Matt Gresia was born in the Morris Park area of the Bronx and moved to Eastchester with his family when he was seven. He always knew he wanted to run his own business, to be a mogul and guide a company’s future. Conversely, he never got to know one of his grandfathers. These two disparate issues were what came together in 2016 to create Canswer Sock Co., an organization dedicated to creating high-quality fashion that is also affordable, and still donating 10 percent of its profits directly to cancer research and organizations aiding cancer patients and their families.
On the heels of Breast Cancer and Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Months, we were lucky enough to spend a little time talking toes with Gresia himself.
Part of the impetus for this company came from cancer preventing you from getting to know one of your grandfathers. Would you mind saying a little about him?
Not having one of my grandfathers has had a pretty deep significance in my life. My grandpa, whose family was initially from Sicily, was born in Akron, Ohio. He met my grandmother, who lived in Italy at the time, when he took a trip to her hometown to see a mutual friend of theirs. They later got married, moved to New York, and raised a family before he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and passed away shortly after. He lived his life through many different career choices, his first serving in the military. He fought in the Second World War and was even awarded a purple heart. After fighting in the war, he resumed his life in Brooklyn/The Bronx and worked as a waiter. He loved spending his free time with family, documenting (his opinion of) the most important experiences he had with family in a notebook. He also loved music. He played the piano, and even created instrumentals for some local musicians.
As a kid, not having him was always strange to me. I always wondered where he was and why I couldn’t meet him. I mean, he seemed like a cool guy from all the stories I’d heard. As I grew up, I learned to swallow the idea that he was, in fact, gone. While I’ve been able to understand that for a long time now, my anger towards the terrible disease that took him from us has yet to dissipate from my mind. When I was finally fed up with it, Canswer was born. I knew I needed to try and do something about it, so I did it for him and the many others that suffer the affects of cancer (whether it be personally or though someone they know).
Can you tell us a little about your long-held desire to own and spearhead your own company?
For as long as I remember, I’ve wanted to have my own company. It was just a matter of time that I found the right idea that I wanted to pursue. I don’t think it’s for everyone, but entrepreneurship was always just so enticing to me. I always valued the hard work, dedication, and well-rounded qualities it takes to be an entrepreneur. I’m absolutely in love with running a business, so I’m hoping I can do this forever. Being able to monetize something that makes you the happiest person you can be is more amazing than I can describe with words.
How did socks end up being your initial product?
Starting with socks seemed to be a no brainer. First off, I knew I needed to differentiate myself as much as I could, because nowadays everyone has a clothing brand, so having a company based around one specific article of clothing differentiates Canswer from every other clothing brand.
Second, poorly made socks are absolutely one of my hot-buttons. Everyone’s had that experience where it’s 6:30 a.m. and you’re rushing out of the house, half asleep, because you’re late to work or school, and you’re fully dressed but when you put your socks on, boom: your toe pokes through the hole. That’s the most annoying thing, so I made high quality socks to help people avoid that issue.
Lastly, I just felt like I could push the bar. I don’t feel like any of the leading brands really do socks the justice they deserve. I think socks (at least as long as they’re showing) could make or break an outfit, so my vision was to create such high quality, good-looking socks that could put the cherry-on-top of peoples’ outfits.
How did you originally get hooked up with Brett Conti from Fortune NY and ClockworkDJ for the collaborations you’ve done with them?
I grew up a skateboarder, so I’ve known about Fortune since around 2012. Brett does YouTube full time now, so his face is really behind the brand, but back then, that wasn’t really the case. I had no clue who he was. Turns out, he went to Manhattan College, the school I’m currently studying at. Long story short, I met him at a lecture he did at school and he gave me a lot of advice when I first started. Fast forward a few years, we became good friends and eventually did a collaboration. Doing business with trustworthy friends is seamless because you can ditch the idea of having to do contracts and legal agreements and all that.
I met Clock (as we call him) through a photographer I was doing some work with last year. Considering the fact that I’ve been a fan of Clock and Mac Miller (who he produces music/DJ’s for) since I was thirteen, it was surreal at first; a dream come true. It’s also astonishing knowing that people as influential as him, Mac, the rest of their crew, and Ariana Grande wear the socks that I created. The whole deal worked really well, and I’ve even gained a good friend out of it.
Did you ever imagine a rapper would be selling your socks at their merch tables on tour, and that they’d also be selling out in about than 20 countries?
If you told me that my socks were going to be sold on Clock and Mac’s world tour at their merchandise tables a year ago, I probably would have laughed in your face. Surreal is the only word I can really use to describe that experience. Having that happen to me has given me a lot of motivation to keep pushing and to see how much further I could take it.
Who are some of your entrepreneurial role models?
To be entirely honest, my dad is my biggest entrepreneurial model, and I thank him for showing me what being an entrepreneur really is. He owns a catering hall called Westchester Manor, it’s in Hastings-on-Hudson. I’ve learned from him that nothing comes easy. He really, really hustles and loves what he does more than anything. When you grow up surrounded by someone who does what they love for a living, you can’t help but to want the same for yourself.
In terms of entrepreneurs that are more publicized, I’m a big fan of people like Elon Musk and Gary Vaynerchuk. They’re really pushing entrepreneurship to a whole new level. I think that’s really respectable.
Where would you like to see Canswer products in the future?
I think seeing my products in a store like Zumiez or PacSun would be amazing. I think that bringing your brand to a chain store brings business to a whole new level; however, I don’t think it’s necessary for a company that was born and grown online. The online space is endless. There are plenty of people/companies/organizations that are really successful and are not affiliated with physical stores.
How did you settle on St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as a recipient of Canswer’s donations? Do you donate to other organizations as well?
Choosing St. Jude Children’s Research hospital was second nature for me. My family always donated to the people there, and I always knew them as an organization with a really good reputation. They don’t charge patients anything, and as far as I’m concerned they actually use the money they get from donations to care for patients and to do research that’s helping to bring cancer to an end. There’s a lot of corruption in this industry, but St. Jude’s is really doing it right. For these reasons, I absolutely support what they’re doing and I’m happy I made the decision to donate to them.
You mentioned after an Instagram Q&A that you’d love to collaborate with artists like Pharrell Williams, Tyler the Creator, and A$AP Rocky. What would you most like to create with each? (I’m guessing Pharrell would want a hat?)
Although it’s probably a stretch, I would absolutely love to do some work with those guys. Aside from their highly acclaimed careers in music, they’re really driving the direction of fashion right now. It would be great to be part of that, and I think my creative vision would clash really well with theirs.
Lastly, since we’ll probably never get this opportunity again, can you tell us exactly when (predominantly mismatched neon) tube socks paired with Velcro strap shower sandals became fashionable?
Honestly, that’s the eighth wonder of the modern world. If I had to guess, it all started with some young kids that had a rough night before an 8 a.m. class, woke up with no desire to get dressed, happened to be wearing high socks, and just grabbed the sandals they wear in their dorm shower. That did, however, become fashionable somehow. I remember doing a double take when I saw that combo in Prada’s Spring ’17 collection. But, hey, Canswer Sock Co. just might have to start selling that as a combo pack soon (probably never).
Check out our special extended Q&A with Matt below!