For entrepreneurs, feet are big business. An explosion in recent years of startups focused on men’s accessories has flooded the digital marketplace with easily-accessible, sometimes-affordable and often-colorful sock options. Modern Fellows tested out a variety of sizes, blends, and designs from several entrepreneurial sock outfits during a prolonged, record-setting heatwave affecting the east coast.
This is the first of a two-part series profiling entrepreneurs who offer unique places to buy the best socks online, with an emphasis on the power sock.
The power sock
Wild socks may make the tech entrepreneur, but demand for colorful options is soaring beyond the digital creative class. “The power sock can make the biggest difference in an ensemble, and can say a lot about you and your sense of style,” says Tina Israni, founder of online sock emporium Zoraab.com, who started her company “to provide an alternative to the bland sock lifestyle that is all too common today.”
While Swedish-born Happy Socks garners a lot of media attention — and is nearly ubiquitous these days in major department and outlet chains like DSW and Nordstrom Rack — a host of entrepreneurs are putting out impressive alternatives.
Sven Wiederholt, founder of Office Wiederholt, started making socks that “use interesting materials [and] have cutting edge designs” after coming across many quality, affordable pairs in Japan. “I always liked socks as a child, but could not find many styles for men in America,” Wiederholt told Modern Fellows. His response was to start designing in-your-face yet attractive socks, which OW manufactures in Japan and sells in America directly via its website and through retailers like Gilt, Stag, and Wittmore.
OW Socks are made from a cotton, polyester and polyurethane blend that results in a medium-weight sock which feels luxurious and is comfortable all day under a dress or casual shoe. Wiederholt’s socks, which retail for about $24, rise only to the lower calf but stay up remarkably well, enabling them to be worn with a suit without worrying about showing some skin (at least for this reviewer). While they are on the shorter end of the spectrum, OW’s balance of bright colors, interesting designs, all-day comfort and construction make them a particularly well-rounded power sock.
Hook + Albert
Launched by Adam Schoenberg and Cory Rosenberg to cater to “an over saturated, yet underserved” market, New York-based hook + ALBERT offers a variety of mostly cotton blend socks that emphasize pastels and unique designs. Manufactured in Peru, the socks are a blend of pima cotton, nylon and spandex.
Their textured, open weave is exceptionally light and proved highly-breathable in oppressively hot conditions, though the socks tended to bunch a bit around the ankles.
Rising above mid-calf, hook + ALBERT’s socks are about the closest to a traditional dress sock among the options reviewed here. At $30 retail, they are also the costliest, making them an attractive if somewhat expensive option (though at the time of writing a sale brought many pairs down to under $23).
The power sock for $15 or less
Several other startups offer less expensive but still colorful socks for under twenty bucks per pair.
Los Angeles-based Unsimply Stitched was founded in the early days of 2011 by Alex Hendeles “with the hope of being able to support the growth of the ever expanding sock revolution” and providing men with “a large range of design and colors on a constant basis.” Sure enough, the company, which is in the process of branching out into what Hendeles describes as “funky bathing suits” and underwear, offers customers a wide range of design options, some of which — like plaids, windowpanes and the purple zig-zags pictured below — are daring even among this crowd of sock-makers.
Hendeles’ socks, a blend of combed cotton, elastane and polyamide fibers that retail for $12 on their website and at select retailers, are among the softest of the brands Modern Fellows reviewed and thin enough to be worn with dress shoes. They don’t appear very long at first glance, but the socks stretch up long past mid-calf and stay in place nicely without hugging the leg too tightly. Israni of Zoraab.com notes that Unsimply Stitched is among her shop’s three top-selling brands, along with Happy Socks and Sock it to Me.
Dan Soha’s goal in founding San Francisco-based Argoz Socks was to make bright, bold — and high-quality — socks that he could wear for any occasion. He boasts that “our colors hold, our thickness is perfect, the sizing is custom for American feet, and the elastic is just right.” A blend of cotton, nylon and spandex, Soha’s socks are soft, medium weight, stay up well, and proved comfortable with a dress shoe on a sweltering day. His argyle patterns and color schemes are at-times aggressive but attractive overall.
Argoz is, helpfully, one of the few companies out there to offer multiple product sizes, which turns out to be a great differentiator and widens the potential appeal of each particular design. (Everyone has an opinion about the proper length.) The company, which launched in January 2012, currently offers regular, large and knee-high options and launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce NBA player-friendly XL socks.
The regular length socks, which Modern Fellows tested, sit at about mid-calf. While some of Argoz’s current inventory was manufactured in China, Soha has moved his production to North Carolina, Italy and Turkey. At around $15 for most socks with free shipping on all orders, Argoz serves up a well-balanced and affordable sock.
Founded by three self-described “sockpreneurs” with the goal of making “high quality, high fashion, colorful, yet professional socks” for $7, Kansas City, Missouri-based Sock 101 is by far the most affordable of the brands Modern Fellows surveyed across this two-part series. The company, which launched at the Kauffman Foundation’s 2012 Global Entrepreneurship Week, hits a nice balance of color, comfort, and affordability, and has caught the attention of sock fans including former President George H. W. Bush.
Their emphasis is on simple striped patterns and strong, complementary colors, which provide a nice pop without being too daring. “We didn’t want it to be a cartoonish sock,” Kelly Yarborough told Kansas City’s local Fox affiliate who featured their story.
Constructed of cotton, nylon and spandex, the relatively thin socks are comfortable for all-day wear even in the height of summer. They sit at about mid-calf and stay up as well as any of the competition. They are made in — well, it’s hard to say, since their socks did not appear to arrive labeled with country of origin or fiber content information (update: the first production round was done in India). While their selection is currently limited, their founders note that more models will be released in the near future.
As Kelly suggested to Fox, Sock 101 provides “an inexpensive way to enhance your wardrobe.” For seven bucks a pair plus $5.95 flat-rate shipping, their socks — like the blue-on-blue “KC” pictured below — are worth investigating.
All five brands — Argoz, hook + ALBERT, OW Socks, Sock 101, and Unsimply Stitched — gracefully walk the line separating bold from garish, using complementary color schemes and repeating patterns to produce consistently attractive accessories that pair well with suits as well as more casual clothing. Navigating that balance is an admirable feat when you consider how often one encounters other socks out there in department store-land that appear to have vomited up a pantone color chart.
Their design and construction — thin-to-medium weight, breathable cotton blends that stay up on your leg and don’t overheat — make them great candidates to pair with suits or more casual clothing in all kinds of weather.
A note on sock length and dress attire
Some traditionalists will scoff at the notion of wearing mid-calf socks with a suit. PutThisOn, for example, instructs that, “with anything like a coat and tie, there should be no other option but over-the-calf.”
It’s a hard rule to follow, as many manufacturers have focused on designing mid-calf or shorter length options, including dress socks, to accommodate men’s preferences as well as for cost reasons. (Longer socks can add 25% or more to their cost of manufacturing.)
A better general rule is that socks should not be so short as to permit skin to show between your sock and trouser when sitting. High-quality mid-calf socks — including all of the mid-calf options reviewed in this article — stay put and ought to be appropriate for most men to pair with suits.
In part two, Modern Fellows examines several foot-focused entrepreneurs, including Dapper Classics, Mack Weldon, Vivarati and Zkano, who are delivering modern updates to classic sock styles.
Modern Fellows received sample products for free from Argoz, hook + Albert, OW Socks, Sock 101 and Unsimply Stitched.
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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