Meet the young Christian entrepreneur whose stylish sock range is helping Britain's homeless

Jollie SocksJollie Socks

Ed Vickers would walk past the apparently increasing numbers of homeless people sleeping rough on the streets of Exeter, where he was studying at university, and face the dilemma we all face: do you give money or will it be spent on drugs? Do you give sandwiches instead? Do you just stop and chat or is that patronising?

Yet Vickers knew from his work serving the poor in a Christian ministry in Mozambique during his gap year that he somehow had to translate it into helping poor people back home.

The result, in 2012, was Jollie's, a collection of jazzy socks on sale across the UK including at John Lewis branches. But this is no ordinary fashion item: every pair bought results in a contribution for another, rather thicker, pair of hardy hiking socks donated to a homeless person local to the purchaser through Jollie's network of 52 UK homeless charities.

'As a Christian, I believe that our mission is to serve those on the margins and to help them find purpose and dignity in life. I became increasingly frustrated walking past homeless people and not knowing how to help,' Vickers says. 'I didn't feel comfortable just giving them money, but as I volunteered at a local shelter I noticed I was being asked for socks every Saturday.

'I never thought about starting a business, but since discovering that it was meeting a real need and it is such a simple thing that can help people, I have fallen in love with it and continued to develop our sock range.'

A recent report produced by the homeless charity Shelter suggested that there is anything up to 250,000 people living on the streets each night, and in a separate study that number has been predicted to more than double to 575,000 by 2041 if nothing is done to tackle the underlying issues.

And crucially Vickers, who now attends London church Holy Trinity Brompton, is now providing life-changing apprenticeships for men and women who are currently homeless and need job opportunities to develop their skills, rebuild their lives and rejoin the workforce.

Jollie SocksMirium, left, is a case worker from the local charity in Clapham, south London, the Ace of Clubs that Lavilla, middle, is based at. 'Jollie' founder Ed Vickers is on the right.

This is now a key element of Jollie's, which has been endorsed by, among others, the Big Issue founder Jon Bird and campaigning TV chef Jamie Oliver.

'It struck me earlier this year that, while we were seeing some real impact in the socks we were donating through the company, there was so much more we could be doing to meet the real needs within the homeless community,' says Vickers. 'Providing apprenticeships and having those currently living homeless become part of our key operations, gives a greater opportunity to bring more lasting change.'

Thinking back to the origins of the concept, Vickers tells Christian Today: 'For me it started down in Exeter. I was studying biosciences, so something completely different, and I was based there and Exeter had quite a significant issue with people sleeping rough in the town and it was a build up of awkwardness and frustration about what my role was.

'My church (Network Church) was involved in a soup kitchen, providing Saturday morning breakfast for those sleeping rough, jointly with other churches in Exeter at a drop in centre. I got involved in that, making tea, nothing heroic...and it was there where I saw the demand for socks and was surprised by socks still being a need that people have in this day and age. I did a ring around of various shelters to see if socks was something people needed. The general feedback was that socks were one of the most needed and most under-donated items.'

Vickers says he 'came back asking questions about what it's like to serve the poor in Britain. You get all sorts of fun projects abroad but what about your local town and community? That created the concept of this fun opportunity.'

The 25-year-old, who was raised in a Christian home, says: 'My gap year after school was a solidifying time for my faith and God really highlighted my interest in the poor. Faith seems to make a little more sense in those environments ironically; practical workings of what it means to be a Christian and follow Jesus in those contexts.'

Asked whether it's fair to say that he wouldn't have come up with 'Jollie' had it not been for his Christian faith, he says: 'I think that's fair to say...I wouldn't have got involved in a homeless shelter without the Church, and it has probably kept me interested as well beyond the start of it.'

He continues: 'This is where I feel Jesus would be and is currently in this world, with those without a lot, and I see an amazing amount of joy and hope where you don't maybe expect to see them, like in some of these Christian homeless projects.'

Each pair of Jollie's socks are British made cotton and packaged in recyclable tin cans, and this Christmas they are available as individual 'socking filler' gifts. Or, for the real sock connoisseur, the ultimate gift is the Jollie's Sockscription, providing subscribers with a new pair of socks every month.