Photo: Marcus Kan
“I’m not just socks,” Jared March claims right off the bat. “I’m socks and accessories.” While it’s true his website also features belts, sunglasses, and cufflinks (ties and handkerchiefs will arrive in the fall), socks are the main thrust of the freshly launched company. They were also his entry point into the world of online fashion retail. Some people’s interest in socks ends with a collection of argyle. For March, they led to a change in career. He was supposed to be a lawyer.
March dresses in a suit and tie for our interview (his socks are blue with a fish pattern). With a wide grin and excited dark eyes he bares a passing resemblance to comedian Andy Samberg. He giggles when he describes how shocked his family would have been had he expressed interest in fashion as a child. Back then he was always in his Toronto Maple Leafs sweatsuit. Then in high school, he realized he couldn’t look like a slob anymore and had to start dressing for other people.
Many guys never reach that point, I joke.
After an MBA, March went to law school. During second year everyone went through an intense interview process in which they did twenty interviews with firms in two days.
“What you wear is pretty important,” he said. “I had to get a new suit for it. After some conversations, I decided a black suit would be a good idea because then I could wear it to weddings. And then I got there and was embarrassed as I realized it might be good for weddings, but it’s not good for business.” It threw him off. “It really made me start thinking about why that was, why nobody was wearing black suits, why navy or gray were more popular. That was probably the turning point for me. As I thought about it, my interest grew.”
After the sartorial seed was planted, March learned he hated articling, so he switched careers and worked as a stock analyst for a hedge fund. He loved learning about different companies, comparing their business plans, and pitching them to as investments to his boss. It brought out the entrepreneurial spirit instilled in him by his father who, as an accountant, always taught him the personal side of business.
“While I was at the hedge fund, I saw that my sense of personal style was coming more and more to the front. It started with socks. I found it really tough to find a wide variety of socks and styles without having to go all around the city.” While the upscale offerings of Harry Rosen were fine (“They really do have a good selection. I have no problem saying that,”) March sought retailers that had a variety of interesting styles and prices. “It seemed to me there was a need for that.”
He also knew from his time as a stock analyst Canada was lagging behind the US in terms of online sales. “Around 5 per cent of sales here are online, whereas in the US it’s between 10 or 12 or even higher.” Canadians could find interesting stuff to order from the States, but by the time you added tariffs, taxes, and shipping it was hardly worth it.
“That was the opportunity I saw from the business side. You didn’t have that one stop spot for socks to go to. Who wants to go to five different stores to find the perfect socks?”
Lots of us have ideas for original business ventures. They come often over beers with friends. But it takes a determined person to not drop the idea in the light of day. Although it meant giving up his second career and dipping into his personal savings, March had no misgivings about his new path. “When I started this, I didn’t think it was gutsy. My past experiences taught me when you start something yourself you’re just going to learn from it. Even if it doesn’t take off and fly, so what?”
March lost his father when he was in undergrad.
“When I found out he had stage four cancer, I didn’t know what I could do to help. It was a tough time. I was at Queen’s, my family in Toronto. I just wanted to do something for him that could help take his mind off of things.” He organized a charity hockey tournament at school. It taught him the valuable lesson that you didn’t need to know everything before launching a project. “Just start it, you can figure it out. Research more than the next person. Try harder than the next person. You’ll have a good chance of success.” The tournament is in its tenth year with new students running it each time.
It doesn’t take a Freudian to theorize that March’s company could be a tribute to his father who held businesses owners in such high esteem. At the very least, the death of a loved one encourages us to take stock of what’s important and pursue our dreams when we have the chance. For him, it happened to be socks.
Once he had settled on the name, picking the brands to carry was the fun part.
“I would call up the brands and say, ‘Hi. My name is Jared. I’m starting a company called Socking Behaviour. I don’t have a website to show you right now. I’ve never done retail before. You should sell your product to me.’”
March settled on three brands (Bugatchi Uomo, Daniel Buchler, and Happy Socks) reflecting different price points. The common denominators are bright colours and fun patterns, like plaid, polka dots, and geometric shapes resembling Navajo patterns. Some are more subtle than others, but these are statement socks, unafraid to draw attention to the gap between the pant and shoe.
Believing that everyone has the right to great socks, even those outside big cities, March decided shipping within Canada would be free. “I have yet to get any orders from Nunavut, but free shipping would still be okay with me.” Knowing how important the website was for online shopping, he worked long and hard with a developer to perfect the design. The result is a smooth, stylish site that makes the company appear much bigger than the one-man operation it essentially is.
“My girlfriend helps out sometimes,” March admits.
But he makes it very clear Socking Behaviour is not just about him.
“I want you to chose what’s right for you. You shouldn’t think about what someone else thinks your socks should be.”
Before we departed, I needed to ask him what constituted a high quality sock, as years ago I bought designer socks that wore out very quickly.
“How did you take care of them?” he asks.
“Probably not well, but I am not the one on trial here.”
“Based on how much you pay, you will get better quality. There’s a tradeoff between the fabric that’s used and how long it lasts. I don’t carry them, but you can buy $105 cashmere socks, but they’re only going to last four wears.” He then lists the things you can do to prolong the life of socks–don’t put them in the dryer, don’t slip off your shoes (because of the extra friction), and regularly cut your toe nails as they can rip the fabric.
“Basically, you have to break all your bad male habits,” I say.
“That’s the case when taking care of all clothes, really.”
Max Mosher writes about style for Toronto Standard. You can follow him on Twitter at @max_mosher_.