Back in 2008, Happy Socks co-founders Mikael Söderlindh and Viktor Tell had a vision that was bright, bold and quirky; to produce a line of socks that was splashy and colourful and represented a clear alternative to dull, monotone footwear.
In just a decade, that vision has become not just a reality but an international phenomenon in the notoriously difficult-to-crack fashion market. Happy Socks is now sold in 90 countries and enjoys a level of brand recognition and loyalty most other labels can only aspire to. Its range features polka dot and brightly striped socks along with neon-hued fruits and cartoon animals, and has been sported by celebrities like Cara Delevingne and Zac Efron.
Mikael says the company had strong supply chain foundations that made scaling up from its beginnings in Sweden much less difficult than it could have been. “We were very successful with finding local partners that could use their full local knowledge,” he explains.
Similarly, the clarity of the brand’s identity, underscored by its recognisable designs and a simple but memorable name, meant it could manage the jump to international markets. “It’s hard to misunderstand our vision,” Mikael says. “Our strong vision and brand have simplified the process and made it quite easy.”
This year saw the company launch its first swimwear line, a move Mikael says was made smoother by its years of experience and its previous expansion into underwear. Further, he says the decision to introduce this new line was based on market research from its existing customers.
In addition to its slightly quirky designs, Happy Socks prides itself on being a fun workplace far removed from the corporate norm. It has a motto of ‘All play and no work’, and Mikael says this unorthodox approach has led to outstanding results. “If you have fun at your office, it’s not going to feel like work, and if you have people who are happy, you’re going to have greater productivity in your teams.”
Mikael adds that careful recruitment has been the secret to creating this merry work environment. “What has been core with Happy Socks is that we find unique people. You don’t have to be anything special, you can be unique and crazy and you will fit in here. You don’t need to pretend to be somebody else. If you can be yourself at work, you’re going to be happy.”
“You can be unique and crazy and you will fit in here. You don’t need to pretend to be somebody else.”
Even in the most carefree of work environments, moments of conflict and unhappiness will inevitably arise and, rather than let things fester, Mikael says Happy Socks employs a direct means of dealing with this. “If you have an infection in your arm, for example, you go to the doctor and say: ‘Can you help me?’. So, if there is a problem, we go to that department, put the people in a room and say: ‘How do you want to solve this?’ Being extremely open when you have something that is not working has been a success for us in handling things.”
There are pop culture references aplenty at Happy Socks. The company produced a line of socks featuring Hashtag the Panda from Jimmy Fallon’s TV show, for example, and it paid tribute to The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film with socks featuring Blue Meanies and psychedelic monsters.
Another strong feature of the company is its collaborations with creatives of all stripes, from models to musicians, comedians to artists. Asked about some of the most memorable collaborations the company has undertaken, Mikael says Happy Socks’ recent 10-year anniversary has seen it reflect on some favourites. He nominates partnerships with artists like filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, photographer David LaChapelle and rapper Snoop Dogg as particular highlights. “They were all instances when we worked with very strong creative talents. They are unique people who stand for something special in their particular field.”
A different, but equally important, kind of collaboration is Happy Socks’ relationship with its suppliers, which Mikael says has been foundational to its rapid advancement. “Without your suppliers, you simply can’t grow,” he notes. Recognising the importance of these relationships, he ensures that partners always receive company newsletters and are generally kept up to date when Happy Socks is placed in a new store or breaks into a new market. “They’re so proud to hear that. It helps them feel happy with what they’re doing.”