Find out why we think menswear socks startup Southern Scholar occupies a unique niche in the world of men’s dress socks and why their e-commerce subscription model makes a great gift for men in our review and interview with founder Kevin Wohlman.
About Southern Scholar
Inspired by a “love for dressing up and looking nice, down to the details,” Kevin Wohlman founded Southern Scholar as a side hustle just one year out of college while working in a Big 4 accounting firm. Southern Scholar offers a subscription-based model that sends one pair of socks per month to customers. The company allows customers or gift-givers to prepay for a 6 or 12 month subscription or choose to be billed on a month-to-month basis.
“Our target customer is any guy who gives a damn — any guy who takes pride in how they dress and pays close attention to detail,” Kevin told Modern Fellows in an interview. “We target the modern gentlemen of the world and let their love for the product and passion for looking good spread the word.”
Southern Scholar provided socks to Modern Fellows at no cost for the purpose of a review. Having had the chance to wear and wash the socks that Kevin provided, here are 3 ways we think the socks really shine:
1. Materials: Kevin boasts that “there is nothing on the market that compares to our blend, and that is intentional.” He spent a year and half testing and sampling different material blends before ever producing Southern Scholar’s first sock for sale, ordering samples from more than three dozen manufacturers in all different material blends. Kevin eventually landed on Southern Scholar’s “Signature Material Blend,” a unique combination of threads including Polyester, Viscose Rayon and a touch of Nylon-Spandex for stretch. Together, they result in a silky texture that are extremely comfortable and retain their color.
2. Colors: We love colors around here, but socks these days tend to fall into extremes of “dull and dark” or “wild and bright.” There aren’t very many companies that fill the void with a dress sock that is colorful and interesting without being loud. Southern Scholar’s colors and focus on small patterns, lines and dots strike a great balance for office attire that many other brands miss.
3. Fit: Southern Scholar advertises that their socks are “engineered to better fit your foot and leg and stay up on your calf all day,” and they deliver on that promise. One of the major shortcomings of many proper dress socks is that the thin material slinks down and bunches on your ankle during the day (which is why this writer tends to prefer thicker socks). One of the things that makes Southern Scholar different is that they don’t use any cotton or wool in their blend. The blend they formulated does a terrific job of staying put all day on the leg.
“Each sock we create is designed specifically around a business casual and business professional outfit,” noted Kevin. Southern Scholar offers suggestions about options for wearing the sock. “It wasn’t until I started working on building the company that I truly learned and appreciated what a well designed dress sock could achieve. Now, however, there is nobody out their who loves and appreciates a good pair of socks like I do,” said Kevin.
His focus on perfecting a good pair of socks has attracted members from college students to retirees and across a spectrum of businessmen, lawyers, school teachers, car salesmen, accountants, investment bankers, photographers, artists and athletes. While the company has pursued paid and organic social media campaigns, pop-ups, retail deals and influencer marketing, Kevin noted that “our #1 growth channel has been organic word of mouth from our members.”
Lessons Learned from Southern Scholar Founder Kevin Wohlman
Kevin was always entrepreneurial and knew that his passion was in starting and running his own businesses. (When he was a kid, he would save his Halloween candy until all the other kids had eaten all of theirs and then bring it to school and sell it. Later, in high school he started a small t-shirt line which he ran for about 3 years before pivoting into making shirts for clubs and Greek life organizations on campus.)
He credits his parents’ (seemingly) flexible lifestyle growing up with inspiring a desire to be in charge of his own schedule. “I never felt like my parents had to be at work from x time until x time five days a week or anything like that,” Kevin told Modern Fellows in an interview. He added, “whether they were or not, it always seemed like they were in charge of their schedules and I really liked that.”
“Even when I was young the way things fit me was way more important to me than the brand of the clothing I was wearing. The way my jeans broke on my shoe, the way a t-shirt fit my body, the length of the sleeves, the little details of fit is what was always important to me. When I decided to start this company I was dressing up for work everyday. So, now it was about the taper and length of my slacks, where they broke on my loafers compared to my oxfords, where the sleeve hit my hand, how much of my watch was showing from underneath, etc. I was very particular about the little details in the way things fit and went together that mattered most to me,” Kevin observed about his approach to style and fit.
When he started dressing up for work, he started playing around with patterned dress socks to stand out. “This was something that a lot of guys in my office were trying to do, but few were doing well,” he recalled. “Too often I saw orange dress socks with black shoes, khaki slacks, and a blue dress shirt, for example. Too often I saw camouflage printed socks or bright pink mustache or yellow lightning bolt patterns. And, way too often, I saw my own socks sliding down my leg, shrinking or losing their shape in the wash, and getting riddled with holes after just a few wears, so I decided to do something about it.”
Today, Southern Scholar is Kevin’s more-than-full-time job, though he also spends some time on weekends with another gig to help make ends meet. “I spend far more than your typical 40 hours a week working on and building Southern Scholar,” said Kevin, “and will continue to do so, [while working] another job on the weekends to pay my bills so that I can continue to reinvest every penny back into the growth of Southern Scholar, rather than using it to pay my rent.”
One of the things that stands out about Kevin his his laser-like dedication to quality and consistency. He told Modern Fellows that:
“I don’t remember where exactly I heard this analogy but it went something like ‘you wouldn’t expect to walk into a gym one time and lift a couple of weights and walk out with the body of an athlete. You wouldn’t even expect these results if you went to the gym and worked as hard as you could for one week, or one month, so why would you expect to see success in business without being consistent and dedicated for a long period of time?’ There are going to be good days and there are going to be bad days. There are going to be times when you feel like everything is going wrong, times when you haven’t slept, times when you feel worn out, etc. but you have to keep pushing, keep working, and stay focused. Always play the long game in business but also celebrate the short term wins. I’ve been building this business for four and a half years, and that may seem like a long time to some, but in truth that’s nothing. I’m excited for the road ahead and where this business is going but I wouldn’t think for a second that it’s going to get easier or that my time commitment will shorten or my dedication will diminish.”
He started the company because he was tired of people treating something as necessary as a dress sock like it wasn’t important. “We wear them every single day, so why wouldn’t we put the time and effort into making them as comfortable, durable, and stylish as possible?”
What other interesting menswear startups or innovative brands do you admire or recommend?
Modern Fellows asked Kevin to identify other innovative menswear brands that he admires. He observed that, “Proper Cloth is one of the most innovative companies in the menswear space and a brand that I have followed very closely and admired for many years. If you haven’t checked them out, I highly recommend that you do. They do custom fit menswear and to my knowledge, did not start with a heap of financial backing, nor were necessarily experts in the field, and still run things out of their space in New York – something that I can definitely relate to and respect. When you asked me the question about “the most important lesson I’ve learned” I was torn between my answer on consistency and the concept of becoming an absolute expert in your field, which is something that they have definitely done. I chose consistency as my #1 because to become an expert in anything it takes consistency in learning as well.”
Editor’s note: We agree with Kevin’s high praise of Proper Cloth. Check out our review of Proper Cloth’s made to measure shirts and get a $20 discount coupon off your first order via this link.
“Another [innovative brand] would be Taft. A five year old, hand-cut, shoe company that started with, of all things, SOCKS! Their story is very unique. and very cool. A young husband and wife started a no-show sock company out of their spare bedroom. In marketing their socks on social media their page began to get a ton of attention for the shoes they were using in their shots. So, they decided to pivot from socks and start making hand-cut. high quality, shoes in one of Spain’s most experienced factories and sell them direct to consumer. They make incredibly high quality shoes and boots at an affordable price and I’m yet to find someone with something bad to say about their brand, their products, or their customer service – and there is something to be said about that.”
“I love being in this industry and supporting other brands in the space who continue to innovate, but particularly enjoy supporting the brands with a quality and customer first focus,” he added.
How much do Southern Scholar Socks cost?
Southern Scholar offers a subscription business model. As of this writing, the company delivers one pair of socks each month for $15. Customers or gift-givers can prepay a year in advance, which drops the price to $13.75 per pair ($165 total).
What is Southern Scholar’s return and exchange policy?
The company offers free returns and exchanges. If you don’t like the pair they send out in a particular month, send Southern Scholar an email at [email protected] and they will refund or replace your socks as you prefer.
Southern Scholar also lets customers skip a month anytime without being charged. They also offer a blanket “100% satisfaction guarantee,” so if you don’t like socks for any reason, they pledge to make it right.
Next Steps for Southern Scholar
“We’ll be launching ties and pocket squares which compliment our monthly dress sock patterns in the very near future,” said Kevin, adding that, “we’ve been in discussions with some incredible manufacturers and are very excited to make the official announcement in the coming months.”
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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