Inside the warehouse of the printmaking business Social Imprints are Pinterest wine tumblers, Stripe sweatshirts, Asana laptop sleeves, Lyft keychains and Airbnb luggage tags.
There’s also Kevin McCracken, who fought his way through substance abuse and the criminal justice system to co-found a business that now has a corner on the tech sector.
“Brand with purpose,” is the company’s tagline, and in this case, it’s not just a slogan. Social Imprints hires people with histories similar to McCracken’s, and 70% of its staff comes from at-risk backgrounds. According to McCracken, the employees at Social Imprints have an impressive 7- to 8-year average tenure.
“If I hadn’t met you, I’d be in prison or dead,” employee Miguel Flores once told McCracken, who hired him. Flores is a former gang member who worked his way up to warehouse manager and is now a close friend of the boss.
Employing 35 people, the private company generates $20 million in sales annually. Workers make everything from promotional products like branded golf balls and socks to custom tape for wrapping up new-hire kits, which they assemble in house.
Social Imprints began 14 years ago in a tiny office on Market Street, after a chance encounter between McCracken and Jeff Sheinbein, his former boss at Ashbury Images, which was then part of a social enterprise group known as New Door Ventures.
McCracken already had printmaking experience when he ran into Sheinbein, who ended up becoming Social Imprints's co-founder. The company started small, but grew quickly from word-of-mouth.
Success was arguably an unlikely outcome. McCracken began drinking at age 13 and became a full-blown heroin addict by his mid-20s. He bounced around between Portland, Santa Rosa and San Francisco, eventually becoming unhoused here.
“As many services as there are, San Francisco is not a good place to be homeless,” he said.
The last time he was picked up by police, he was in a Warner Brothers store in a Downtown mall, his backpack stuffed with stolen sweatshirts.
“I got tackled in the middle of the marble floor and realized I was done,” he said. “I knew whatever I’d do next would shape the rest of my life.”
McCracken ended up deciding to get himself clean. He made it the whole way through a treatment program at Walden House and has been drug-free since, but he recognizes that things easily could have gone another way.
“For some people, the demons are too dark and too deep,” he said, lamenting that his brother, now in his 50s, is still in the throes of addiction.
Going from hard drugs and homelessness to living in Mill Valley with his wife and their 5-year-old, McCracken’s life could be likened to the symbol of San Francisco itself—he rose like a phoenix from the ashes to re-create himself.
Yet not everything needs to be serious, as a box of stuffed white-and-blue Yetis on the shelf for mobile work-management firm Asana reminds a visitor.
The plush toys stick out among what’s otherwise standard issue company products: T-shirts, stickers, mugs. But the strangest thing McCracken’s ever made? That would be a limited edition burrito koozie for Yelp, complete with carrying strap.
Julie Zigoris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org