Footwear Drop: How Sock 101 Brought Fully Custom Shoes to Promo
Custom socks are still huge, but make no mistake: 2019 was the year of the shoe. We lost count of the number of brands that teamed up with shoe companies this year for limited-edition collections, licensed offerings and custom designs. Whataburger did cowboy boots. Dunkin’ had running shoes. Heck, Post Malone released his own Crocs. (More than once!) As sneaker culture moves more mainstream, we fully expect the trend to continue well into 2020 and beyond.
Sock 101 thinks so, too. And the supplier, based in Lee’s Summit, Mo., came prepared. Earlier this year, it launched a line of fully customizable promotional shoes. While various rubber and canvas footwear options have been available in promo for awhile, Sock 101 says its shoes are the first of their kind—true athleisure-style sneakers for all-purpose wear. They’re made using knitted and woven technology and direct-to-garment decoration. They come in a full-color box. They’re exactly what you’d expect to see at retail.
This is by design, of course. “Our main focus is creating a shoe that represents a company effectively,” Kelly Yarborough, Sock 101’s founder, owner and CEO, says. But the look was only part of the deal. Yarborough and Anna Mosakowski, Sock 101’s lead graphic designer, tell me that they wanted to create a shoe people could wear inside and outside the office—“a shoe people want to wear often,” as they put it.
That means the shoes had to be comfortable, too. And that meant lots of research and development.
“The idea of shoes came up about two years ago,” Yarborough and Mosakowski tell me. “In that time, we traveled to multiple countries, dialing in the perfect shoes we would want to sell and that our clients would appreciate. We ran into many challenges: hundreds of samples, finding the best way to design the shoes, choosing styles people would wear, etc. But that was the fun part. We strive on innovation—and innovation takes time and testing. While it took awhile, we knew it would be a hit and have been excited for it since day one.”
With its sock business booming, Sock 101 was looking for ways to expand while staying true to its roots in the footwear category. Custom shoes were an obvious choice. And while the Sock 101 team had been keeping an eye on the growing popularity of sneaker culture outside of streetwear circles, the timing was a happy accident.
“The sneaker culture started to grow after we first had the idea,” Yarborough and Mosakowski said. “As we were seeing the culture grow, we knew we needed to move faster. It was more of a natural evolution of our current brand of socks than it was to the sneaker trend. However, it worked out on both sides.”
“Worked out” may be an under-statement. Custom shoes are already huge at retail and online, where limited-edition merchandise drops—often involving shoes—generate significant social media buzz. Yarborough and Mosakowski believe that trend, along with the already-huge popularity of custom socks in promo, are indicators that shoes will be even bigger. A custom shoes explosion feels inevitable in the coming year or two.
“If someone asks us who buys our shoes or socks, we respond with, ‘All of your clients who have feet,’” Yarborough and Mosakowski tell me. “It is a quality product that will be worn often because of the style and comfort. Therefore, clients’ brands are represented more often by the people wearing them—not because they need to, but because they want to.”
Sock 101 is currently exhibiting at the PPAI Expo at booth 2367.