Sock it to them...

IT'S OK TO BE DIFFERENT: OWDSOCKS supporters Kimberly McEwen, Tegan Edmondson, Mike West, Anne Hu, Zara Potter and Arish Naresh modelling the mismatched socks that go on sale tomorrow at Gisborne’s second Colour Run. Pictures by Liam Clayton
PUTTING AN ODD FOOT FORWARD: Kimberly McEwen, Tegan Edmondson, Zara Potter, Mike West, Arish Naresh and Anne Hu get readuy for the big event.
An explosion of colour at the finale of the Colour Run last year.

AT last a movement that brings new meaning to lonely socks that have long since lost their life partner — no longer do they have to linger as outcasts, waiting in vain for their mate to return to the sock drawer. They now have a raison d’être in their own right . . . in fact, they are spearheading a global movement which celebrates mismatched socks and champions the message: “It’s OK to be different.”

Odd socks are the new cool, the new black, the new chic . . .

It all began in February 2015 when Tairawhiti Multicultural Council president Arish Naresh took his shoes off at a powhiri and looked down to see a pair of mismatched socks winking back at him.

His one blue sock, one brown sock attracted so much attention, ingenious Arish decided his blunder had potential.

Once a victim of bullying at an exclusive boarding school in Fiji, Arish saw his odd socks as somehow symbolic of the things he felt passionately about in life.

“I was the odd man out at school, bullied because I was geeky and nerdy and not cool. It dawned on me that the odd socks were deeply meaningful and a potential vehicle to carry a message of non-discrimination.”

Arish may have felt like “a square peg in a round hole” at school but he has always been innovative, able to think outside the square and come up with quirky ideas. He decided to test the concept by deliberately wearing odd socks to work at Hauora Tairawhiti where he is director of allied health and technical team leader, and to social events and in everyday life for a whole year. His eccentric foot attire was so popular, his colleagues gave him a huge vote of confidence by turning up in mismatched red and green socks at their Christmas party.

Fast forward 24 months, and a couple of modest socks have now spawned a global movement called OWDSOCKS — Opportunities without Discrimination, a campaign with the official motto “It’s OK to be different”.

Since February 2016, OWDSOCKS has notched up over 10,200 likes on its own Facebook site and has been adopted as one of the projects of the Ship for World Youth, of which Arish is the New Zealand co-chairperson and former prime minister Helen Clark is an alumni.

All 65 member countries of Ship for World Youth, established in Japan in 1988, have signed up for OWDSOCKS, Arish says.

“We have had events in Tokyo and other parts of the world where young people use the OWDSOCKS campaign as a way to talk about discrimination of all types,” he says.

Arish is about to take the concept to the next level, from an advocacy campaign to a social enterprise — manufacturing pairs of mismatched socks here in Gisborne.

Arish says while he’s good at coming up with ideas, he’s not great at design work so his friend Mike West has created computer-generated versions of his rough sketches which were sent to Gisborne’s Columbine Hosiery to make.

He now has 1400 pairs of socks which will go on sale tomorrow at Gisborne’s second Colour Run, an event that seeks to raise awareness and eliminate all forms of discrimination in New Zealand including cultural, gender, religion, sexual orientation and disability.

The four sock designs each tell a story.

The most meaningful for Arish is the “pair” with square pegs on one sock and round holes on the other, which symbolise the way he felt when he was being bullied at high school.

The socks with rainbow hearts depict the colours of love and represent the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) community.

“This design is also meaningful to me because LGBT people are still discriminated against in Indian culture.”

The jigsaw-patterned socks convey the message “Why fit in when you can stand out?”

“They are aimed at kids aged five to 12 years. I want them to believe they can be what they aspire to be . . . as long as they do it well. Too often we measure success in economic or academic terms but you don’t have to go to university to be successful. I want all children to be recognised for who they are.

“We want to show young people in New Zealand that being different is OK and it is no barrier to achieving their full potential.

“We also want to remind every Kiwi that we are a diverse society and are better for it. Diversity often sounds like an optional extra. When people don’t feel represented, you get extremism, division, and lose out on their full potential. Things can get very ugly, very fast.”

There’s nothing odd about the plain black and white version of the socks . . . just like many of the people who want to support OWD.

“It’s all about inclusiveness, so these socks are for those with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) who still want to promote OWD,” Arish says.

The fact that Columbine Hosiery is using yarn left over from previous orders also fits his philosophy.

“We’re putting a waste product to good use, saving the environment and recognising the hard work of the people who made the yarn in some far-away country.

“Columbine has given us a great deal allowing us to charge $5 a pair of which $1 will go towards promotion; $1 to our Gizzy School Lunches charity; $1 to the work of OWDSOCKS in general and the rest towards cost of production and sales,” he says.

So far, Arish has funded all the work himself including airfares and promotion.

“Presenting about the brand in regional and national forums has been personally funded by me but the overall return to society is far more valuable, which is why I still do it. It’s easy to make a dollar in today’s world but harder to make a difference.”

Tomorrow’s Colour Run is a big day for Arish and his team.

“We’re hoping for at least 1000 participants. We already have 300 entrants, all of whom have received a free T-shirt. The T-shirts start out white but by the end of the day they will be all the colours of the rainbow thanks to the 700kg of biodegradable colour powder that volunteers from the Tairawhiti Multicultural Council and Gisborne Harrier Club will throw at the runners and walkers,” he says.

“If our OWDSOCKS concept works, we will set up a shop in Gisborne and recruit young people who have been caught up in the justice system to be our marketing and sales people. We will also utilise the talents of our youngsters to come up with their own sock designs and innovations to promote Gizzy at a national and global level.”

Looking ahead, Arish envisages technology gear as the next products to target — the things that young people use all the time like charging devices.

“While the campaign is for everyone, our target is young people,” he says.

“I love this kind of work and as long as the passion is there, I’ll keep doing it. It depends what you want to get out of life. I aim to do little things that make a difference to someone.”

Arish says he has never fully recovered from the effects of bullying as a young teenager but he has used the experience to empower rather than limit or define him.

His list of credentials, titles and achievements is long and impressive: he is chief “disruption” officer for OWDSOCKS; president of the Tairawhiti Multicultural Society which supports Gizzy School Lunches, a scheme to feed affordable lunches to children who might otherwise go hungry; director for allied health at Hauora Tairāwhiti, Gisborne’s District Health Board; national chairman of the NZ Dental and Oral Health Therapists Association; board member of UNICEF NZ; member of the Gisborne Volunteer Centre; organiser of curry night fundraisers in aid of social enterprise projects in India and cyclone relief in Fiji; leadership network member of the Asia NZ Foundation; 2016 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year local hero; 2015 Gisborne District Council Civic Award recipient; one of the 2014 Tairawhiti Men of the Year; campaigner for the 2016 Pink Shirt Day against bullying; co-chairman of Ship for World Youth leaders alumni for New Zealand; Justice of the Peace and training to be a judicial Justice of the Peace; clinician at Amber Dental; volunteer providing dental services in Cambodian orphanages.

In 2013, Arish addressed UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon in Vienna on the topic of “responsible leadership in diversity and dialogue” and the day after the Colour Run, he’s presenting a paper at the International Association of Dental Research in San Francisco. To top it off, in May he’s graduating from EIT with a master’s degree in health science.

How does he fit it all into a 24-hour day?

“Easy. I only sleep five hours a day — 1am to 6am — and then I get up to go for a 3-5km long run,” he says with a grin.

In what little time he has to relax, Arish has been reading Steve Jobs on the topic of disrupting the status quo.

“Jobs says you start disrupting and follow it through to integration.

“My accidental wearing of odd socks was a disruption that led to a concept that led to a campaign that built momentum and now we have products and, in the future, we hope to end up with a full social enterprise model — which is end-to-end integration.

“People probably think my idea is crazy but if it wasn’t, someone else would have done it!”

AT last a movement that brings new meaning to lonely socks that have long since lost their life partner — no longer do they have to linger as outcasts, waiting in vain for their mate to return to the sock drawer. They now have a raison d’être in their own right . . . in fact, they are spearheading a global movement which celebrates mismatched socks and champions the message: “It’s OK to be different.”

Odd socks are the new cool, the new black, the new chic . . .

It all began in February 2015 when Tairawhiti Multicultural Council president Arish Naresh took his shoes off at a powhiri and looked down to see a pair of mismatched socks winking back at him.

His one blue sock, one brown sock attracted so much attention, ingenious Arish decided his blunder had potential.

Once a victim of bullying at an exclusive boarding school in Fiji, Arish saw his odd socks as somehow symbolic of the things he felt passionately about in life.

“I was the odd man out at school, bullied because I was geeky and nerdy and not cool. It dawned on me that the odd socks were deeply meaningful and a potential vehicle to carry a message of non-discrimination.”

Arish may have felt like “a square peg in a round hole” at school but he has always been innovative, able to think outside the square and come up with quirky ideas. He decided to test the concept by deliberately wearing odd socks to work at Hauora Tairawhiti where he is director of allied health and technical team leader, and to social events and in everyday life for a whole year. His eccentric foot attire was so popular, his colleagues gave him a huge vote of confidence by turning up in mismatched red and green socks at their Christmas party.

Fast forward 24 months, and a couple of modest socks have now spawned a global movement called OWDSOCKS — Opportunities without Discrimination, a campaign with the official motto “It’s OK to be different”.

Since February 2016, OWDSOCKS has notched up over 10,200 likes on its own Facebook site and has been adopted as one of the projects of the Ship for World Youth, of which Arish is the New Zealand co-chairperson and former prime minister Helen Clark is an alumni.

All 65 member countries of Ship for World Youth, established in Japan in 1988, have signed up for OWDSOCKS, Arish says.

“We have had events in Tokyo and other parts of the world where young people use the OWDSOCKS campaign as a way to talk about discrimination of all types,” he says.

Arish is about to take the concept to the next level, from an advocacy campaign to a social enterprise — manufacturing pairs of mismatched socks here in Gisborne.

Arish says while he’s good at coming up with ideas, he’s not great at design work so his friend Mike West has created computer-generated versions of his rough sketches which were sent to Gisborne’s Columbine Hosiery to make.

He now has 1400 pairs of socks which will go on sale tomorrow at Gisborne’s second Colour Run, an event that seeks to raise awareness and eliminate all forms of discrimination in New Zealand including cultural, gender, religion, sexual orientation and disability.

The four sock designs each tell a story.

The most meaningful for Arish is the “pair” with square pegs on one sock and round holes on the other, which symbolise the way he felt when he was being bullied at high school.

The socks with rainbow hearts depict the colours of love and represent the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) community.

“This design is also meaningful to me because LGBT people are still discriminated against in Indian culture.”

The jigsaw-patterned socks convey the message “Why fit in when you can stand out?”

“They are aimed at kids aged five to 12 years. I want them to believe they can be what they aspire to be . . . as long as they do it well. Too often we measure success in economic or academic terms but you don’t have to go to university to be successful. I want all children to be recognised for who they are.

“We want to show young people in New Zealand that being different is OK and it is no barrier to achieving their full potential.

“We also want to remind every Kiwi that we are a diverse society and are better for it. Diversity often sounds like an optional extra. When people don’t feel represented, you get extremism, division, and lose out on their full potential. Things can get very ugly, very fast.”

There’s nothing odd about the plain black and white version of the socks . . . just like many of the people who want to support OWD.

“It’s all about inclusiveness, so these socks are for those with OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) who still want to promote OWD,” Arish says.

The fact that Columbine Hosiery is using yarn left over from previous orders also fits his philosophy.

“We’re putting a waste product to good use, saving the environment and recognising the hard work of the people who made the yarn in some far-away country.

“Columbine has given us a great deal allowing us to charge $5 a pair of which $1 will go towards promotion; $1 to our Gizzy School Lunches charity; $1 to the work of OWDSOCKS in general and the rest towards cost of production and sales,” he says.

So far, Arish has funded all the work himself including airfares and promotion.

“Presenting about the brand in regional and national forums has been personally funded by me but the overall return to society is far more valuable, which is why I still do it. It’s easy to make a dollar in today’s world but harder to make a difference.”

Tomorrow’s Colour Run is a big day for Arish and his team.

“We’re hoping for at least 1000 participants. We already have 300 entrants, all of whom have received a free T-shirt. The T-shirts start out white but by the end of the day they will be all the colours of the rainbow thanks to the 700kg of biodegradable colour powder that volunteers from the Tairawhiti Multicultural Council and Gisborne Harrier Club will throw at the runners and walkers,” he says.

“If our OWDSOCKS concept works, we will set up a shop in Gisborne and recruit young people who have been caught up in the justice system to be our marketing and sales people. We will also utilise the talents of our youngsters to come up with their own sock designs and innovations to promote Gizzy at a national and global level.”

Looking ahead, Arish envisages technology gear as the next products to target — the things that young people use all the time like charging devices.

“While the campaign is for everyone, our target is young people,” he says.

“I love this kind of work and as long as the passion is there, I’ll keep doing it. It depends what you want to get out of life. I aim to do little things that make a difference to someone.”

Arish says he has never fully recovered from the effects of bullying as a young teenager but he has used the experience to empower rather than limit or define him.

His list of credentials, titles and achievements is long and impressive: he is chief “disruption” officer for OWDSOCKS; president of the Tairawhiti Multicultural Society which supports Gizzy School Lunches, a scheme to feed affordable lunches to children who might otherwise go hungry; director for allied health at Hauora Tairāwhiti, Gisborne’s District Health Board; national chairman of the NZ Dental and Oral Health Therapists Association; board member of UNICEF NZ; member of the Gisborne Volunteer Centre; organiser of curry night fundraisers in aid of social enterprise projects in India and cyclone relief in Fiji; leadership network member of the Asia NZ Foundation; 2016 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year local hero; 2015 Gisborne District Council Civic Award recipient; one of the 2014 Tairawhiti Men of the Year; campaigner for the 2016 Pink Shirt Day against bullying; co-chairman of Ship for World Youth leaders alumni for New Zealand; Justice of the Peace and training to be a judicial Justice of the Peace; clinician at Amber Dental; volunteer providing dental services in Cambodian orphanages.

In 2013, Arish addressed UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon in Vienna on the topic of “responsible leadership in diversity and dialogue” and the day after the Colour Run, he’s presenting a paper at the International Association of Dental Research in San Francisco. To top it off, in May he’s graduating from EIT with a master’s degree in health science.

How does he fit it all into a 24-hour day?

“Easy. I only sleep five hours a day — 1am to 6am — and then I get up to go for a 3-5km long run,” he says with a grin.

In what little time he has to relax, Arish has been reading Steve Jobs on the topic of disrupting the status quo.

“Jobs says you start disrupting and follow it through to integration.

“My accidental wearing of odd socks was a disruption that led to a concept that led to a campaign that built momentum and now we have products and, in the future, we hope to end up with a full social enterprise model — which is end-to-end integration.

“People probably think my idea is crazy but if it wasn’t, someone else would have done it!”

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