get married and legalize her immigration status.

Mitscoots is just a few months old. Perhaps the company’s business model is not the best; it started by giving away 3,000 pairs of socks way before they sold that many.

But Scott and his wife are not worried. She has a job that pays the bills, and they’re confident in the company’s slow but steady growth. They hope to make money one day, but more than that, they just want to continue providing clean, dry socks to people in the community.