Sponsored by Lane Powell

Sock It to Me's success

| Print |  Email
Articles - August 2011
Wednesday, July 20, 2011

By Ben Jacklet

 

0811_Tactics_01
Photos by Juan-Carlos Delgado
0811_Tactics_02

Carrie Atkinson was 26 and frustrated with the lack of job opportunities in Portland when she decided to start her own company selling fun, colorful socks. She found an importer by looking through the phone book (that’s right, the phone book), traveled to Korea with two big suitcases and filled them with her first 2,000 pairs of socks.

Now Atkinson is 32 and running a well-known business that grew by 90% in 2010. She’s got 6,000 Facebook fans, a far-flung team of creative designers, a solid group of wholesale customers, a growing portfolio of fashion photos in magazines and container after container of socks flowing from Korea to meet demand. She’s considering delving into a line of men’s socks in collaboration with Portland entrepreneur Nitin Khanna and making plans to delve into lingerie after making friends with a woman who runs a manufacturing plant in China.

Sock It to Me is known for its “cool girl” promotions and its fresh, bold styles that are “a little crazier than the other stuff out there,” in Atkinson’s words. But Atkinson’s approach has been far from crazy. She didn’t buy more socks until it was clear her first batch was selling at the Portland Saturday Market. She saved her pennies until she could afford a booth in the big Las Vegas apparel trade show, Magic. She got a $250,000 bank loan on her home and built up her credit for six years before taking out a second loan. She is not indebted to venture capitalists or angel investors. She owns 100% of the company.

“I felt like I was led by the customer, which is a little less risky in my eyes,” she says. “I never got too far ahead of the customers.”

Not only does Atkinson encourage her customers to lead the company, she also encourages them to design her socks. A few years ago she began running full-page ads in the Portland Mercury and Willamette Week that doubled as design-a-sock contest entries, to be colored in by local artists. Contest winners get $500 and the cachet of seeing their art turned into a commercial product. Non-winners with ideas good enough to go to design get $200.

“It was just an idea that made sense to me,” says Atkinson. Sock It to Me has found some of its top designers in this manner, and the local — and now international — contests bring in thousands of new design ideas while also building name recognition. Atkinson estimates that about 80% of the business’s design lines come from crowd sourcing. The most recent contest drew 2,500 submissions; winners come from Sweden, Britain and El Salvador.

The customer designs lead directly to new products. “We get those designs through the contests, we tweak them, we assign the colors and we email that image over to Korea,” says Atkinson. “I have a business partner there and he negotiates with the factory. He is our quality control and he gets all the shipping documents prepared, and he gets a commission per pair.”

 



 

Comments   

 
Guest
-1 #1 i want to start a sock lineGuest 2013-07-10 16:22:37
Hi, can you please give me some steps to get started?
Quote | Report to administrator
 

More Articles

The city as startup

Guest Blog
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
011415 citystartup-thumbBY NISHANT BHAJARIA | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

Startups in the growth phase are associated with a fresh infusion of capital — human and financial — a curiosity factor and products to disrupt the market and drive demand. Portland’s economy gives off the same aroma.


Read more...

Chronicling Gov. Kitzhaber's march to resignation

The Latest
Wednesday, February 11, 2015
021115-kitzhaber-jekaplan14-thumbBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Recapping a wild week featuring plenty of will he or won't he resign drama.


Read more...

ZoomCare rolls out new on-demand health clinics

News
Monday, March 02, 2015
zoomcarethumbBY KIM MOORE |  OB RESEARCH EDITOR

Portland-based healthcare provider ZoomCare said it plans to “remake American healthcare” by expanding its on-demand urgent care model to emergency, surgery, dental and primary care, among others.


Read more...

5 schools helping students crack code

The Latest
Thursday, January 29, 2015
codeduthumbnailBY JACOB PALMER | OB DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

As the costs of college mount, and as employer demand for software developers soars, coding schools and classes are popping up everywhere.


Read more...

A legislative preview — and celebration

Linda Baker
Friday, January 23, 2015
012315-speaker-thumbBY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

The Northwest Environmental Business Council previews the 2015 legislative agenda as Hatch Oregon celebrates Oregon's new community crowdfunding rules.


Read more...

Closing the Gap: The two Oregons and the way forward

February 2015
Monday, January 26, 2015
BY JOE CORTRIGHT

"Nostalgia is not an economic strategy."


Read more...

Thy neighbor's house

March 2015
Friday, February 20, 2015
BY LINDA BAKER | OB EDITOR

Vacasa may lack the name recognition of Airbnb. But not for long.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS