About this project
Thank you for all your support over the course of our Kickstarter. If you missed us here, you can now order socks at http://xoab.us.
What is XOAB?
We have been working for more than a year to create the world’s best socks. The socks that never stay in your sock drawer.
- Amaze your feet. XOAB socks stay up. They stretch and support. They aren't too thick or too thin. And they will last through wash after wash.
- Bring artisan to industry. The sock industry, evolved for large-scale production of limited designs, couldn’t accommodate our vision. So we studied their methods, modified their knitting machines, and wrote our own software. Now we can prototype quickly and manufacture on a small scale.
- Set design free. Neil became a designer because he loves to create. Our technology unleashes his creative energy, giving you a broad range of stunning design and color choices, with more to come.
- Make it here. We make XOAB socks, design to dyeing to dancing, in the USA using only domestic materials.
- Don't compromise. We use the best materials and manufacturing techniques we can find. If you’re not satisfied, we’ll make it right.
- Have fun. We created a business around a shared passion. Our goals: work together, do good, and have fun doing it.
When we started XOAB, we knew what good socks were, but we didn't know enough about what makes good socks great. Instead of trusting our own preconceptions, we spent a lot of time with the people who make the socks we wear; the knitters, mechanics, dyers and spinners with decades of experience making socks. These people are the heroes of our story; they know what goes into quality, and they were gracious and patient in teaching us. They helped us understand how to make socks they would want to wear. We've designed XOAB socks with their ideas in mind, and we'll improve our socks as we continue to learn more. (Scroll to the bottom of the page to read more about all of the people who have helped us along the way. We're grateful for their support.)
To start off our project, we're offering an early bird 2-pack of our socks for $40 or a 5-pack for $99. You get to choose either Merino wool or combed cotton, in any of our designs and colors. Each pair of socks will be packaged in our elegant, embossed gift boxes.
(The eventual retail price of our socks will probably be around $28, and we'll be charging somewhat more for wool, as the wool yarn we use is more expensive than cotton.)
If you don't want to splurge for socks, but want to support us, a pledge of $5.00 will get you a thank you card we've created just for this launch, hand-signed by the two of us, showing every design we're offering in the collection.
For the rest of the Kickstarter, we're offering single pairs of socks, and packages of 3, 5, 7 and 10 pairs.
- $25 - one pair
- $70 - three pairs
- $115 - five pairs
- $160 - seven pairs, an entire week's worth of our socks
- $220 - ten pairs, a great start on replacing your sock drawer
For any of our sock rewards, you'll be able to choose to have your socks made from either organic, extra-long-staple cotton or 18.5 micron Merino wool. You'll also be able to choose from any of the patterns and color combinations we offer.
We're going to limit each of the pledge tiers to help us make sure we can deliver your socks on time. We aim to deliver all of the initial campaign rewards by December 2013. If you really like our socks, we'll add more tiers with delivery dates timed to production capacity. [Update: we're hitting our capacity limit for December, and are adding pledge tiers for January delivery.]
Including our experience launching XOAB, we've spent a lot of time learning and doing design, branding, funding, sustainable sourcing , packaging and spinning up manufacturing and operations for our own ventures and for others. For those of you starting your own design-centric manufacturing business, we've added a few rewards aimed at sharing what we've learned.
For $500, you can join a Google+ hangout with Rick and Neil, to talk about getting a business like ours off the ground. We'll hit some of the best practices we've discovered, and answer your questions. The session will be interactive, and we'll include ten pair of our socks in the bargain.
For $1,000, we'll add a couple of hours of one-on-one phone time with Rick and Neil, focusing on topics you choose.
For $2,000, join us face-to-face, in either San Francisco or Boulder, for an afternoon and dinner (on us, up to four people) to brainstorm about your business and talk about what we're learning. You set the agenda; we can talk about avoiding some of the pitfalls we faced, our take on best practices for building a design-centric business, or just a working session on topics of your choice.
For $5,000, we're offering a special bespoke sock design. Taking your ideas, image collateral and design suggestions, Neil will spend a day creating a custom sock pattern only for you. You can choose from the colors in our inventory, and then we'll put your design on our knitting machine and run one day's production of your design (somewhere around 100-120 pairs of socks.) You'll own the design, and it'll never be produced for or sold to anyone else.
We've spent a lot of time focused on how our socks fit, and we've done a lot of testing and experimentation. You'll notice our socks are stretchier than most you've tried. They contour themselves smoothly, with no drooping or sagging. In our experiments with sock design, we added a super-stretchy, hair-thin spandex thread throughout the body of each sock. We intended to offer as many sizes as necessary, but to our surprise, our spandex structure in both wool and cotton fits a very wide range of feet. And, the fit isn't a compromise. Over and over, we've watched people try our socks; the spandex pulls in gently for a great fit.
The bottom line is that we've thought a lot about sizing and fit, so you don't need to. We'll ask you for your shoe size when you pick your socks, and we'll send you socks that fit.
Over the last twenty years, US fashion brands outsourced most of their manufacturing. The sock business, in particular, has seen almost all US manufacturing capacity move overseas. When we started XOAB, we decided to make our socks here, instead. Not only do we support textile manufacturing jobs in the US, but making socks closer to home is the key to the high-quality, short-run manufacturing model we're creating. While our manufacturing costs are higher, so is the standard of craftmanship. It's been our good fortune to meet and gain the support of some incredibly knowledgeable sock industry veterans. Without their energy, ingenuity and creativity, we wouldn't have a business. (Read more about them at the bottom of this page.)
We made some assumptions when we started this project. Sock-making is a known process, and all we wanted to do was design interesting mens's socks. How hard could it be? It turns out mens's socks need to stretch much more than women's socks because men's legs are bigger. Pattern complexity reduces stretch; our first samples wouldn't fit rabbits, let alone us. Fast forward to today: we've created patent-pending software to analyze our designs, add the stretch back in, and provide machine-ready files for our knitting hardware. Plus, the knitting hardware we're using has been customized to integrate with our software and increase versatility.
Going a step further, we learned sock knitting is very much a mass-manufacturing process. Knitting mills make hundreds of thousands of the same pattern. Large production runs save time and money. It costs too much and takes too much time to run a small batch, and individual customization can't happen because one pair of socks in a haystack of thousands can't be found.
The solution? We asked one of the best knitting machine manufacturers in the world to do what hadn't been done before; build us a machine capable of making every sock unique. Then we designed a pattern to knit into our socks, the textile equivalent of a barcode, identifying size, features and construction exactly, so we could make one pair or a thousand, and track the socks from knitting to shipping with 100% accuracy. (And for the curious, yes, our pattern-reading software will run on tablets and phones, allowing for interesting possibilities down the road...)
We're raising money on Kickstarter to help us make our first production run of XOAB socks. Our biggest remaining expense is $30,000 to create a yarn inventory to knit our designs. Neil has chosen a library of colors to use in our designs; you can see many of the colors in the socks pictured here. While we've secured enough dyed yarn to produce our prototypes, and we have enough undyed Merino wool thread ("grey" yarn in textile parlance) we need to have our first set of colors produced in quantity to make your socks. In addition, we need to buy, dye and ply enough organic cotton yarn to produce socks for those among you who prefer cotton.
Your pledges mean everything to us -- we can't do this without you! But we'd like to invite you to participate beyond pledging. Because we have a lot of control over sourcing and manufacturing, we don’t have to limit ourselves to one sock variation, or to a small number of designs and colors. Instead of guessing what kind of socks to make, we're asking you, our customer, what you want.
WOOL or COTTON?
For every pair of socks you pledge for, we’re going to ask you to choose whether you want them in 18.5 micron Merino wool, or organic, extra-long-staple combed cotton. Mix and match as much as you want.
DESIGN & COLOR.
When our Kickstarter finishes, you'll be able to choose your rewards from the designs and solids you see here, each in a broad range of colors. And in the future, we may ask your opinions on new colors, designs and features because we’ve built the infrastructure to support your choices as our business grows. Stay tuned.
We'd love to see a pair our Kickstarter socks on your feet ten years from now. Unfortunately, it's pretty much impossible to create a dress sock, one that's comfortable and made from soft fibers, and not have it wear out eventually. We're doing everything we can to delay the inevitable, but let's face it — you're putting a thin piece of fabric between you and a relatively hard shoe, and then rubbing your foot back and forth against it thousands of times each day. It might take years, but it's not a question of "if" a sock is going to wear out, but "when."
However. We think our socks are some of the best. If you have a problem, or if you ever (and we mean "ever") think that you haven't gotten your money's worth from XOAB socks, send the socks back to us, and we'll give you your choice of either new socks or your money back. No receipt needed, and the only questions we'll ask are about how we can make our socks better. Ours is an unconditional guarantee. If you're not happy, we'll make it right.
Neil and I are deeply indebted for all the support we've received over the last year. If not for the energy and kindness of innumerable friends, old and new, we'd never have gotten here. We're standing on the shoulders of a lot of very smart, very generous people.
- We've talked to many, many industry people, both current and past employees at industry-leading sock companies. They've given graciously of their time, patiently answered our questions, and didn't laugh too hard when we told them what we were trying to do.
- Almost everyone we talked to early on pointed us to Dan St. Louis and his team at the Manufacturing Solutions Center, in Hickory, NC. Dan's mission is nothing short of bringing sock manufacturing back to the US, and his group has consulted on sock projects all over the country. Dan and and the staff at the MSC provide a wealth of information and services for hosiery manufacturers, both young and established. Thanks also to Rodney Sigmon, who let us use the center's sock machines before we were able to get our own, and Linda York, who made the logistics of our visits to the center an absolute joy. Thanks especially to Tony Whitener, Special Projects Director at the center, who, in one of our moments of panic, told us "You might be overthinkin' this, boys." We've repeated that essential observation to each other more times than we can count.
- Our thanks to Tom Perkinson, Keith Horn and Steve Haire at KentWool, in Pickens, SC, the first Uster-certified spinning mill in the western hemisphere, and our source for the amazing, high-quality yarn we're using to make our socks.
- Thanks to Craig and Curt Garton, of Columbia Silk Dye, for creating the colors we need for our socks.
- We're incredibly grateful to Ranae Woody and her team at Catawba Valley Knitting and Finishing in Newton, NC, for not only agreeing to knit socks for us, but letting us drop an alien knitting machine onto their shop floor, and letting us hang out there for months breaking it while figuring out how to implement our ideas. Alton Rockett, Lynn Medlin and Mike Pope have taught us and are teaching us more than we imagined about knitting machines, making good socks, and about the sock business. Their grace under pressure, quiet, certain competence, and above all their patience with our unending questions have provided a lifeline for our efforts.
- Without Gianmario Busi and his team in Brescia we would not have succeeded with either our pattern innovations or barcode technology. He was among the first to understand the potential of our ideas, and was willing to try and implement hardware and software solutions to the technical problems we posed. Gianmario, along with Catina Busi, Ezio Piccini, Roberto Busi and Alessandro Corti hosted us in Brescia, and proved beyond any doubt that Busi Giovanni makes some of the best sock knitting machines in the world.
- Daniele Ziglioli, Davide Zanni and Luca Cussolotto were instrumental in modifying the existing machine and pattern software to allow our code to interface with the sock knitting systems.
- Bob Small, in Toronto, was a bemused witness to our evolving understanding of what sock machines could and could not do. He even sold us one, despite his initial misgivings about our sanity. John Towell installed our machine and got it running, but moreover was a wonderful traveling companion and technical guide in Italy.
- On the home front, Tim Ruszel and Brendan Roberts continue to help us put together the XOAB web site, David Rea provides a much appreciated sounding board for our barcode and social ideas, and introduced us to Brian McKinney, who now helps with our image recognition code in the wee hours his real job isn't already claiming.
- James Clark, Jason Cormier and the gang at Room 214 believed in Cluetrain, and confessed that James really does have a sock fetish.
- Josh Glassman, DP, and David Levine, Sound Mixer, worked on our video, and traipsed around the east coast with us for a memorable week in January.
- Hannah Alkire and Joe Scott, who make such beautiful music together as Acoustic Eidolon, let us use their amazing track "Looking For a River" as our theme song. It's been playing in our heads for a long time!
- Our San Francisco sock photo party drew a fantastic turnout of supporters to model socks, dance and take pictures. Catharine Clark allowed us to use her beautiful space, The Catharine Clark Gallery. Photographers Jeff Larsen and Karen Kuhn and DP Josh Glassman gave unstintingly of their time. Models and friends included Dan Adams, Peter Alexander, Vivek Anand, Lilah Beldner, Max Beldner, Nick Bensen, Shala Cano, Bella Crews, Zoe Crews, Juan Crovetto, John Doherty, Heather Henry, Sophia Henry, Margaret Irving, Isabelle Laporte, Wayne Lehr, David Levine, Ric Lopez, Stephanie Medina, Shannon Monroe, Rose Phung, Aline Sar, Rob Semmens, Marc Slavin, Michael Staley, Catherine Stoehr and Norma Jo Waxman. Their feet and enthusiasm make our video and product photos beautiful.
- A special thanks to Joan Steuer for her support and boundless creativity.
- Sue, Sarah, Naomi and David have shown great patience in allowing Rick to be "gainfully unemployed" for over a year as this idea developed.
- Our parents, whose creativity, independent thinking and encouragement inspired us to pursue our passions. Myra Levine, our mom, has suggested we work together on our own business since we were in our 20's. We've been slow in listening, but she was right, of course. We wish our dad, Robert Levine, were still around to see what we're up to. We get a lot of our entrepreneurial and problem-solving wiring from him, and we miss him.
- And finally, we thank each other, each for being an amazing brother, and for being someone with whom we'd want to create a business, without hesitation and with much love. XOAB.
Risks and challenges
We’re doing everything we can to mitigate the risks we’re facing as we get XOAB off the ground:
This isn’t our first time around the block. While we’re new to the sock business, this isn’t our first company, nor our first manufacturing venture or even our first consumer product gig.
We’ve done a lot of the work before we got here. We’ve spent the last 16 months figuring out the nuts and bolts of making you the best socks on the planet. We've sourced yarn, gotten dyed samples, prototyped packaging and created thousands of socks. We have our own knitting machine installed and our team is ready to roll; we have much of our raw yarn already in inventory and mills ready to supply more as soon as we need it. Our sock designs are baked and tested, and they run well on our machine.
We know exactly how many socks we can make each week on our machine, and we’ll only commit to shipping what we can make for our deadlines. As demand grows, we’ll add more knitting capacity.
Neil and I are confident we can overcome any new obstacles that might arise. The problems we’ve tackled on the journey to this launch have been big ones, and we’ve nailed solutions, again and again. We’re not stopping, and with your help, we’re going to make some great socks.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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