Young Environmentalists Pulling Their Socks Up for a Threatened Bird Species

How the 2017 Presidents Environmental Youth Award Recipients are working to preserve the Blue-footed booby Bird in Ecuador

Massachusetts, USA

“I was lying in bed, thinking about the blue-footed booby bird and staring at my feet. It just hit me. If everyone had blue-feet, they would care more about this bird.” 

Will and Matt Gladstone are change agents. At 15 and 12 years old, the boys are working to change the destiny of a threatened bird species called the blue-footed booby. Unhindered by the cost of sacrifice their efforts require, Will and Matt have for three years sold an estimated 10,000 pairs of blue socks through their non-profit organisation, The Blue Feet Foundation. Proceeds are used to raise public awareness and to support research organisations like The Galapagos Conservancy and The Charles Darwin Foundation. 

Will first heard about the threatened species after his science teacher, Mr Bannister, put his class on the path of wildlife discovery. “Birds were one of the topics we covered in Science class. We were studying adaptation. At home, I would look up different kinds of birds on the Internet. The variety of birds in the world is amazing!” Mr Bannister’s interactive classes and project tasks spurred the curiosity of the young environmentalist. Will’s keen interest in wildlife kept him engaged until he discovered the Blue-footed booby. The bird species are found in Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. “It’s not afraid of people. It has bright blue feet, and it dances to attract a mate. It’s also an amazing flier.” Currently, there are dramatic drops in numbers due to, amongst other factors, lower breeding and a shortfall of food. This threat negatively affects the ecosystem. Last summer he travelled with his school to Galapagos Islands to see the bird for the first time. The decision to sell blue socks was the natural part of the journey. Manufacturing and distribution was the tricky part. 

The foundation started with wholesale buying from China, giving up on USA manufacturers, some of whom didn’t bother answering emails. Now socks are manufactured in South America. “This year, we found a socks maker in Ecuador, which was amazing since the blue-footed booby lives there. We thought it would be so cool to get the socks from there.” The foundation valued its customers’ opinion and decided to reach out to the public with surveys before making the switch. 

“Socks were a lot more expensive from Ecuador - almost twice what we were paying to the Chinese socks maker. So we surveyed with our followers on Instagram and asked if they would pay $14 for a pair of socks if they came from Ecuador instead of $12 from China. 99% per cent said, yes! Some people even said they’d buy more.” Increasing socks sales tested the boys’ creativity. They grew their sales by going on to Instagram and liking photos that were posted of a blue-footed booby or the Galapagos. This got the attention of people who love the blue-footed booby. It also got them orders. 

The foundation recently found a company that will pack and ship the socks. Now Will focuses on maintaining their social media accounts while Matt focuses on other tasks. “I like to post pictures of the blue-footed booby with facts about them so people can learn about the bird. I also post pictures of people in our socks from around the world. We get sent cool pictures from people all the time. It is one of the coolest parts of doing this.”

 Will and Matt have no intention of slowing down the activities of The Blue Feet Foundation. The brothers also have some smart advice for other teenagers who want to make a difference. “It’s tough to start something, but if you keep working at it, you will be successful. We always talk about the summer when we started and didn’t sell any socks. If we gave up, we never would have done so much for the Blue-footed booby. And that feels good. Also, ask for help. You can’t do these things alone. It’s a lot more work than you think when you first start. Pick something you care about because it’s going to take up a lot of your time and you’ll have to make many sacrifices. We don’t get to hang out with our friends as often as we want because of the responsibility we have to the Blue Feet Foundation. But we wouldn’t change anything.” 

To buy a pair of blue socks, click here.

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