The days that followed run together, Dan said, as the family tried to determine what had happened to Andrew. However, another memory stands out. A grief counselor advised Lisa to let the boys join the healing and repair work going on in their city. So, on Friday, Sept. 14, she took the twins to various fire stations and hospitals, where they handed out supplies, including clean, dry socks, to first responders dealing with the aftermath of the attacks.
Helping those who were saving lives and putting the city back together eased his pain a bit, Dan said, and the feeling stuck with him for a long time. In fact, that day – and the socks they handed out – inspired the company that Dan now runs with his brother and mother, Tall Order.
Launched in 2017, Tall Order was born out of the brothers’ desire to give back to those who had given so much to them – a “tall order,” if you will – and their undeniable need for socks that fit. Like their 6-foot-5 father, both Dan and Mike Friedman are tall men, 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-11, respectively. Finding fun, colorful and comfortable socks proved a problem – until it sparked an idea.
“After a few years in corporate America, both of us were really getting frustrated by not being able to give back as much as we wanted. We always knew in the back of our minds that we had to do something to pay back those who helped us during our toughest time,” Dan Friedman said. “We knew we wanted to start some sort of company to help give back, but the idea for the actual product didn’t come until we saw all of our friends personalizing their outfits with fun socks that we could never find at big-and-tall stores. It reminded us of handing out socks to the first responders that day, and an idea was born.”
Now, Tall Order sells a wide variety of socks for men, sizes 9-20. Ten percent of the company’s earnings go to nonprofits that help grieving families, including Tuesday’s Children, a nonprofit formed in 2001to assist kids who lost parents in the attacks. The organization helped children access grief counseling and ran various programs for them in the years after 9/11.
Once, Dan recalls, Tuesday’s Children sponsored a take-your-child-to-work day, something that children who lost parents on 9/11 might otherwise miss out on. A volunteer took Mike Friedman to the New York Stock Exchange for a day, while Dan went to his community’s local CBS affiliate, watching and learning how the news was made.
In the 20 years since the attacks, Tuesday’s Children has expanded its mission to help other communities coping with trauma, including military families and families impacted by shootings and other tragedies.
Another organization that Tall Order supports, the FealGood Foundation, assists first responders who were left with significant medical issues after responding to the terrorist attacks, including cancer, lung disease and heart disease. Construction supervisor John Feal started the organization after he was injured while overseeing demolition at Ground Zero.
Over the past year, Feal and others have faced a new challenge: COVID-19. Many 9/11 first responders are more vulnerable to COVID-19 because of the lung damage they sustained 20 years ago. Feal himself contracted the virus and has since recovered.
To support these first responders, the Tall Order team launched a limited edition FealGood Foundation Sock, featuring silhouettes of firefighters, police officers and other first responders. All proceeds from sales of that sock go to the FealGood Foundation.
“We are so proud to support them,” Dan Friedman said.
Tall Order led Friedman to Darden. The family decided that Mike and Lisa would continue to work on the business full-time while Dan pursued an MBA that could help the family keep building the company.
“I learned a lot at Darden, from soft leadership skills such as managing a team, communication and networking to specific subject matter, especially finance, operations, branding and marketing,” Dan Friedman said. “I use the tactical leadership skills I learned at Darden daily.”
He especially liked the case method, used in Darden classes to help students work through real-world business examples and find solutions. “It gave me a different way to approach a problem,” he said.
Those problem-solving skills got a workout this year, as the COVID-19 pandemic temporarily closed many of the markets and pop-up shops Tall Order relies on for sales.
“We had a great year in 2019, and our plan for 2020 was to scale into retail, which of course changed during COVID,” Dan Friedman said. “We are also very focused on dress socks that people wear to the office or to weddings, which was another big change.”
Dan, Mike, Lisa and their team shifted gears, building up their casual and athletic product lines, and beginning work on a line of underwear and t-shirts. They continued sales on their website and, thanks to widespread COVID-19 vaccinations, now have a full travel schedule of markets and pop-up shops for the fall and winter.
“We are really excited to get on the road again,” Dan Friedman said.
Looking at what they have built, he said it is hard to believe it has been 20 years since they lost such a giant figure in their lives.
“It still feels like yesterday, to be honest,” he said. What happened that day has shaped much of Friedman’s life in some way, from having to overcome fears of getting on a plane to knowing that he wanted to come back to New York eventually, even though it is sometimes painful to be so near Ground Zero.