Back when Michael Scaia had to wear a suit and tie to work every day, he was looking for a way to make his outfit stand out. So he started investing in novelty socks, like hot-pink styles with camels on them by H&M or Star Wars-themed socks from T.J. Maxx. Now he has about a 100 pairs of different-colored, themed socks.
“I don’t buy regular socks just because they’re boring,” said Scaia, who works in communications. “I do like the reaction I get when I cross my legs and [people] see these crazy, outlandish socks come out from under black dress pants.”
Scaia’s preference in socks points to a bigger trend: people are replacing once-popular tube styles worn for every occasion with more fashionable versions.
That trend is socking it to the category’s manufacturers. Both Gildan Activewear and Hanesbrand have seen sales declines in the sock and hosiery segment this year. In the case of Gildan, the company now anticipates sock sales to be down $125 million for the year, compared with the previous estimate of an $85 million sales decline. That’s a 17-percent decline in hosiery and underwear, which includes socks, compared with the same quarter last year.
Bombas, a private sock company, has grown more than 2000 percent since it first launched five years ago, ending 2017 with just under $50 million in revenue, according to Bombas cofounder and chief executive officer David Heath. He said customers buy an average of about 20 pairs of socks a year and have different socks for different occasions.
“People are moving away from the lower-priced, tube-sock model, your generic white, multi-pack that you get at a discount retailer,” Heath said. “They’re buying merino wool socks in the winter and they’re buying our lightweight no-show socks in the summer.”
In fact, the sock category is growing. Globally, the non-sheer hosiery category, which includes men’s and women’s socks, women’s tights, shoe liners and leg warmers, was worth $35.3 billion in 2017, up from $30.4 billion five years earlier, and is expected to grow to about $37.3 billion by 2022, according to a U.S. report by Euromonitor, a global market research firm.
“It mirrors a trend we’re seeing in many consumer goods, where the smaller start-ups are taking market share from the big brands that everyone used to buy automatically,” said Gerald Storch, ceo of Storch Advisors, a retail advisory group.
Socks, neckties and sneakers are all fashion staples that are being disrupted as consumers seek updated products.
“In the case of socks, it’s a small way to have a little bit of fun without too much of a fashion risk,” Storch said. He pointed out that socks are also an inexpensive investment.
“It’s better than just giving someone a card and they always fit,” said Kirsten Dzurka Clark, who works in HR. She recently received a sock-of-the-month club subscription as a gift. “You can be totally basic black and wear fun socks and it changes the whole thing.”
Glenn Chamandy, founder, president and ceo of Gildan, told investors during the most recent conference call that he expects basic socks to make a comeback. But Bombas’ Heath said consumers want something different.
“If brands like Gildan and Hanes and Fruit of the Loom were first-wave, we’re second-wave socks,” he said.