The sock was once the functional component to the classic man’s look. Just like the grip to a tennis racquet or the spanner to the tool box, the sock wasn’t intended to flatter or encourage flare. It was the back drop to the garment that ‘tied-in’ the small space between the shoe and trouser; traditionally in three colours: white for sport, black for business and grey for variety.
Then there was the tipping point. Whether it was Paul Smith’s range of sophisticated colours and patterns or incumbent brands offering affordable sock styles that didn’t come in packs of black or white – the sock had become centre stage. With its own identity, the functional sock has been transformed into different colours, styles, patterns and prints that gracefully or boldly wraps around the ankle. Fast forward to today and the funky sock is here to stay. Just walk pass David Jone’s sock department which demonstrates the cascade of colourful socks layered across their walls.
There is a new chapter in the funky sock market – subscription socks. With its strong popularity in the US, a savvy Melbourne entrepreneur (Jeff de Maria) saw an opportunity to offer Australian men and women with a funky sock subscription business – Soxy Beast. Not just brightening up people’s day by offering a monthly sock designed by local artists and stitch in Melbourne, but a portion of the proceeds are donated to the artist nominated charity. We sat down with Jeff to learn a little more about his venture and Soxy Beast.
Scott Viney: How much do you love socks?
Jeff de Maria: I probably should say lots and lots, but to be honest, before starting the company I would literary go to Big W or something and buy 15 of the same black sock so I would never had the need to pair them. I never had the interest in wearing funky socks, but now I quite love them. I’m checking out other people socks and finding out their brands and following key Instagram feeds. It’s not something that I was originally into, but it has grown on me.
Jeff is originally from California, and always had a few “side hustles” in earning a few extra bucks. He’s always considering and mentally massaging various business ideas, but it wasn’t until he recently went back to the United States that he noticed an increase demand for product subscription services. Toying with a few ideas and discovering the shear cost of postage in Australia, Jeff had landed on socks.
“It’s a product that no one really returns; everybody wears them and small enough to be classed as a letter.”
SV: Receiving a pair of socks in the mail is a thrilling experience, and yet it’s the reversal of how a consumer buys socks. They normally first see the design and then determine whether it matches with a particular outfit. Was this intentional?
JM: My original inspiration was drawn on my younger days when I went to parties where they had pinatas. You knew you weren’t going to get something amazing, but it was a surprise. It’s like the sock, when you get the pack you don’t know exactly what you are going to get. It’s not something overwhelmingly cool, but it’s something to look forward when the subscriber final wears the new pair.
Subscribers to Soxy Beast will receive a new and different sock design every month, with the option of having a 3, 6 or 12 month package – or alternatively on a month-to-month basis. While the socks are quite funky, Jeff affirms Soxy Beast stance on fashion as being complementary as oppose to standoffish. He believes every sock will find its purpose to the individual wardrobe, that being work or play.
“Soxy Beast doesn’t want to dictate style but aims to complement.”
SV: Is there a philosophy or ethos when it comes to design of the sock?
JM: I try to put little influences on the designers so not to constrain them. Working with a nylon textile, there already is a level of constraint to the detail and the number of colours that can be used. Beyond those basics, I try to give them free reign to be creative.
When I look for artists, I try and source from a variety of medians. It’s a collaboration and a challenge for me. If I’m sourcing a design from a water colour artist, this requires me to find methods to digitise the image before being sent out. But at the same effect [the sock] needs to retain the same feel as the original design.
I let them take on their process and then I come on-board to do the digital design it can be translated into a sock design.
SV: How do you go about sourcing your designers and artist? Are they reaching out to you or are you reaching out to them?
JM: Approach has happen both ways. When I launch, the first sock design was a friend of friend; over the first few months it had grown socially [in particular, Instagram] and have been approached via Instagram. I’ve also targeted different artist. Also, working with charities has allowed me to expand my network.
Next year Soxy Beast will be collaborating with the Everfresh Crew, a Melbourne graffiti artist group.
“When I first launched, I would have never imagine working with those guys!”
Soxy Beast was launched late last year, and with the first sock design released just before Christmas. It was a steep learning curve for Jeff, nailing down the key processes and establishing business fundamentals of his sock business, “[At the start] I didn’t have a great return on investment as I didn’t know what I was doing”.
But with time, Jeff had learn through his mistakes and teething problems to create a momentum platform, and arguable a game changer in the sock business.
“If I knew what I know now, I could have set up the business in four weeks. We had a number of false starts, but after a while it became very cyclical. Now we plan for months in advance, I’ve got designs and artist line up until July next year.”
Jeff has engaged a number of local Australian artist – previous contributors include art and textile artist Hayley Lauren, graphic designer Anna Hatzisavas, illustrator Hanna Mancini (Hannakin), graffiti legend Ashley Goudie (KIL Productions) and recognised visual artist Lindsay Blamey – to design a unique sock designs that are not captured in the retail space. And best of all, ten percent of the proceeds of each monthly sock is donated to a charity organisation chosen by the artist.
Jeff’s growth model is a combination of organic and gentle push to potential consumers, but found word of mouth very powerful. As he understands, Soxy Beast’s most effective marketing / consumer engagement was through the envelope design – which is quite distinctive to the eye and has a lovely glossy feel – caused a natural curiosity.
“Majority of the socks are delivered to people offices and the packaging is colourful, people often ask wants in the envelope.”
SV: There are already a number of Australian sock designers out in the market, with a majority sourcing their socks from South Korea. How did you go about finding a local manufacture?
JM: The plan was originally to outsource [the sock production] overseas and buy designs to do it cheaper, but I realised there are like 14 companies alone in the United States working with that same model. I was looking for a point of difference and worked with the locally design and charity contribution angle.
When incorporating the idea of local design, there was an issue of minimum batch required, lead time and potential difficulties working with a manufacture overseas. I looked at a number of local manufactures and found that they mostly make school socks of a single colour. I was just about to give up and then found a manufacture in Melbourne that could do the designs. Low minimal order and able to talk the owner via a local call; it was convenient and low risk decision.
“Recently speaking with the manufacture, I didn’t release that I had developed a strong growth on a month-to-month basis in comparison to my competitors.”
SV: Jeff, thank you for your time.
The Important Stuff
Subscriptions to Soxy Beast start at just $15 per month with free shipping. Subscription for three months ($60), six months ($105) and twelve months ($180) also available – the longer you subscribe, the more you save.
Soxy Beast is the perfect Christmas or gift this season for the discerning man or woman.