The colourful socks that built the Happy Socks retail empire
By WGSN Insider

Socks or soft accessories, whatever you call them, Happy Socks has turned them into a bonafide retail hit. WGSN reports

Nov 04, 2016
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Socks tend to fit into that box of ‘clothing that we don’t really think about’ until we run out that is, or until someone points out that we’re not rocking a matching pair today. But for the founders of Happy Socks, CEO Mikael Söderlindh and Creative Director Viktor Tell, socks are so much more than that everyday essential. The company has managed to turn a small accessory into a huge retail success, thanks to good design, perfect pop-culture collaborations and noteworthy social media. Founded in 2008, Happy Socks is now sold in more than 70 countries and over 30million socks are sold globally every year.

WGSN caught up with Mikael Söderlindh, CEO and founder of Happy Socks, to talk about how these socks became a success.

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Mikael Söderlindh – CEO and Viktor Tell – Creative Director

What made you decide the sock industry was something you wanted to venture into? Did you feel that socks were pretty dull and boring before you entered the sector?

Our vision was to spread happiness by turning an everyday essential into a colourful design piece. It all came about quite simply. We had the idea to create a brand named Happy Socks and make nicely-designed socks, since we felt they were a forgotten item and not given a lot of love. Both of us really appreciated socks but could not find the styles that we wanted to wear and to be honest, we also wanted to do something happier with our lives, and put everything into this. ‘When we started no one seemed to believe in our idea, but we decided to go for it anyway!’ Today, we’ve created a colourful fashion and lifestyle brand with flagship stores in Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles – we’re doing what we’ve always dreamed of.

Did you start your business with intentions of it becoming a worldwide brand?

We’ve always had an international mindset and way of living, so yes the strategy we developed was based on a global roll out. We wanted to create a business that could give us the lifestyle to frequently travel and ride the rails. I suppose you’re able to collect a lot of inspiration, ideas and meet many great new personalities when you push yourself to have a global working space. Being mobile and quick has always been one of our stronger sides. We have a lot of energy and find it fun to surprise ourselves.

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What helped to kick start your brand?

Happy Socks started in the spring of 2008 and became the playful pioneer of colourful socks. We created the segment ‘designed socks’ within the sock industry, and by doing so we became market leaders of fashionable designer socks globally. The aim has always been to spread a happy-go-lucky view on life by turning an everyday essential into a vibrant design piece. ‘What was often regarded as clothing unworthy of creativity, became a well-tailored everyday essential’. It all went quite fast! I suppose we spotted a gap in the market and filled it with a much-needed product that we packed full of love.

Iris Apfel for Happy Socks

Iris Apfel for Happy Socks

Has there been a specific celebrity or influencer that helped you gain global attention?

We have a lot of great ambassadors from all corners of the world that have embraced Happy Socks and taken our concept under their wing. We’ve also been fortunate to pull through a lot of strong and internationally renowned collaborations over time; Iris Apfel, Pharell Williams’ Billionaire Boys Club, Opening Ceremony, Ellen Von Unwerth, PewDiePie, David Lachapelle and Snoop Dogg to name a few, have all teamed up with Happy Socks.

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What steps were necessary to turn your small start up brand into a worldwide platform?

Our mission has always been to bring happiness and colour to every corner of the world. We work with a talented team in-house, we embrace diversity and are proud to say that our crew at the Happy Socks HQ in Stockholm is from 25 different countries and counting! ‘To succeed with a global mindset your company must truly be global.’ We’re also tapping into successful and energetic partners in our 90 something local markets. Together we strive to go that extra mile to make the world more colourful.

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Who was your first official collaboration?

One of our first big global collaborations featured David LaChapelle. We wanted to work with David because we really love his art. So for us to try and put any boundaries on his creativity would just go against everything we believe in, therefore he was given the opportunity to do whatever he wanted with the socks. This collaboration really demonstrated what we are all about. The aesthetics of LaChapelle married well with that of Happy Socks, resulting in a series of photographs bursting with colour and attitude.

How do you decide which collaborations to pursue, and does the celebrity/brand reach out to you or vice versa?

We feel our collaborations really demonstrate what we are all about. Creativity is about letting go of rules and trusting your instincts, which is something we try to instill in everything we do. It has to be something that’s not so expected, something that’s a little bit different. I think the diversity of the collaborations we’ve done has been really fun. It’s something we have really benefited from as a company, as we’ve reached new, as well as a wide range of, target groups, by managing such an extensive variety of collaborations. And it goes both ways, sometimes they come to us or we go to them. We’re constantly challenging ourselves to track down the next playful and expressive partner, and I’m personally very excited about 2017 and our upcoming seasons.

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Once you establish a collaboration that you love, what are your next steps?

It’s a build-your-own-world kind of thing. There are no limitations to which way we’re going to go. We dare to give our collaborators a carte blanche. We want to create something authentic with a high talkability, as well as a good and strong product. This season the Happy Socks team came up with a new concept called “Local Hero”, which is a series of collaborations with a strong local connection. 15 different markets, each represented by a well-established “local” artist, designer, illustrator, fashion brand, musician or even restauranteur, designed their own sock capsule collection. In the US, we presented a collaboration with Iris Apfel, the legendary 95-year-old interior designer and style icon.

The brand was established in 2008 before social media was such a major part for brand engagement. How have you adapted to this change in media based marketing/advertising?

We’ve been early pioneers in social with a team from all kinds of backgrounds, ethnicities, ages and genders. What connects us is that we’re enjoying life to the fullest, we’re confident, expressive and young at heart. ‘When we started our business we were one of the first to take time to support bloggers with press kits, content and showroom lend-outs. We treated them well from the very beginning, and that made them very loyal to us.’ This generated great write-ups, and soon other brands followed and started to invite bloggers to be seated front row at fashion shows. When Instagram came we decided to go for the up-and-coming Instagrammers, and that’s when our work with social media really took off.

How important is social media in terms of sales and consumer engagement?

In the 70s, brands were built by TV advertising. Nowadays brands are built by social channels. There are several main factors in social media that drive sales and consumer engagement: user generated content, linked posts, sponsored posts, direct consumer engagement and campaigns. In all these aspects, we aim to drive brand awareness as much as we can, thus generating higher converting leads, increasing traffic and search ranking. ‘We have been strategically leveraging from both influencer marketing and user-generated content to develop a strong brand identity and increase brand awareness.’ We collaborate with social media influencers from all around the globe and reach millions of consumers every day. This has been one of our key success factors.

Where do you see “Happy Socks” in 5 years?

The company currently has 75 employees and grew by over 60 percent last year. Growth has continued in the current year, and we’re preparing for an increasing expansion. Happy Socks sold over 30 million socks this year! And the numbers are even higher if one counts in our new underwear collections. We’re continuing to enter more markets with our high quality styles, and open new and additional flagship stores in key cities like Tokyo, Shanghai, New York and London – this growth will only continue. We actually grew so much in-house at our HQ that we’re moving into the world’s first Fashion Sock House next year! We’re excited to move the full company into our own building of six floors and 1300 square meters. What should we call it; Maison Happy Socks or maybe The Happy House?

Ellen Von Unwerth Happy Socks campaign

Ellen Von Unwerth Happy Socks campaign

Like this? Find out more about Happy Socks here.

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