Person of the Week
Heads Up: Schwartz’s Hedgehog Beanies Help the Homeless
Cooper Schwartz is making a difference through his socially conscious company, Hedgehog Beanies, with each sale adding up to give another cozy cap, as well as warm socks and gloves, to homeless folks enduring New England’s winter cold. (Photo courtesy of Cooper Schwartz )
In the heat of the summer, Cooper Schwartz was sweating the details on launching his socially conscious company, Hedgehog Beanies. The 14 year-old’s idea: Sell a line of cool winter headgear, with each sale adding up to give another cozy cap (as well as warm socks and gloves) to homeless folks enduring New England’s winter cold.
The 2020 Country School graduate and current Guilford High School freshman launched his hedgehogbeanies.com website in early November and quickly rippled out to add Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts, with support from his family. Although his company has only been up and running for a short time, Hedgehog Beanies has already struck a chord that’s resonating loudly.
“We officially started exactly two months ago from today,” says Cooper, speaking with the Courier on Jan. 7. “And since then, we’ve been able to sell 600 beanies, and from that we’ve donated 550 beanies along with 250 socks and 250 gloves. And then by the end of this week, we should get to 750 beanies, along with 100 more gloves and 100 more socks donated.”
Ask Cooper what inspired him to make a difference in the lives of others, and who helped him to follow his dream of creating Hedgehog Beanies to benefit the homeless, and the answer is one word: family.
“The thing that inspired me to start this business is that, for years, my family and I, we would go to the New Haven Green and we’d give out beanies, socks, gloves, food to homeless people,” says Cooper, who first joined the family effort as a 5th-grader and continued through 8th grade. “It was really eye-opening. It was really inspiring. Almost every person I’ve given stuff to has been so appreciative, and after, it makes you feel so good.”
In grades 3 to 5, Cooper also pitched in with his family to volunteer at Branford-based Community Dining Room, which provides hot, nutritious meals to area folks in need from East Haven to Old Saybrook.
“That was also inspiring to me,” says Cooper. “Seeing the less fortunate was really eye-opening and it inspired me to start this business where I could give back to those in need, especially during these tough times with COVID.”
Cooper gives props to his mom and dad, Lauren and Ian Schwartz, and siblings Avery (13) and Cameron (8) for their help with getting Hedgehog Beanies off the drawing board and onto the Internet as well as granddads Richard Schwartz of Long Island, New York and Paul Shuell of Plymouth, Massachusetts.
“My whole family’s been such a huge help in this,” says Cooper. “My dad has been a huge help with the website, and also my mom; we all spent quite a few days working on it. And my brother and sister both help me pack orders and they tell all their friends. And my grandfathers have been such a big help with the accounting side.”
Cooper also thanks his dad for helping with keeping the company accounts aligned with sales and support, and for providing a start-up loan to supplement the seed money Cooper worked to raise to launch Hedgehog Beanies.
“I did chores, I sold things on eBay, [and] I was a youth hockey referee for over a year to save up for this business,” says Cooper. “I wasn’t able to save up the full amount, so I took a loan from my dad with low interest, and I was able to start this business.”
Beginning last spring, Cooper worked out a business plan he felt would succeed and got to work developing his company.
“I really worked on it mostly from June to now. It was during corona[virus], and I didn’t have much to do over the summer and the end of the spring, and I just wanted some way to begin to be able to donate stuff,” he says. “I heard so many stories about how many people are struggling during corona because they’re getting less donations and there are more homeless people on the street because no one wants to approach them because of COVID. And it can be unsafe for them at the shelters, so they don’t go to the shelters as much.”
At hedgehogbeanies.com, Cooper shares some sobering stats about New England’s homeless population, including those in Connecticut.
“In the state, any given day, there’s at least 3,000 people that are living in shelters and there are 500 homeless kids in Connecticut," says Cooper.
At last count, 490 of the kids are homeless with their families, while 10 are homeless without families, he notes.
The website also provides links to the many non-profit shelters and other organizations receiving and distributing the free beanies, socks and gloves to homeless. The service area stretches from New Haven County to other points across Connecticut as well as those in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York.
“Basically all the money that we’re making is going right back to the homeless, either as more beanies and socks and gloves, and we’ve also made some monetary donations to shelters throughout the area,” Cooper says.
Through its website, the company can direct monetary donations to provide supplies to the non-profit programs, says Cooper, who envisions hedgehogbeanies.com becoming a non-profit entity in the future.
“We’re not taking any profits, and we’re also planning on doing larger monetary donations [in the future] to Habitat for Humanity and places like that and looking to the future to becoming non-profit,” he says. “If you go to the ‘Help the Homeless’ page on our website, you can donate right now toward homeless supplies. However many dollars you donate, we’ll buy the supplies and donate them on your behalf. A lot of people have been doing that, and then so many have bought beanies because they want a great beanie and they also have the comfort of knowing they just helped someone by buying a beanie.”
Cooper’s work to target support for homeless by providing warm gear during the coldest time of the year was done by design.
“Most people do their giving and donations during the holidays, but they forget the next 2 ½ months are really the coldest, and we need to continue to help those in need,” he says. “I thought about connecting it to New England with beanies, because that’s what people need in the cold to keep their heads warm.”
Cooper did quite a bit of market research—and took some fashion tips from his mom—to round out what he calls “the perfect 15” styles on the website, which offers options for kids and adults.
“My mom is pretty good with the fashion stuff and what looks good, and I talked to a bunch of my friends and family members, kind of doing a market test and seeing what the market was, which colors and styles worked,” says Cooper. “I would text photos to them and they’d say if they’d like it or if they didn’t. Then I got dozens and dozens of samples—almost 100 beanies—to get the perfect 15. And then I donated the ones that I didn’t end up choosing, so everything is going back to the homeless.”
Each of the hats currently retail for less than $20 and are fronted by a small “Hedgehog Beanies” custom patch featuring a fun illustration of a little hedgehog above the brand name.
“I just felt like I needed something to put on the beanies to help draw people in,” says Cooper. “I picked a Hedgehog because I just thought it’s a cool and recognizable animal. It’s very popular among people—a lot of people have pet hedgehogs, which I actually didn’t know until I started this business! So I thought Hedgehog Beanies had nice ring to it.”
Of course, he also has a favorite beanie, too.
“A few of them have a really nice Sherpa fleece lining, and one of them is [named] The North African, and I just love that one,” says Cooper. “It’s got a very soft Sherpa fleece lining and it has a cool crochet knit on the outside too.”
Hedgehog Beanies are getting noticed—and bought up—thanks to a grassroots local following that’s been building on social media. Cooper gives props to Avery for applying her Instagram skills to the effort, and to his mom for fielding the Facebook page, as well as his dad for lending his Twitter talent to the company.
“Social media’s definitely been a big part of this to get most of my customers, and people posting about it, like [State Representative] Sean Scanlon did a Facebook post that helped with everything,” says Cooper. “The whole town of Guilford has really just been rallying around this business, and I’m so appreciative of it.”
While beanies are cool and great for winter wear, Cooper is already looking toward adding in some warm weather seasonal merchandise to help his company continue raising funds to help the homeless all year.
“Obviously beanies are pretty seasonal, and we want to continue these donations year-round. So maybe when its warmer out. We’ll do more monetary donations or supermarket gift cards to help them to be able to eat, maybe by selling something like baseball caps,” says Cooper. “We’re definitely looking into more stuff like that.”
In the meantime, any purchases made right now will continue to help Cooper make a difference, right away.
“It’s really cool that people are getting inspired by this, and really helping people,” he says. “The generosity of others have really changed people’s lives.”
Reporter's Note: This story has been updated to correct a note on the number of homeless children living without families in the state.