In the second of a two-part series profiling unique places to buy the best socks online, Modern Fellows highlights entrepreneurs who are producing modern takes on classic sock styles that are way more interesting and carefully considered than what you will find in the local department store. From over-the-calf hosiery to organic Alabama-made cotton crew socks, Modern Fellows tested a variety of blends, designs and sizes from six entrepreneurial sock outfits. Here’s what we found:
Charles Mark & Sons
Charles Mark & Sons is the result of a collaboration between Houston-based John McClellan, San Francisco’s Josh Pollick and Eliot Cotton in New York City, who concluded that their geographically-diverse personal networks would provide a solid basis for launching their menswear concept. The friends launched a crowd-funding campaign in December 2012, through which they nabbed customers in 15 countries, and officially premiered in January 2013.
John suggested that their Italian-made cotton/nylon/spandex blend “is identical to the composition that you would find in a luxury brand that retails for twice as much.” Charles Marks’ lightweight socks, which come up over the calf but not quite to the knee, don’t sag or bunch around the ankles and are exceptionally comfortable. Even though they rise up high on the leg, you hardly notice they are there. The patterns and colors are interesting but not overwhelming, and I sometimes find myself passing by bolder, more expressive socks to seek their extremely well-rounded pairs out from the drawer.
CM&S operates a “buy-one, give-one” business — for every pair of socks bought, the company gives on pair of white socks to a nonprofit called the Joy of Sox — but the quality and design are what will keep customers coming back. Pairs of socks are $14 plus about $4 shipping.
Started by the father-son team of Fred and Harrison Rich in 2011, Dapper Classics specializes in classically-styled over-the-calf length socks. By far the longest pairs that Modern Fellows received in the course of this review, Dapper Classic’s socks are lightweight and breathable — important traits for hosiery that hugs the bottom of the knee. Still, these are socks you feel. They are noticeably there on your legs.
The Richs manufacture their socks at a third-generation mill in North Carolina of either a “soft mercerized cotton and nylon blend” or merino wool. (DC was the only company to offer up a wool sock for review, which says something about the modern emphasis on cotton blends.)
Their ah-ha moment for starting the business came via a family discussion between Fred, his wife Connie and Harrison about the lack of high-quality, classically-styled made-in-the-USA socks that would stay up and not show any leg. At $20 per pair with free shipping via the Dapper Classics website, their variety of understated solids, stripes, dots and patterns offer a terrific alternative to higher-priced imports from the likes of Marcoliani and Pantherella.
They have garnered glowing reviews from menswear enthusiasts including Putthison and The Fine Young Gentleman. Fred noted in an email that the company is investing in new machinery, which “opens up a number of new things we can do,” and hinted at new production opportunities to come beginning in November.
Years in the making, and “born out of a frustrated attempt to find a pair of fish-themed socks for a Father’s Day gift,” Soxfords is a husband and wife team that bootstrapped a business they launched in the spring of 2013. Soxfords’ niche is to “bridge the gap between novelty and dress in men’s socks,” which it does through quirky and mostly-subtle patterns from lobsters to officially-licensed Space Invaders as shown in the above photo.
A blend of 57 percent cotton and 43 percent nylon, Soxfords’ socks rise over the calf and, like Dapper Classics, are noticeably present on the leg. Manufactured in the Philippines, Soxfords are $20 with free shipping over $50. For a team that had no background in fashion or design and a different full time job, the couple has done an admirable job finding their niche in the marketplace. It remains otherwise difficult to find crustacean-themed socks out there.
A note on over-the-calves
Charles Mark & Sons, Dapper Classics and Soxfords are three examples of companies which are leading a revival of over-the-calf hosiery, bucking the trend in recent years towards shorter socks. While all three are worth checking out, Dapper Classics and Soxfords’ takes in particular may take some getting used to for a generation of men accustomed to shorter-length varieties. They don’t cut off circulation, but they’re there — noticeably there — on the upper part of the calf. There is clearly a market here, as other startups have been fielding calls from men who prefer longer versions, but how much you like these socks will ultimately depend upon how high you like ’em.
Of the dozen sock startups that Modern Fellows has looked at, Mack Weldon is the only company that produces a full range of “men’s basics” — undershirts, briefs and trunks as well as socks. Manufactured in WRAP-certified facilities in China and Thailand, their socks cost a very reasonable $12.50 and come in a series of clean-looking solids, stripes and dots.
Founder and CEO Brian Berger told Modern Fellows that, “The major differentiator with our product will always be our attention to performance and functionality.” Mack Weldon’s socks have a set of features — cushioned footbed, extended crew length and a blend of cotton/spandex that is engineered to recover and hold its shape throughout the day — that sets them apart. The 80 percent cotton content and cushioned footbed also make Mack Weldon’s socks the heaviest Modern Fellows reviewed. They are great now that the temperature is dropping, but I found myself bypassing them during warmer weather.
Because the company manufactures a full line of men’s basics, Berger says, “we are able to express [a coherent] design philosophy through our range of product.” You can get a feel for that philosophy for yourself with fairly low risk, as Mack Weldon offers a generous try on guarantee that will refund your money if you don’t like the fit, with free shipping for orders over $50.
Former banker Andrew Muller started Vivarati socks, pictured above, to fill a gap in the market — socks that stay up and last. While that market has gotten a lot more crowded since he first began, Vivarati’s blend of Turkish combed-cotton, elastane and nylon result in a a comfortable, quality mid-weight sock in the under $20 category that rises to the center of the calf and stays there. Made in Turkey, Muller points to their softness (“In my opinion, it is only rivaled by Pima cotton socks, which sells for about $29-35 a pair,” he says) and construction as selling points for their customers.
While I expect most of the entrepreneurs featured here would promise great customer service, Vivarati keys on its “fantastic service” and Zappos.com-like free shipping both ways as differentiators. While the company’s current collection is heavy on black-based stripes and is somewhat limited — several blue, grey and purple hues are no longer available — Muller promises “a very exciting collection planned for the fall” that will “push the envelope with design while still keeping true to creating a quality product.”
Gina Locklear, CEO of Fort Payne, Alabama-based manufacturer and retailer Zkano, has gradually been releasing new styles for her organic, low-impact dye, Made-in-America line of really comfortable socks. Zkano, which was founded in 2009, continues to experiment with different lengths and blends, from high-calf dress sock blends of certified organic combed cotton, nylon and elastic like the thin-striped Hank, pictured above, and ribbed Oliver to the much-shorter, wide-stripped, higher cotton content Jack.
The socks, which hover around $16 per pair with free shipping for orders over $35, are a great fit and part of an inspiring story. The higher-calf socks, which have a lower cotton content, are medium weight and thinner than the Jacks, making them more appropriate for dressier occasions than their cousins.
Gina, who spoke with Modern Fellows last year, has been evaluating a variety of sock lengths and settled on maintaining a few options for our customers. Having received positive feedback on the length of their tall sock, the company will keep that length around, as well as offer a mid calf and below the calf option for fall. Next year, Zkano plan to introduce “some fun ankle socks, maybe even some colorful no-shows,” along with a new line for the “boutique world.”
All in the details
As menswear continues to see increased attention, focus will continue to drift to socks and other accessories. “In our era of where we have made revivals such of the 20s Great Gatsby, the 30s with Boardwalk Empire and the 60s with Mad Men, there’s no wonder that men’s fashion is in the limelight,” observes Tina Israni of Zoraab.com, an online sock retailer.
The New York City-based entrepreneur adds, “the details are what make men’s fashion unique.”
Modern Fellows received sample products for free from Charles Mark & Sons, Dapper Classics, Mack Weldon, Soxfords, Vivarati, and Zkano.
About JakeJake is an expert on men’s style and fashion based in Washington, DC. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs and innovative clothing and lifestyle brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. He has published hundreds of articles on style and apparel, and regularly interviews small business CEOs and startup founders about industry trends. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine.
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