By  on January 23, 2012

Hot Sox is giving itself a 42nd birthday present: a hip new concept launching for fall with three lines: the Hot Sox Dream Collection of leggings, tights and sheer hosiery, and two socks lines — Hot Sox Collection and Hot Sox Original.

Hot Sox will also make its first foray into men’s trouser socks with Hot Sox Men, and into women’s athletic socks, which will be part of its Original line.

The launch could generate sales of $3 million to $4 million the first full year, according to industry estimates.

Over the years, the Hot Sox name has become synonymous with bold colors and unique prints, patterns and textures as the brand evolved into a major force in the legwear industry. The redo features Hot Sox’s signature fashion looks with graphics and stripes, but prints and textures have been updated through technology and special treatments with an artistic twist that reflects the influence of a global culture.

The company has come a long way since it was founded in 1970 by husband-and-wife team Gary and Sarah Wolkowitz specializing in fashion socks to wear with a trendy item at the time — HotPants.

“I come from a graphic design background, and my wife was a photographer. We never thought we would end up in the socks business,” said Gary Wolkowitz, who now serves as senior vice president and chief creative officer. “Our Hot Sox brand caught on immediately. It spoke to newness of idea, because there were just nylon opaques and acrylic socks in the [fashion legwear] market. Right from the start, we became an overnight industry and began selling to Europe, Japan and Latin America.”

Wolkowitz said a new fashion-conscious consumer began buying trendy legwear in the Seventies.

“There was nothing in the legwear market that spoke to this new emerging customer, that HotPants customer who wore boots. Rather than shop at mom’s department store, this customer began shopping at independent specialty stores….This customer wanted something new that worked with her wardrobe and she definitely put socks on her accessories menu.”

Key novelty items included whimsical socks with toes, legwarmers and anything with a metallic shine.

The Wolkowitzes ran the company until May 2007, when Mount Airy, N.C.-based Renfro Corp. — the world’s largest maker of socks, with estimated wholesale revenues in excess of $500 million — acquired Hot Sox Co. Inc. for an undisclosed sum. The Hot Sox company, which has maintained the licensed Polo Ralph Lauren collection of men’s and women’s socks since 1980, has estimated annual wholesale volume of more than $50 million.

“Renfro was looking to diversify its portfolio and they saw an opportunity with us,” said Wolkowitz.

He noted that his wife has since left the company to work on personal projects.

Discussing the strategy behind the rebranding, Wolkowitz said he’s been reevaluating the look and positioning of the brand for the past year.

“I felt it was time to take a look at the marketplace, the way we did in 1970, because the world has changed and the consumer and her shopping habits have certainly changed….I felt it was the right time for a Hot Sox revival, but we needed to keep in tune with the inventiveness of what we created. Every successful designer needs to step back and take a look at him or herself and ask, ‘who is the target customer, what is she wearing, where does she shop, where does she live?’

“Hot Sox was not known as a resource for tights or sheers, and women have adopted leggings and tights in a way that has now become significant,” he continued.

He noted that most major stores have changed in-store signage over the past couple of years from “sock” or “hosiery department” to “legwear department.”

“We wanted to address the drastic change in terminology....We took our time and looked at our competition,” added Wolkowitz. “Everything out there was black and very safe, whether it was opaques or fishnets. The offerings in legwear departments really didn’t wow me. Our mission was to bring back the wow factor to legwear and make it a conversation piece, an item that women would not only wear but tell their friends about.”

The multimillion-dollar revamp includes a reorganization of the design team of graphic and textile artists to create “artisanal print-based product,” as well as a viral campaign on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr to launch the new “House of Hot Sox” collections in February during the fall 2012 market. The company has also retained communications firm TCG Agency to help strategize and relaunch the brand and refresh the Web site. TCG is also producing a video for the brand’s site and social media pages.

Meanwhile, Wolkowitz said an “artful approach” was taken to create Hot Sox’s new look.

The Hot Sox Dream Collection makes a sophisticated statement with ornate, engineered prints of international landmarks such as the stained glass windows of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, a map of Rome and Gustav Klimt-inspired motifs. Fabrics include cashmere and spandex blends with nylon, cotton or polyester. Special effects include metallic splatter patterns, burnout treatments and slick ciré finishes. Sheer tights will retail between $18 and $22 and leggings will be $30 to $58.

“The idea,” said Wolkowitz, “is that a woman can wear these leggings to work and later out to dinner.”

The Hot Sox Collection has a classic look comprising knee-highs and over-the-knee styles, trouser socks and legwarmers in blends of spandex with nylon and cotton as well as a group of cashmere tights, legwarmers and socks.

Inspiration for the Hot Sox Original line is bright pop art colors and graphics that represent the “DNA of the brand,” said Wolkowitz. The sock collection of spandex blends also features tribal Navajo motifs and a redux of rich patterns and prints from the Dream collection.

Trouser socks will retail between $6 and $12.; knee-highs and over-the-knee styles will be $15 to $18.

Details are not yet final for either Hot Sox Men socks, which will retail for $15 a pair, or women’s athletic socks, retailing for $6 a pair or three pair for $15. But, true to form, Wolkowitz said the women’s athletic socks will feature lots of “fun, bright colors.”

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