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Happy Socks CEO: ‘My vision is to create the Happy Group’

By Regina Henkel


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Business |Interview

Happy Socks SS24 Runway Show Credits: IndigoLewisohn / Happy Socks

How do you turn a supposedly boring product - as socks are often seen to be - into a real statement piece? One example that has taken the industry by storm in recent years is entirely encasing the socks with fresh patterns, colours and designs that stand out from standard black, grey, brown or white designs. Happy Socks has played a key role in shaping this new category. Since its founding in 2008, the Swedish sock brand has become one of the pioneers in the statement sock business.

To further define its mission, the company appointed experienced brand strategist Alexander Meyer, former chief customer officer of Canadian retailer The Bay, as chief executive officer in autumn 2023. FashionUnited caught up with Meyer to learn about how the sock business is going, how he has settled in and what is next for the brand.

Happy Socks is one of the pioneers of statement socks. What is currently trending in sock fashion?

We have just organised the world's first sock catwalk with our newly launched SS24 ‘Solids Collection’ during Berlin Fashion Week. We are currently seeing four fashion trends. Firstly, dance and movement: After a long pandemic, we are seeing the resurgence of the rave and club scene. Our SS24 season is entitled ‘This is your Brain on Happy’, and picks up on iconic trends from the club scene of the late 90s and early 00s. Spirals, tribal tattoos and grunge aesthetics are some of the key design features of the collection.

Plant Dye is the second trend. We are a brand that cares about innovation and plant dye is an important area that we have been working on and that we see as a must-have in our category.

Solids is the third trend: the trend to wear socks so that they are visible has become very big in recent seasons. As such, we have noticed an increasing demand for solid-coloured socks. We therefore decided to go for the unexpected and launched our own monochrome collection - with seven bright colours to lift the mood and a black, white and grey version. In line with our aim to be a brand that everyone can wear.

The latest trend we call Hyperreal. With the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) art as the next big tech topic, the fashion and design industry has been inspired by the blurring line between the digital and real world. We have embraced this trend through otherworldly designs, fantastical colour combinations and surreal prints.

CEO Alexander Meyer in green Happy Socks. Credits: Happy Socks

You moved from The Bay to Happy Socks last year, from a large retail group to a sock supplier. What brought you to Happy Socks?

I'm a brand marketer at heart, and few European brands have the global success that Happy Socks has, combined with a really cool story and a beautiful purpose - who wouldn't want to say their job is to "bring colour and happiness to every corner of the world"? The company is at an exciting turning point where I knew I could do something incredible with the team - helping to embed ‘Happy’ into the culture. We are well known, but we still have a lot of room to grow and many exciting plans. Also, my kids thought it would be very cool if I worked at Happy Socks.

What is the challenge in the sock market?

Like every other brand disrupting the market, we were successful because we were the first and did things differently. We went left when others went right. But of course the market is catching up with a lot of local competition. We have to innovate again, which was a challenge against the backdrop of a global pandemic and the financial and political problems that followed. We had our difficult teenage years where we didn't always get everything right, but that only spurred us on even more to stay true to our creative vision and remain the market leader for statement socks.

How is Happy Socks doing at the moment?

As for many brands, the pandemic has been tough for us, especially for our retail business. Happy Socks has introduced many improvements in recent years that have put the company in a stronger position. For example, we have implemented cost savings and a more efficient digital marketing spend model and a more robust technical infrastructure with new back- and front-end online trading and a new enterprise resource planning system. This has strengthened our data and analytics capabilities. We have refreshed our brand and moved from a paid marketing model to an organic marketing model, which has increased our relevance.

I have also aligned the team to focus much more on forward-looking inputs rather than analysing past results. This will ensure that we are able to grow sustainably in all our global markets. Therefore, data and analytical capabilities are fundamental to us. We have just hired a world-class data scientist with strong strategic skills as chief data officer [Vivek Bharadwaj] in our New York office. So for us, it’s all about art, science and true craftsmanship.

You have just given the brand a facelift. Why was that necessary?

We pride ourselves on being a brand that helps people stand out from the crowd, but we felt that our look no longer reflected this attitude. Ultimately, we decided on a new look that is bold, modern and contemporary, but still retains the playful element we are known for. Most importantly, we created a symbol for the first time - the smiling H. It's a small but impactful detail that fits well into our complex matrix of channels and opens the door for future category development.

Read more: Happy Socks unveils new identity, logo and website design

Happy Socks also offers swimwear. Are you planning to introduce more categories?

My vision is to create the 'Happy Group'. We are not just a sock brand, and we don't just have a gift product to offer. As a disruptive brand within a ubiquitous category, 'Happy' is our business, and there is a lot of room to bring our concept of surprise and delight to more people and in more categories.

So where do you see further growth opportunities?

We still have huge potential to strengthen our position in the US and China, and we see steady growth in the digital ecosystem as we put more focus on this part of our business.

Happy Socks SS24 Runway Credits: IndigoLewisohn / Happy Socks

You also have your own stores. What are your plans in this area?

We have around 50 monobrand concept shops in Asia, Europe and North America. The role of the concept shop has changed in recent years and we plan to physically adapt the Happy Socks brand in a way that better meets the needs of our customers and our brand mission. This could also mean closing some shops first and reinventing the concept of the shops themselves.

How many new collections do you launch each year? How quickly are the products in the shops?

We launch two seasonal collections (SS/FW), which include different product ranges such as Crew, Sneaker, Trend, Solids and Extra-Fine, to name a few. For our fall/winter collections, we also launch our extremely popular Holiday styles and thicker, more winter-ready collections. We react quickly to market trends when we recognise a moment where it makes sense. In addition, there are always collaborations - both large and small - as well as express capsules.

How many countries do you sell to and which are your strongest regions?

We are currently active in over 40 countries, both through our e-commerce and through distributors and direct markets that we serve. Our 'top five' markets by sales size are Germany, the US, China, Scandinavia and France.

Are there regional differences in the products?

By and large, we carry the same product in all markets, but there are a few very localised special make-ups (SMUs) in different countries.

Is there a particular design that has been a best seller for years?

We have had many! These styles have become our "classics" - our most iconic and recognisable organic cotton styles, such as Big Dot, Burger, Cherry, Argyle and Cat and Dog.

Do you sell more socks for men or for women?

We are a unisex brand with two sizes for adults, but we make more sales overall with our larger sizes.

Socks are more take-away products. How important is online retail for you? How big is your direct-to-consumer business?

Online is very important to us. It allows us to fully engage consumers in the world of Happy Socks and give them a 360-degree experience of our brand and product. Developing and investing in digital channels is an important focus of our strategy. We see great future growth potential for our entire digital direct-to-consumer business.

You work with very different sales channels. In which environment do Happy Socks sell best?

We are most strongly established in multi-brand fashion shops and department stores via our distributors and direct wholesale markets. Travel retail is also quite successful for us. Most of our sales are offline, but we still see huge potential for our digital business as a key customer touchpoint. Gift areas in critical seasonal periods, away from the typical sock wall of a shop, also play a crucial role in our business.

Happy Socks SS24 Runway Credits: IndigoLewisohn / Happy Socks

Where do you produce?

The majority of our production takes place in Turkey; a small part of our range is manufactured in China.

What role does sustainability play for you? How do you implement it?

It's time for the fashion industry to change and we need to do our part. Our goal of making the world a happier and more colourful place is not sustainable if we are not. We are committed to continuous improvement towards greater sustainability in everything we do.

We have set ourselves science-based targets with the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi). This means that we want to reduce our emissions by 50 percent by 2030. We have also started to create carbon footprints for all our products and our entire value chain in order to make data-driven decisions about what we need to do to achieve our target. In addition, we have set ourselves the goal of only using materials that come from sustainable sources or are recycled by 2030 at the latest.

How far along are you?

We are improving quickly: by 2024, more than 50 percent of our materials will come from more sustainable sources or be recycled. By 2025, all of our cotton will come from sustainable sources or be recycled. We say 'more sustainable sources' because there is no single material that is good for the planet; all materials cause emissions. The collections we offer with more sustainable materials are all our children's socks, these are made from recycled polyamide and organic cotton. The Zodiac collection, which is made from Tencel Modal, and all our classics, solids and most collaborations are made from organic cotton.

What are your goals, what ideas do you have for the further development of the brand?

We are focusing on doing what we have always done well - design that makes people happy. We will continue to develop our range, reach more people and reignite the joy of something as ordinary as a simple sock.

This article originally appeared on FashionUnited.DE. Translation and edit by: Rachel Douglass.

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