“I thought it was going to be a multibillion-dollar brand in one year and it’s ended up being a disappointment,” said Viktor Tell when asked what was his initial goal for Happy Socks.
Tell, who cofounded Happy Socks in 2008 with Mikael Söderlindh, was joking. He and Soderlindh, whose cheery dispositions match the name of their brand, were both in New York to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the sock company they started in Sweden.
Happy Socks began during an economic downturn when customers couldn’t splurge on a jacket or coat, but could afford a bright pair of printed socks, which, at the time, were hard to find. They filled a void and built a brand message that resonated with artists and companies ranging from The Beatles and Pharrell Williams to Rolex, which have all collaborated on Happy Socks capsule collections.
Over the past 10 years, the company has grown into an international sock design brand that is sold in 90-plus countries, with more than 10,000 points of sale. The business includes an online site and a growing portfolio of company-owned stores. In 2016, the brand generated retail sales of 100 million euros, or $106.4 million, and in 2017 it was acquired by Palamon Capital Partners for $81.2 million, but the founders remain at the helm. In 2017 it also ended its license deal with United Legwear and began operating in the U.S. market directly. It opened a New York flagship late last year.
While many brands are cutting down on retail, Tell and Söderlindh continue to increase their store count and are hoping to grow from 50 to 60 global stores to around 90 over the next couple years.
“When you are a specialist, you shouldn’t be scared of opening more stores,” said Söderlindh. “We are opening small stores that are around 500 square feet and the current state of retail has provided us with opportunities to sign good deals.”
According to Söderlindh and Tell, growing retail only increases the wholesale business, which still accounts for most of the company’s sales. The strategy for wholesale going forward is to expand the presence at retailers including Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom with more stockkeeping units as well as launching new brands.
Happy Socks recently moved into the swim category with printed swim trunks that retail for $65. And it created an entirely new brand called Hysteria, which targets Millennial women. Paula Maso, a concept designer at Happy Socks, pitched the idea to Tell and Söderlindh and they gave her the creative license to build out a brand. The founders said they are discussing the idea of having Hysteria-only stores – the line is currently sold in Happy Socks locations along with 10 Corso Como, Printemps, Selfridges, Barneys New York and Nordstrom.
“It has proven itself and we’ve doubled the budget for it,” said Söderlindh.
Since launching, more sock brands have entered the market, which Tell said only strengthens the sock industry. Going forward the plan is to build deeper into existing sub categories.
“The challenge is staying creative,” said Tell. “And making sure that we just keep on going and producing more product,” added Söderlindh.