E.G. Smith Interview
(Sock Dreams)

You could say that E. (Eric) G. Smith has socks in his blood. Both his father and grandfather were sales agents for Southern sock mills.

It should come as no surprise then to learn that Eric Smith is one of fashion’s leading sock designers.

He created the phenomenally successful Boot Sock which was dyed in every color under the rainbow-----and a few that were not. Many people credit Eric with bringing style, dash and even whimsy to a traditionally staid product. He took an almost mindless item and re-created it in some ways by making it fun. He introduced tie-dyed socks and Op Art Socks; socks that bloom with flowers, plants, maps, bugs and most of all-----color.

Eric also came up with mis-matched “Yin and Yang” socks, socks featuring eclectic patterns and such design elements as stars capes and even socks themselves.

Over the past 10 years Eric Smith has built himself a sock empire. His socks can be found in over 1,000 department and specialty stores in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.

Q – Eric, before you started your co. was there anyone out there who was doing anything different with socks?
A – Well, Hot Socks had been in business for years, mostly in the women’s business. They had done some interesting things in the women’s business. But, I think really in ’84, when I started in the men’s business, it was kind of like virgin territory. No one had really explored doing like fun or wild socks for men. There had been socks in the market for women, but, not really for men.

Q – How did you know that brightly colored socks would sell? Did you do some kind of market research?
A – Yeah. I looked around on the streets and saw people were wearing colorful clothing. So, I thought if they’re wearing colorful clothing why wear white tube sock(s) with it? (Laughs).

Q – You’re talking New York City?
A – Yeah.

Q – How did you know that the rest of the country would follow New York’s lead?
A – Well, if you looked at the fashion magazines as well, it kind of like goes to all parts of the country. It was showing the same kinds of trends as well.

Q – When you started this Boot Sock of yours, you actually had to go from store to store to get sales and interest didn’t you?
A – Oh, yeah.

Q – Who would you talk to in the store about carrying your socks? Was it the buyer?
A – Well, it depends. I tried to make appointments. I didn’t do a lot of cold calling. I would go into a store and look around and see if I felt the product would be compatible with the store. Then I would ask who owns the store or who does the buying for the store and then I would call the person up and make an appointment and come by and see them. It usually was the store owner or the buyer. Depending on the size of the store, it could’ve been all the same person. (Laughs).

Q – Was it a hard sell?
A – The other thing that I did was exhibited at a trade show called The Boutique Show where smaller boutiques come to one place and see a thousand different companies and walk by and see if it appeals to them. There were people who if they liked it and they were hip to what was going on-----naturally responded. The people that didn’t understand it walked away and that was fine. So, it was kind of like the process of natural selection. There were people that didn’t understand it and that was fine. But, the stores that I knew that were carrying merchandise that was compatible with and had the sensibility generally latched onto it real quickly and easily. It wasn’t a very hard sell. Either they liked it or they didn’t. I wasn’t trying to convince them of anything.

Q – You introduced tie-dyed socks and Op-Art socks. I thought tie-dyed socks may have been worn at Woodstock. I guess I’m wrong.
A – Well, no, actually. Right now tie-dye is being shown on a lot of the couture runways, but, I’ve been doing it for awhile. But, the people who were dyeing for me were out of Woodstock.

Q – What are Op-Art socks?
A – They were just a series of socks that came off a lot of these machines. There’s new technology and they’re run by computers. You can program almost any design into the knitting of the socks. These socks instead of doing old traditional patterns, I took kind of those optical illusion things and knit them into socks. The Op-Art was a series of black and white socks that kind of created more patterns but they were like optical illusions.

Q – Your family has been in the sock business for how long now?
A – Well, probably like 50 years now.

Q – Did you need financial backing to get your business started?
A – I emptied out my bank account which wasn’t very much. I went to a mill and said, “Here’s a deposit on an order”. I went out and got orders against it and asked my customers once I shipped to pay back the mills as quickly as I was shipping. So, that’s kind of like how it started. I created a cash flow and was able to finance it myself.

Q – You’re actually a lawyer as well?
A – Yes I am.

Q – Did you major in corporate law?
A – No. Actually, if I would’ve become a lawyer I was more interested in public advocacy work or maybe representing artists. More of the creative clients rather than the corporate clients. But, I never took either of those routes. But, it was good training and a good background for business.

Q – Have you also designed a line for women’s socks?
A – Yeah. Socks and tights.

Q – You’re also going to introduce body wear, leggings and hats?
A – Well, that’s something I’m working on. Right now, it’s kind of on hold for various reasons. I’m talking to different people on how to manufacture it. It’s in the plans, but, it’s not there yet.

Q – Is there a trade show where you can display your socks?
A – Yeah. There are trade shows in the men’s market. There are trade shows in the women’s market where the stores come from all over the country and buy for their stores. So, there are definitely locations that have that.

Q – Was there a reason why you selected Hanes to work with?
A – It was a mutual decision, but, that relationship is over. We’re not together any more. It was a sudden and abrupt ending, but, that’s how big corporations do things.

Q – So, who are you associated with today?
A – I’m marketing it myself.

Q– You probably have more control that way.
A – Exactly.

Q – And you save money!
A – In some ways. You trade off problems for that, but, I’m glad to have it back and a lot of my customers are too.

Q – How far can you take the design of a sock? Is there something, anything, you can do at this point that you haven’t already done?
A – Well, I think there’s always things you can do. There’s color fabrication. You can change the yarns and make it interesting. When you work with a computerized pattern socks, it’s like a painting you can paint almost anything on it. Look, you’re not gonna change the shape of a foot. But, within that format of comparing it to a canvas, you could paint all kinds of different things on it. So, there’s a variety of creative things you can do with it.

Official Website: Sock Dreams

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