Kevin Clerkin, founder of Walk On…Socks with Sole, is no stranger to socks. In fact, before he broke away from his 9-5 job to begin a fashion sock company, he was known as the “sock guy” around the office. Out of frustration with the current status of men’s fashionable sock options, to the lack of quality materials, to flaws within the structure of men’s socks, Walk On was born. Recently, we sat down with Clerkin to discuss how he got his company started, future plans, and what he loves most about living in the City of Brotherly Love:
What did you feel was lacking in the sock industry?
“One of the qualms I had with socks was you’d get boring blacks or like on the other end of the spectrum, the cartoon mustache-type of socks. But there weren’t any fun designs and especially fun designs in a moderate price range…I just can’t get behind paying $40 for a pair of socks. I was trying to find something in the middle ground that had fun designs and patterns without being cheesy or boring.”
From the initial idea for the sock designs to getting the company started, how long did the whole process take? What did it involve?
“I’ve been working on it [the company] for the past eight months now and one of the problems I came into this with was having no real background in fashion or with manufacturing, so I was kind of starting from scratch. Part of it was getting my designs together. I have a lot of great designs that I think of but unfortunately, my drawing skills ended up as stick figures, so part of that was me teaming up with a friend of mine, Heather, who works as a graphic designer here in Philadelphia. She kind of takes all of those ideas that I describe, and pieced together from other images I find that inspire me, and turns them into the cohesive vision I am trying to get across.
The other thing I had no background in was sock manufacturing, so another part of it was finding a manufacturer that would be able to make the socks I wanted and to make them with the quality I wanted. Initially, I wanted to get them done in the US but I wasn’t able to find any place that could do the quality, they just didn’t have the machines. I called this one guy in North Carolina one time, giving him my standard cold call pitch…and he just tells me ‘Forget about it! Go to China. We don’t got no machines.’ Eventually I found a factory overseas, so I found that and the next step was to go through the whole prototyping process. So, I had to go through a couple of iterations for the designs until they were what I wanted them to be and then came Kickstarter.”
What do you see as the reach for your sock line eventually? Do you want to keep it just to Philly or do you want it to go nationally?
“I want to see them [the socks] go nationally, in your more upscale kind of department stores, your Barney’s, your Neiman’s, you Saks, your Bergdorf’s, knock on wood, but I want to build up the line a little bit more to have a better representation of styles we have to offer before I start moving into those large-scale stores. Right now it’s just kind of about getting the word out there. We’ve got the website and I’m also just kind of going door to door, to different local boutiques, to see if we can get some socks out that way.”
How do you feel the response has been?
“The response has been great, especially in Philly. People here love supporting local designers and local business.”
So are you interested in generally in fashion or specifically in sock fashion?
“I am interested in fashion generally. My wife and I take occasional pilgrimages to Barney’s to treat ourselves, so I’ve also been into fashion. You know, not necessarily hard core like going to fashion shows but always an interest in fashion. I also have an outlet for that as well through my blog on the website. There’s only so much I can tell people about socks so it’s more of a broader fashion focus—what to wear, usually some hot season items, styling ideas, things that people can wear, etc.”
Where did you come up with the name for Walk On?
“To be honest with you, I was riding on the train one day—I’d been batting around the idea of starting a sock company—so just spit balling names in my head, and it just kind of popped in there. And the tail kind of wagged the dog on design because I thought of “walk on” and then I thought, ‘you know what would be cool, socks that have designs specifically on the sole of them.' So I thought of the name and then I thought of the concept and it all kind of fell together.”
I know you said you’re really focused on the quality of the socks, so do you find that they are more expensive to produce?
“It [the process] is. It’s more expensive to do 200 needle count, which makes it a very dense sock, not a thicker sock, but think of like 1,000-thread-count sheets as opposed to 300-thread-count sheets but for your feet. So it just kind of gives you a smoother, denser, more durable sock. We also always to try have a high cotton content in them as opposed to being like a nylon sock. The materials would be cheaper but it just doesn’t have that same luxurious feel to it. We also make ours two inches higher than the industry standard. Usually your sock is kind of on that downhill sloping part of your calf, so you get downward pressure that makes your socks fall down throughout the day, but ours are a little bit higher so they hit the upward slope [of the calf] so it pulls up on your socks and they don’t fall down the rest of the day.
I’d never thought of the construction in such detail, thanks for that break down. And of course, because you are in Philly, what is your favorite thing about the city? Is it a place? Is it an event?
“Coming from New York, I feel like it’s the pace and the people. Things move a little more slowly and I feel like I can fit in with the vibe a little bit better. I’ve found the means to make a home here and like I said, I’ve only been here for the past eight months now. I got married, I left my other job, started this job and moved. I got all my life changes out in one fell swoop. Oh and Jim’s cheesesteaks if you want a place, down on South Street.
Lastly, do you feel like there is any other sock competition out there, here in Philly, or do you feel like your company is kind of an anomaly?
“There’s not a lot of places here in Philly that are producing. Nationally, there’s a slew of competition.
But at least you’ve got the market in Philadelphia.
“Yep that’s right.”
Great, well good luck and thanks for taking the time to meet today and talk about all things socks!
You heard it here first—a man out to change the face and sole of socks. If you want to learn more about Clerkin’s socks, the company, the blog or the company’s latest developments, you can visit: Walk On.
Oh and remember to vote for your favorite upcoming sock designs! It looks like 'Walk on Hot Coals' and 'Walk on Broken Glass" are neck and neck.