Q&A: Leiho - Smiley Socks for a Good Cause

Leiho has created smiley socks for a good cause. For homeless people, something as simple as putting on a clean pair of socks, underwear, eating a hot meal or drinking clean water can make a huge difference to your day. Leiho has created socks, and with every eco-conscious product you buy, you are helping the business support people in need by giving them essentials that improve their lives. We caught up with the two Founders Joey and Thuta to find out about their journey. 

Tell me about your background...


I’m Joey, 24 years old and I grew up mainly in Hong Kong and Singapore. At the age of 18, I had lived in 5 different countries which was incredible for learning about all the different cultures and connecting with people from different backgrounds but I was also exposed to a lot of structural inequality which influenced and inspired me to dedicate a lot of my work and passion into entrepreneurship and social impact.

I studied media and communications and Newcastle university and completed my masters at City University where I met my co-founder, Thuta. Prior to Leiho, a lot of my experience was in the creative industry working at the likes of ITV, advertising agencies and events.

I even started my own handmade jewellery company whilst I was doing my masters in London but that got a little out of control when I found myself in a very labour-intensive role by making 250 personalised necklaces (with specific colours and letters for everyone’s names)! Soon after I stopped making jewellery, and we started Leiho.


I’m from Myanmar (Burma) and moved to the UK for studies in 2014 and have been here since! I got my BSc Business Management at King’s College London and MSc Marketing Strategy & Innovation at Bayes Business School (City University).

My background is in working with charities, community based projects and startups, but Leiho is my first venture alongside Joey to incorporate all of my past experiences together!

Tell me a little about Leiho and what you guys do?


We are a social enterprise that believes everyone should have access to essentials that help fulfil the basic human needs of comfort, safety, hygiene and health. With every purchase on our store, this helps to fund basic items such as clean socks, underwear, toiletries, food, blankets and clean water to those without a home.

Every item at Leiho is eco-friendly whether it’s our smiley bamboo socks, OEKO-Tex certified beanies or fairtrade cotton totebags – if we are going to be making a positive difference in people’s lives, we need to make a positive change for the environment too.

All of the donations are distributed by myself and Thuta. We like to be able to connect with the people we are helping and really better understand their needs. We also want to make sure we are putting our words where our mouth is and actively measure or control our impact making.

How do you make the socks sustainable?


Our socks are currently manufactured in Turkey. We make sure they are not harmful to the environment by asking our suppliers uncomfortable questions we might not want to know the answers to and this applies to every single product we sell. Sustainability in the fashion industry is an ongoing process, we are learning more about it everyday and making sure that we are constantly improving our impact on the planet.

In terms of the questions we ask suppliers, we tend to ask them for certifications, understand where the fibres and raw materials are originally sourced and whether they are sourced ethically. Before proceeding with our production, we always make sure to review certifications to confirm that everything aligns with our values and again, that we are putting our words where our mouth is. We’ve built an incredible relationship with a lady called Sule who understands us and is equally as passionate about helping us grow our business in a mindful and ethical way.


Sustainability is something we put at the core of our decision making every day to do a little better each time. There have been times where we’ve had to completely change our methods or stop working with certain suppliers to ensure that we meet our environmental standards and expectations.

Where did the idea come from?


There were many factors that led to us starting Leiho, one being, we found out that clean socks were one of the most requested items of clothing at homeless shelters because people without homes walk several miles a day and their socks tend to wear and tear. Secondly, we met a gentlemen called Tony who was once homeless, and he told us that being able to put on a clean pair of socks or have toiletries to clean yourself really helps to boost your wellbeing and confidence for that day. Finally, the needle through the thread was our passion for inspiring people to do something good for others without expecting anything back. When you deliver an act of kindness, your serotonin levels and happy hormones are boosted! The fact that we could build a brand that could help make sure that those less fortunate are able to still wake up in the morning and feel somewhat more confident, hygienic, warm and fed was something I knew I wanted to do.

Who is the business aimed at?


We started off targeting young professionals that love funky socks but as we did more and more physical pop up shops, we realised that our community are really people that want to make a difference and are looking to lend a hand whenever they can. For direct to consumer, we target people that want to gift meaningfully but also bamboo sock lovers. For business to business, we target corporate companies that want to gift ethical and sustainable gifts to clients or employees.

We also do a lot of work with different marketplaces that focus on the environment and impact making.


Adding a cheeky plug – for any events, companies & organisations looking for custom branded socks that give back, you know where to find us!

How many on your team and how did you build and grow it?


We’ve been bootstrapping since we started in December 2019 so it’s been a little tricky hiring anyone else fulltime.  Right now it’s just my co-founder Thuta and I but we have interns and part-time employees throughout our journey at Leiho coming and going. For a year now, we’ve also had an amazing volunteer Abbey who has been so supportive of what we do since we first started.

Thuta and I have had to put dozens of different thinking hats on and just really make do with running the business. We are so fortunate to be around so many other incredible founders that have helped give us advice and vice versa. Our volunteers are also amazing at helping us grow the business too.


We’ve certainly also had a lot of support and guidance from the different programs and accelerators we’ve been a part of – the City Ventures, School of Social Entrepreneurs and Cambridge Social Ventures just to name a few.

Do you have any competitors, if so, how do you differentiate yourselves?


100%! We started the business knowing we had competitors, but I read somewhere that even if nearly every problem has been solved by someone, somewhere, the biggest challenge today is to find out what works and to scale it up.

We don’t actually refer to our competitors as “competitors”. For us they are like-minded businesses or in any case, an inspiration to us! Running a social enterprise isn’t easy so we applaud anyone else in the industry doing so.

Of course, we like to be a bit different from other likeminded businesses but what makes us different is our branding, we don’t just sell products for the sake of it but we try to make sure our products give off a ‘do good, feel great’ vibe and have meaning. All the designs and colours are chosen by us. On top of that, we are extremely transparent about the different charities and projects we support. We want to make sure that customers are able to see who they are helping and what project they are helping us support.

What funding process have you gone through? 


We’ve been bootstrapping since we started, meaning everything we make is being reinvested back into the business. In our first year we managed to secure around £6000 accumulatively from different pitching competitions and that helped us cover some costs at the start but as we started to grow the business, our annual turnover ended up doubling from our first year and second year so we love bootstrapping. It means we have more control over what we are doing and we learn so much more.

With that being said, we recently won a 15k grant from another pitching competition which has been a huge help for us this year!

Funding is still something we are trying to figure out. There is a lot of stigma with startups that they have to follow the VC route and raise millions but a lot of companies shut down because they end up pursuing the wrong kind of funding – so at the moment we are continuing with what is working for us and I guess as we grow we will start considering alternative funding options.

How did you find raising funds?


Growing Leiho has been about failing fast, smart and cheap so that we can learn from our mistakes early on. We tested everything we could with minimal budgets at the start which meant as we started to grow, we understood roughly what worked and what didn’t. We’ve launched products that barely sold and also have launched products that have been really successful. Raising funds was a little hard when you must be careful about your business spending especially during the quieter months. We’ve never actually approached any investors or VC’s but we did start with family investment.

There are many alternative ways to raising funds and most of our funds do come from grants and pitching competitions. We found that we learn a lot from pitching and it either validates what we do (when we win) but also helps give us really critical and insightful feedback (when we don’t win). It’s time consuming and sometimes a low success rate due to competitivity but it is a really valuable experience for early start ups.

What challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them? 


Bootstrapping has been an amazing lesson for us but it’s been the biggest barrier to growth when it comes to inventory, hiring and marketing but we make do with it. There is so much pressure to have exact goals and a fixed vision for your company but when we first started in December 2019, no one ever predicted COVID and that we’d have to grow our business online. We overcome our challenges by just taking every day as it is an understanding that this is all a learning process. Being a start-up has it's perks that if you make a mistake, you can fix it quite easily but mistakes can be quite costly. There is also such a supportive network and community of founders that you will never feel like you are going through this alone.

What has been your favourite part of the journey so far?


I loved having interns and part-time employees, we are hoping to grow our team soon. Business culture for me is extremely important and to be able to work with incredible charities and support local projects has been extremely rewarding for all of our hard work! I also love designing our socks, I wear black socks with holes in them so it was all very new to me but the design process is always really interesting and fun!


As challenging as it is, being able to learn everything about starting and growing a social impact business first hand has been very thrilling for me. On top of that, being able to see the difference we are making to an individual’s day with the essentials that we donate and the time we spend with them. We’ve made lots of friends along the way!

What’s next for Leiho?


It’s a secret but we have quite a few exciting things planned for Leiho. Firstly, we are growing as a brand, in terms of being listed in numerous online marketplaces, pop ups, and retail space. Our community of Leiho do-gooders have also been growing so we hope to expand more into retail stores throughout the UK to gain more physical exposure and reach.

Secondly, we are introducing our first every range of kid’s bamboo socks! After numerous requests, Leiho kid’s socks will be available mid 2022. And last but not least, we are growing our giving team! For a while, the donations and outreach services have only been carried out by our internal core team (ie. Joey, myself and our interns) but now we are working towards expanding our team of volunteers who can conduct our donation distributions more frequently and regularly. With that being said, if you are interested in volunteering with us, please drop us a message at info@leiho.co.uk and we can take it from there!