At the age of 25, Long Island resident John Cronin has met with politicians, amassed thousands of social media followers and sold hundreds of thousands of socks to more than 85 countries. He also happens to have Down Syndrome.
When Cronin was diagnosed as a baby, his father Mark did not know what to expect.
“f you’re born with Down syndrome, it’s like an old fashioned Chinese menu with everything in column A, and you get a choice of common B, except it’s not your choice,” he said.
Immediately, John was sent to the hospital for intestinal bypass surgery.
Mark explains that the family was told John may not survive the operation.
“We were concerned,” he said. “I brought a priest to have him baptized because we were told he may not survive the surgery.”
John survived, and graduated high school in 2016. After not finding much available on the job market that interested him, he decided to start his own business, which became John’s Crazy Socks.
“I like to say John’s a natural entrepreneur, because instead of seeing that as a problem, he turned it into an opportunity,” said Mark.
John wanted to start a business with his father after seeing the 2014 film “Chef” starring Jon Favreau, about a father and son who start a food truck business.
“Then I realized that we can’t cook,” said John.
They then decided to start selling colorful socks, which John always sought after as a kid.
Using the website Shopify, they started selling a variety of colorful socks. Today, they have around 2,000 brands of socks to choose from made by small and large producers. They have sold over 300,000 socks worldwide and have over 240,000 Facebook and 55,000 Instagram followers. Their speciality Charity Awareness socks are made for a variety of different nonprofits that they partner with, helping to raise money for those organizations.
Additionally, five percent of the proceeds for each sock goes to Special Olympics, and every pair of socks is packaged with a thank-you note and candy from John himself.
“We heard from families, people in tears saying this was just making them so happy,” said Mark. “We didn’t think about that at the time because it was just John and me doing what we do.”
Eventually, they started testifying in Congress for disability inclusion. They have visited Congress a number of different times since the business opened, most recently to provide “Unity Socks” to Democrat Representative Tom Suozzi and Republican Andrew Garbarino, both from the Long Island area.
“Support for people with disabilities is neither Democrat nor Republican,” said Mark.
In fact, John’s Crazy Socks has fans across the political aisle. Mark and John discovered that a prominent member of Capitol Hill was a fan of their socks after a customer from Houston, Texas called into the store.
“He said ‘I see John and Mark [were] on Capitol Hill. My mother works there. And she’s a big fan of John,'” recounted Mark.
The Houston resident’s mother turned out to be none other than Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who requested to meet the Cronins.
Pelosi had recounted to John giving a pair of his socks to the late former President George H.W. Bush, who was also a fan. Bush and John became “sock buddies” after Mark read an article in 2017 stating that the former president was a fan on colorful socks. They decided to try and send a pair for him. Months went by and his office eventually called to say that he liked the socks and wanted more.
“I don’t care where you are in the political spectrum,” said Mark. “She’s just an Italian grandmother. We come in and she’s fawning all over John.”
Then, Bush sent John a pair of colorful socks. This exchange was followed by a Tweet that was sent out on World Down Syndrome Day in 2018, where he thanked John personally for sending him his Down Syndrome superhero socks.
For Mark, this reinforced the former president’s legacy of inclusion for individuals with disabilities.
“One thing that gets lost sometimes is that President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Mark. “It changed the world.”
When First Lady Barbara Bush passed away shortly after, Bush’s office requested a pair of socks to be made to honor her commitment to literacy. Little did the family know, Bush’s only form of communication to the world on the day of her funeral would be in a Tweet wearing a pair of the socks alongside former President Bill Clinton.
For his accomplishments in business, John was named the first Entrepreneur of the Year with Down Syndrome alongside his father.
Mark believes that businesses like his are changing the tide for inclusion of individuals with disabilities in the workplace. Twenty-one of the 31 employees at John’s Crazy Socks have a disability.
“The big things is there are more businesses like ours, that are employing people with different abilities, and demonstrating the success,” he said. “So others are now copying and willing to do that.”
All in all, Mark did not expect the kind of success the company has had in less than five years.
“We knew after the first month, we could make a go of it,” he said. “We did not plan on it taking off the way it has, but at the same time, nothing shocks or surprises us. The more you put out there, the more good things can happen.”
For more information on John’s Crazy Socks, visit johnscrazysocks.com.