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

Getting What You Pay For

September 2015
Wednesday, August 19, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

A conversation with Chris Maples, president of the Oregon Institute of Technology.


Read more...

Bendafornia: What’s driving the Northern California migration?

Contributed Blogs
Wednesday, August 05, 2015
bendiforniathumbBY KEN MAES

A huge migration from Northern California has contributed to average 16% growth per year since 1990.


Read more...

Department of Self-Promotion

Linda Baker
Tuesday, August 04, 2015

061715-awards1Oregon Business wins journalism awards.


Read more...

Car be gone

Linda Baker
Thursday, August 06, 2015
070615car2goblogthumbBY LINDA BAKER

Car and ride sharing services have taken urban areas by storm. Low-income and suburban communities are left at the curb.


Read more...

Business partnerships: taming the three-headed monster

Contributed Blogs
Monday, July 06, 2015
070615-businessmarriagefail-thumbBY KATHERINE HEEKIN | OB GUEST COLUMNIST

Picking a business partner is not much different than choosing a spouse or life partner, and the business break-up can be as heart-wrenching and costly as divorce.


Read more...

Preserving the Legacy

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY KIM MOORE | PHOTOS BY JASON E. KAPLAN

A New York floral and gift business takes on the iconic Harry & David brand.


Read more...

Brain Storm

July/August 2015
Monday, July 13, 2015
BY CAMILLE GRIGSBY-ROCCA

Can the brave new world of neurotechnology help an OHSU surgeon find a cure for obesity?


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