How can you sell an old product in a new way? For brothers Sage and Cody Disch, that was the problem they confronted in 2014 when they started their sock company, Ace & Everett. The company sells high-end, colorful patterned socks that are American-made and go for Brooks Brothers-level prices.
“When we started the company and started marketing, what we saw was we need to do something different,” Sage said in an interview. “We didn’t have the budget of a VC-funded fashion startup. So we thought, what can we create that will get in front of the young millennial urban guy?”
One answer? Instagram.
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Cody followed a young photographer named Humza Deas, a 17-year-old Brooklyn high school student who was starting to build a following by sneaking into or onto New York City landmarks and snapping photos from the top of them. (The illicit, made-for-social-media pursuit is loosely known as urban exploration, or urbex, and is quickly sneaking its way to marketable legitimacy.)
In August of that year, Deas hit the main stage of New York media with a cover story profile of him and his friends in New York Magazine called “Meet the Outlaw Instagrammers of New York City” by Adrian Chen. Deas’s photos frequently focused on his feet dangling off the side of whatever landmark he was sitting on, with the city splayed out below. That combination of daring, vertiginous surprise and feet was perfect for Cody, and he got in contact.
“From a marketing perspective, the idea was, ‘Let’s sell more than socks,'” Sage explained. “For us it’s a longer-term play: to have those human relationships and know that we’re running with the right crowd in the city and get them excited about the socks.”
Cody and Sage befriended Deas and offered him free socks to use in his photos. In 2015, they chartered a helicopter and took him up for a shoot over New York City, where he took photos of his stockinged legs dangling out of the open side of the chopper. The photos, which are seriously amazing, got picked up by Buzzfeed and made into a listicle, “18 Dizzying Views Of NYC That Will Leave You Breathless.” It was the company’s first major media exposure.
The Disch brothers had both been on the track of white-collar employment when they decided to start a sock company. The older, Cody, graduated from Syracuse University with a major in finance and enrolled in law school at Brooklyn Law. Sage graduated from Haverford College, the tiny, elite liberal arts school on the Main Line of Philadelphia, and went to work as a management consultant for Accenture. But the pair, who come from a long family history of entrepreneurship had something else in mind. Socks.
In 2014 the brothers started a Kickstarter campaign and raised $30,000. Last year they did over $100,000 in revenue, and this year they’re on pace to more than double that. They’ve also rolled out a new monthly subscription service called Boys Club, where members receive each month an exclusive pair of socks not available online. Nearly all sales are online and direct to consumer, though they’ve started moving into wholesaling, and are now carried in 20 boutique stores around the country. The impressive growth comes from the quality and the marketing of the product, Sage explained.
Though (or perhaps because) they don’t pay Deas to wear the socks in his Instagram, the three of them became friends. They grew so close, the trio actually moved into a Bushwick apartment together in 2015.
Ace & Everett even made a Deas-themed sock, The Humzilla (which quickly sold out). Earlier this year, they went on a five-week trip across country, stopping in 20 cities, mostly in the South and West, meeting customers, selling socks, and taking photos along the way. They’ve recently found new living arrangements, but the three remain as tight.
Such trips, and the documentation of them across social platforms, are the way this young company is going to sell socks. Sage said he looks up to direct-to-consumer leaders like online short-shorts-for-men retailer Chubbies, and raunchy underwear retailer MeUndies, at least in how they’ve formed a connection with their targeted demographic of customers.
“I think we’re going for a different type of customer, but I think they’ve [Chubbies] done an unbelievable job of understanding who their customer is and have created brilliant content across all platforms. Snapchats, Instagrams, hilarious newsletters that are on point. They’re really the model of understanding who their people are,” Sage said.
So this is how you sell socks in 2016. Scout talent, make friendships, create shareable content for a particular demographic. All the means of distribution are free.
Sage said they’ve spent about $5,000 on Facebook advertising, and they do pay Deas for his time during the shoots, but the rest has been pretty organic. Last year, Deas had a solo show at Bushwick’s respected Sugarlift gallery. He’s up to 188,000 followers and counting. This year, Ace & Everett plans to take their business model to investors, hoping to secure a second, larger round of funding.