In a post-necktie workplace, alternative means for visual expression and styling must be found. That’s where Sockzi‘s funky, colourful and Toronto-inspired socks step in. With the dream of spicing up the workplace while also positively impacting their community, Sockzi co-founders Lauren Ng and Richard Yee are attempting to inject some fun into people’s wardrobes. We chatted with Ng to discuss Sockzi’s current Kickstarter campaign, the company’s origins and the challenges they’ve come up against.
Coming from a family of small business owners, starting his own company was something Ng seemed destined to try his hand at. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in Commerce, Ng ventured into the corporate world. “I always had the mindset, but I didn’t have the idea,” he says. “The question on my mind was always—what could I do to help others positively?”
On a seemingly routine day at his corporate job with Loblaws, Ng experienced a watershed moment in a brilliant flash of boldness and colour.
One of Ng’s colleagues turned up at work wearing decidedly colourful socks. Although Ng had never met the man before, he instantly stood out amongst a backdrop of drab, conservative attire. “Even though I didn’t know him, his daring and colourful choice gave me a glimpse of his personality. He was approachable because I could see the element of fun expressed through his choice of socks.”
Inspired by his workplace colleague, Ng decided to become more adventurous in his own sock game. After an awe-inspiring and humbling experience in front of a giant wall of men’s socks at UNIQLO in New York, Ng says “choosing my socks for the day at work became something to look forward to.” He says cheekily, “I just wanted to show them off. Socks became an outlet with which to express myself within the confines of a uniform environment where visual expression was hard to come by.” With a newfound love of socks and personal expression in mind, Ng teamed up with one of his former business school classmates, Richard Yee, to start Sockzi.
Paramount to the company’s identity is its involvement with Toronto-based children’s non-profit organizations. Although Ng says that he can’t reveal the specific organizations Sockzi plans to support due to legal reasons, he does explain why community impact is such an important aspect of the company’s business. “Our reasons for supporting children’s non-profit organizations are largely personal ones. We both have friends with children that are affected by certain illnesses. One of the non-profits we want to support has always been by that child’s side, offering aid and facilitating recovery efficiently and effectively. Another non-profit in our portfolio allows children the opportunity to play sports and utilize sports equipment when they normally would not have the resources to do so.”
Ng goes on to say, “We started Sockzi because we wanted people to have more fun in their daily routines, and who else but children rule as the kings and queens of having fun? No kid wants to be stuck in the hospital all day. So to give these children a second chance to pursue their passions and embrace opportunity—that’s what we here at Sockzi are all about.”
The second part of the company’s vision are its Toronto inspired designs. Their current Kickstarter campaign displays five different designs, each with its own story. “The funny story behind our Number Cruncher sock is that Richard and I are both accountants by trade. There seems to be a perception that Bay Street accountants are boring, so we shook things up. We came up with a sock that paid tribute to our accounting roots with the playfulness plus and minus signs while still upholding a professional image.” Soaking up the multiculturalism and diversity of Toronto, Ng mentions that a huge inspiration is Toronto’s role as a growing city full of opportunity. “Toronto is a city filled to the brim with amazing possibilities and wonderful people from all backgrounds and walks of life willing to help, work together and give chances. We want to infuse that sense of optimism into our designs so that our customers tackle their day with positive vibes.”
Contrary to the glamorized Hollywood portrayals, life as a sock entrepreneur is anything but easy. Ng draws out a long sip of coffee and smiles with just a trace of weariness, “I quit my full-time job to pursue Sockzi. Instead of a 9 to 5 schedule, I practically work a 24 hour day every day. Our manufacturers and suppliers are on the other side of the world, so I have to be ready to do business at all hours.” Concerning their biggest challenges, Ng continues, “finding a supplier was by far our greatest challenge. I didn’t have any connections beforehand so it took four months of intensive research to narrow down our options. Our choices basically came down to a larger sweatshop-like factory in China and a smaller family-owned business in Taiwan. We picked the Taiwan-based supplier because they’re ethical in their approach and their employees are treated as family. We want our manufacturers to take pride in what they do. So it makes sense to run with the Taiwan-based supplier even at the cost of forgoing potential economies of scale”.
Despite the difficulties involved with starting a small business, Ng remains upbeat and offers great advice to would-be entrepreneurs. “When talking to friends and family about your idea, don’t be discouraged when people disagree with you. After you’ve done your research, be confident and pursue the idea. If you work hard, you can achieve anything, and even the people who disagreed with you in the beginning will eventually start supporting you after seeing you take action.”
“My second piece of advice involves decision making. When you own your own business every decision has a result, negative or positive. Don’t get caught up in the negatives. Don’t second guess yourself. In the beginning I spent too much time in analysis paralysis researching and procrastinating the actual decision making process because I was afraid to fail. I didn’t want to let people down. But I discovered that you really just have to try. Regardless of what others think, the people closest to you will always be supportive.”
Looking into the near future and beyond, Ng finishes by mentioning Sockzi’s current endeavours and ambitions. “Right now our focus is on our ongoing Kickstarter campaign. Eventually, we seek to compete on a national scale in Canada and ultimately expand into the US and beyond. The States is a huge market home to many of our biggest competitors, but we believe our unique designs and the affordability of our high quality socks will allow us to compete well.” Ng chuckles as we conclude our chat, “for now though, all of our energies are directed toward our Kickstarter campaign! We want to spread the word and raise awareness about our company so that we can go one step closer toward our vision of empowering playfulness while supporting the community in positive ways.”
JJ Wong is a contributor to Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter.