Biz-Life: FEAT. sock co.

Biz-Life: FEAT. sock co.
Biz-Life is a series where we highlight local businesses, big or small, giving insight into how they operate and succeed in our economy. By interviewing those behind it all, we gain an understanding of pros, cons and what it takes to have a successful business in SA. The bonus is Shelflife get to highlight businesses that we believe in!

We got the chance to ask Chelsey from FEAT. sock co. some questions about her brand and how she runs her business. Check it out below! 

When did FEAT. sock co. start as a brand? What’s the history behind it?
FEAT. sock co. began in October 2012. We were just two friends who had a bit of a tradition of gifting each other socks, or buying matching socks to wear to dance class together as teens. After an amazing trip around Europe post- studies, I (Chelsey) brought Alison a pair of socks home as a gift. This got us talking about our obsession and how cool it would be to design our own socks, support local industry by having them made in Cape Town and then sell them at markets, in other stores and online. It just so happened to be the beginning of a surge in the designer sock trend...we started at the perfect time to capitalise on the growing trend. What started as a fun project between friends has blossomed into a wonderful business. In April 2016, Alison decided to pursue other ventures, and I have been running the business since.

What sets you guys apart from the crowd?
FEAT. is very much a narrative-led business. While many other sock brands focus more on bold pattern and colour that is common to many sock brands these days, we like to infuse our sock designs with real-life stories and experiences that make each pair of socks special and take the wearer and onlooker on a little adventure. We like to see our socks as mini, walking, art canvasses, not just warm/protective foot jerseys. Our most exciting socks to design are our “scene” socks, like our Night Camping and Iceland Waterfall socks. These designs tell stories of adventures that I myself have been on. I aim to live life well and full of wonder, and let that wonder found in the world around me inspire and inform my sock designs.

Has the brand added any variations to your products over the years?
In the past few years, we've had the privilege of being able to add ladies' tights to our product offering, which are also all made in Cape Town. And we've begun expanding into gift wrapping and notebooks that also carry our narrative- scenes. Two years ago we wanted to include some below-ankle height socks into our range too, as customers kept asking for them, but because this length of socks is so hidden, we wanted to fnd a way to still reflect the fun, narrative of FEAT on a smaller, secret canvas. So, we decided to call these shorter- length socks our “Secret” socks, and add little secrets to them. We started with two designs with the following secrets: “I ate the last block of chocolate” and “I've got a crush on you.” Whenever we add something new to our brand, we want to be sure it reflects our brand essence in every way, and not just add it for the sake of it.

Which rules do you think any brand trying to make it in South Africa should follow?
1) Support the local production industry as much as you can. It isn't always possible, but where you can, do it! Industries are dwindling all around us, and in terms of job creation and the health of our economy, we can't afford to have this continue. And 2) PLEASE DON'T COPY!...our retail & design industries aren't huge but they're growing. When businesses copy other businesses, they not only hinder the growth of the company's they're copying, but they also hinder their own growth. It confuses consumers and dilutes the market. Apart from collaborations, I design all FEAT. socks myself, and I've had another local sock company copy my designs, and it stinks! There's enough space and clientele for all of us, if we all remain authentic, ethical and support each other, instead of trying to push each other out at all costs. I don't have time for this whole ruthless business approach where we'll try drown out the competition for our own gain. That's not what anyone needs.

How big is your team? Do you do everything in-house?
Along with me, I have a full-time assistant named Shakiera who assists me with admin, sales and other business management bits. She's amazing! I then have two part-time assistants who work at markets and expos for me. All design, distribution, marketing, admin, etc is done in-house. The only thing that isn't done in-house is production. We have our socks manufactured in Cape Town, by an incredible company with a wonderful team of staff.

How important do you think marketing is for a brand?
I think marketing is one of the most important spheres a brand should focus on. If people don't see your brand out there, they won't know where and how to buy. If you don't place your product in a location and merchandised in such a way that fits in with the ethos and essence of your brand, you're going to struggle to get buy-in from the right target audience too. It's something that doesn't always come naturally to me but I've consistently had to lean into learning and evolving my understanding of it as technological advancements and innovation have changed things dramatically over the years. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with marketing, as my natural instinct is to focus on design because that's where I thrive and feel safe. But as a business owner, I have to step out of my comfort zone regularly in order to push the brand and allow space and budget for more of the fun design stuff in future.
Which are the most popular items with your customers? Any that are normally sold out?
It's difficult to pinpoint our most popular sock designs. My favourite comment I've had from customers over the years is that it was so difficult for them to choose which socks to order because they saw designs that reflected/ft with the personalities of so many of their loved ones. When I get that comment, I know I'm doing my job well.

What are some of FEAT. sock co.’s highlights as a brand? 
My most exciting moment in the past six and a half years of running FEAT. sock co., was attending my first international trade show in London in 2017. I could barely contain my excitement seeing my happy little sock company alongside some of the most beautiful international design, gifting and stationery brands from across the world.
What are the biggest hurdles/setbacks you have to deal with?
I'd say the two biggest hurdles over the past few years have been dealing with copycat brands and navigating a volatile economy in South Africa. I'm happy to say these two points haven't set us back much, but they've definitely been things to be very cautious of, and tread lightly around.
Any exciting plans for the future we should look out for?
I'm always brainstorming new ranges and products to add to the keep a look out on our social media pages to be kept in the loop.

We know you do really well locally, but how has the rest of the world responded to FEAT. sock co.?
We're stocking about 10 stores internationally, which is incredibly exciting and humbling for us! We've had a great response in Switzerland, and we are currently stocking three stores there. Yay! And we stock two wonderful stores in Japan, which has been an exciting development in the past year. Online, we sell directly to customers across the USA (through our Etsy store) and to a vast number of clients across Europe.

Any advice to those wanting to stand out in your industry?
Be authentic. The internet makes this tough...there's so much inspiration at the touch of a button thanks to Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr, but it can get to you and stunt your own creativity and personal design handwriting. You'll never be as successful copying as you could be doing what's really 'you'. Even though it might take time, it's always worth spending it nurturing your own design style. You have a story to tell and a perspective to share just because of who you are...and there are enough people out there who will appreciate your perspective and pay for it.

Shop FEAT. sock. co at Shelflife Cape Town, Johannesburg and through our online store.

Check out FEAT. sock. co's website for styles and items we aren't lucky enough to stock too!


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