My, how far socks has come.
Take Riley Goodman and Jake Director for example. Two entrepreneurial-minded kids from Seattle, who during their Lacrosse days in high school were looking for a different way to distinguish and express themselves in tandem with their play on the field, which helped them win back-to-back state titles in their junior and senior years. In 2009, their senior year in high school, they created Sea Town Lax .The company was to be a Lacrosse sock company that offered something new in the realm of just the typical athletic sock until they saw how big it could be in the basketball market.
A name change was in order as Goodman and Director didn’t want to just be designated to one city and one sport. Strideline was birthed and history was made. The two current University of Washington students are currently finishing up their educations while continuing to obsess over giving customers the best performance socks on the market, along with giving them a way to show pride in where they’re from.
Modern Notoriety caught up with one half of the duo to talk Strideline’s beginnings and what’s to come in the future for “The New Crew.”
How did you two manage to go from selling your first 1,000 pair of socks in three weeks to now have professional athletes and even Snoop wearing the product?
Goodman: I think what we did initially to start the brand; Jake and I got those first pairs of socks and we taking them out to different tournaments and selling them directly to our customers and getting the word out that way. That’s how we started and once we got some traction from doing that, we realized we had a hot product and we started approaching retail stores. We would just walk in and say, hey, take 10 pairs of socks, put them on the shelves and if they sell, give us a call back. The first time we went into a retail store, it was Sneaker City in Seattle and the lady was really hesitant to take our socks. But finally, she ended up taking 10 pairs and that night, (current Denver Nuggets guard) Nate Robinson came in and bought eight of the 10 pair. She called us the next day and said Nate came in and bought them.
I’ve never had a chance to talk to Nate about it but that’s the first time we ever got any type of traction from someone at retail that was actually kind of a trendsetter. Six months after that, Snoop Dogg randomly tweeted (him wearing a picture of Strideline socks). I had no correspondence to him or any of his guys. I have to guess that he got the socks from Sneaker City or one of his guys got them when he had a concert (in Seattle). So that was totally random. It’s the most rewarding thing ever to have a brand that you’ve poured your heart and soul since your high school years, when you got your start; to see a trendsetter like that, who could wear any brand in the world, but wear ours; it’s the coolest thing in the world.
Most kids at the age you and Jake were when you started have idea but don’t have the knowledge to put plans into motion like you did. Did you have any mentors?
Honestly, we didn’t at first. Now we do, but he’s only really been our mentor for the last year and he likes to remain unspoken of [laughs]. We started the business when we were in high school, like right at the end of our high school careers. So from 2009 to now, we’ve been students at the University of Washington. We’ve gotten a little bit of help from some people at UW, getting us in contact with the right people such as lawyers and even with our mentor today. Other than that, we feel that this is the next generation of doing business and being entrepreneurs. Our generation has access to so many online resources and you can get connected with retail stores, go on Google and find lawyers and how to do stuff.
We feel like if there’s anyone out there who can do something, we can learn how to do it or find someone who can teach us how to. So that’s kind of the principles we’ve gone off of and we kind of taught ourselves how to do this whole thing.
Why the name change to Strideline?
We initially started Sea Town Lax because we were going to be a huge Seattle-based Lacrosse sock company. Jake and I were both Lacrosse players in high school and we were pretty good. We won the state championship in our junior and senior year. It was our life coming out of high school. That’s when we first started to see the trend with colorful crew socks. This was back in June of 2009. There were some gray, black Nike crew socks, but the Nike Elite wasn’t even on the market yet. Jake and I started thinking “Why can’t Seattle have their own colorful Lacrosse brand’’ Right around the time we got into Sneaker City and Nate Robinson came for our socks, we saw (Philadelphia 76ers guard) Tony Wroten Jr. wear a pair and we realized that basketball was just as big a market, if not bigger than Lacrosse.
We figured why pigeon-hole ourselves into a one city and one sport company, when we have potential in a lot of sports and a lot of cities. So we figured we had to make a name change if we were going to be on a bigger scale. We just schemed for a long time, just trying to think of a name for the company. We ended up hiring a branding firm here in Seattle that helped us come up with the concept of Strideline and the look and feel behind it.
Describe the sneaker culture in Seattle because the city has all these stigmas that takeaway the fact that it’s a big city with a great vibe?
I think Seattle is totally under the radar with how progressive they are with their style. You definitely have your hipsters. You have your Seattle life with coffee drinkers and it being rainy and what not. But the actual vibe of the city, especially the Garfield area, the inner city and even the suburbs like Bellevue; people are obsessed with their socks and sneakers. There’s unlimited Seattle pride. Being from the North West, we always feel like we’re under the radar. I just think there’s a huge means to express yourself in Seattle and show that we’re a big city too. It’s been a perfect city to start a company in and to have people show their city pride.
Where did this passion for socks come from?
It really spawned from my lacrosse career. Jake and I were really into lacrosse and it’s a sport where, as with basketball, you have your team jersey that’s mandatory. So the only way you can really express yourself as a player is with your shoes and socks. In that sense, basketball and lacrosse are pretty unique that way. We saw in the lacrosse market that people were just starting to wear crew socks, but they were still pretty boring. Jake and I were like this is how you can express yourself on the field and also on the court, saying where you’re from and what you’re all about. That’s really where we got the inspiration and we just took it from there.
What’s really cool is that Jake and I started this company when we were 18 years old, so we really were our own target market. It’s not like a large corporate company trying to figure out what’s cool in the market. At the time, Jake and I were our own customers. We were making socks to sale to ourselves, our friends and our peers. It has been that way all throughout college too. We see what’s cool, we see what’s in the market. We are playing basketball at IMA (Univ. of Washington’s athletic facility) and you can see what’s cool and what people are wearing to know what’s fresh in the market.
How are you able to manage school and running an upcoming business?
Honestly, it’s been very difficult. We’re still a little behind in school. We just finished our senior year at the end of last year, but we’re both still doing some classes now. What we decided was that the business was our No. 1 priority. Jake was initially an accounting major and I was a finance major. About halfway through college, we kind of had to make a choice. Are we going to get serious with our upper-level classes or are we going to put more work into our company? So we choose to change our majors to the easiest majors that we could and we’re still in business school, and we’re really focused on the business. So we ended taking some time off and we’re still trying to finish up, but really the business became our focus.
Probably the hardest part about that is how much time we spend in Asia. The biggest thing is creating the highest quality athletic socks in the world and the only way to do that is spending a ton of time going to different mills, sampling. Going to yarn trade shows and seeing what the newest materials are out on the market. Going to machine trade shows. I’ve been to Italy, looking at machine manufacturers over there. So there’s a ton of time spent traveling around the world developing the nicest sock we can possibly get, which makes school almost impossible. It’s tough but I think a lot of the times the teachers are willing to work with you because they can see that you’re doing something out there.
Athletic socks are now a multi-billion dollar product category. First, can you believe that and what do you feel Strideline offers that another product wouldn’t?
It’s crazy how big the sock category is, especially the crew sock category. I feel fortunate that we saw this coming before other people did back in 2009. I think Lacrosse is one of the most progressive sports out there as far as style is concerned. Being in the market, we saw these coming and started our company.
As for our socks and it’s unique offerings: I think one of our biggest strengths is that we spend so much time obsessing over the product and the quality. We visited over 10 different mills overseas and to be a small company, we’re able to be a little bit more flexible than the bigger ones in terms of how many SKU’s we’re able to offer. We offer over almost 500 different individual SKU’s between the new nine cities, which we’ll be introducing in the spring. If you’re a big company, you’re making so many quantities of SKU’s that you aren’t able to do that. At the time being, when we do go to our mills and put these orders together, we’re able to come out with the highest quality sock and the most exciting, new colorful designs and introduce them to the market quicker than the big companies, who are doing millions and millions of pairs.
We kind of have that exclusive, collector feel behind our brand, especially here in Seattle. Kids always want something that their friends don’t have and we offer so many colorways that you can have an entire team wearing Strideline socks and they’re all going to have a different sock on. That’s something we work really hard to maintain, just having a lot of colors and the highest quality we can.
Performance benefits, materials and fabric?
We have a really unique cotton-poly blend that we use on our socks that are very soft, it washes really well and it’s sweat wicking. So we’ve different technical parts of the socks. The bottom of the sock has our heel strap on it. The technology is called Select Terry and that’s where you put a thickner in the center portion of the sock. Nike does it a little bit but we work on trying to have as much of that Terry in our socks so that it’s thicker, but thinner and that it has that sweat wicking on it. There’s TC cotton on the calf and throughout the foot that helps make it really soft, but also stretchy and it washes well.
We also put elastic in the foot of the sock so that it’s physically a small sock, but that it stretches quite a bit. So all these things are different things that we’ve developed over trial and error over the years by going over to Asia and experimenting with our mills.
The business aspect can sometimes take the fun out of things, but how much fun is it working side by side with someone who you’ve known essentially forever?
I think Jake and I’s relationship is probably the biggest asset that we have. We were born in the same hospital six hours apart. We grew up in the same neighborhood, went to the same elementary school, used to ride the bus together. So we’ve really been best friends our entire lives. Having that connection, it’s almost like a biological brother than it is a friend or business partner. The trust we have during 23 years of being best friends and five years of doing business…. That’s one thing that’s a real asset of the business. We also went to college together, are in the same fraternity. We have a ton of fun in our personal lives and we bring that into the business. How many people get to work with their best friend in their profession and have that trust in knowing that you’ve been through the whole thing together. It’s really rewarding. It’s a huge asset and it makes running the company really fun.
What’s next for Strideline?
We’re currently offering 12 cities and we’re introducing another nine. The skyline business is our bread and butter but we feel like it kind of makes us a one-trick pony. Our biggest thing that we’re coming out with is our S Collection and it hasn’t hit the market yet. It’s launching through Nordstroms (available now) and it is the first line of socks that we’re selling that doesn’t have skylines on them. It’s the same exact high-quality sock structure that we put so much time in developing, but it’s all just really colorful, very basketball shoe friendly. There’s a lot of camo’s, digi-camo’s and 80’s retro print.
Strideline will introduce 11 new cities in the spring — already featuring Chicago, Seattle, Portland, The Bay, LA, St. Louis, Texas, Pittsburgh, Miami, Boston and Brooklyn — along with several new styles for current ones. Make sure to check out www.strideline.com to set feet in “The New Crew.”