Q: "How long have you been with Socksmith and describe your background a little bit."
KS: "I’ve been with Socksmith for eight years. I started in February 2013 and there were only three people at the company- two socks designers and one warehouse operator. I actually started off going to school for criminal justice, but after a couple of years it was a bit intense and I knew it would run my life, so I decided to go a different route. I am an artist and have been doing creative things all my life. I already knew how to paint and draw and sculpt, but I wanted to learn something new. So I decided to go to school for graphic design. I ended up loving it and eventually that’s what I got my degree in. Things kind of got stretched out for me because I had a family tragedy, but I was going to school down south and moved back up here to Santa Cruz, so it just delayed my graduation. Then I took a year to travel and worked doing just some odds and ends for a couple companies – a coffee company, Hospice of Santa Cruz County, and a lunchbox company. I helped them with design and art for their websites.
In 2012, my mom was planning an event with Eric and Ellen for a hospice fundraiser, and she actually had me work and help her with the event. In doing so, I met the Gils and I got to meet Judi Oyama, who was the graphic designer for Socksmith at the time. She had her own design company and did contract work for Socksmith. After meeting Judi, I wanted to intern with her and she offered me my first interning job assisting her at a photo shoot for Socksmith. It was funny. I did it really to help and learn from Judi, but then Eric offered me a job with Socksmith right after that. I took the job even though it wasn't a design position initially. He wanted me just to kind of join the team and see what happened.
I worked in the warehouse with one other for about a year, and I still had a full-time waitressing job. I learned how to manage and ship the socks and there was maybe a month where I did it all by myself. It was such a small warehouse back then, it was really easy to tackle. Then finally I said, 'Alright, Eric, can I try some design work?' He said yes, but he didn’t have a lot for me to do. Over the next six months, I assisted Judi in graphic work, and photoshoots. It’s kind of a blur, but at some point, I quit my waitressing job and I was working full time as a graphic designer and also during that time I also started designing socks. I took on so much of the work to help Judi and then after a year or so, we decided to have everything done in-house, so I started to create the catalog at that point. I was doing socks, graphics, photography, basically anything we needed and the company started growing. We started to hire more sock and graphic designers. I just was kind of taking on everything that I could, but as we added people, I started to give them tasks and manage what was happening on the graphic design side of things. So my position as Creative Director just organically happened."
Q: "As Creative Director, what types of projects do you manage and what's your day to day look like now?"
KS: "I create catalogs, posters, flyers, packaging, graphic art for printed socks, and design knit socks. I do specs for the factories, mock-ups and mapping, which is taking the sock design from the textile format and making it look like it's an actual sock. I help with all licensing and custom programs. I'm doing a lot of new projects like masks and the other products we’ll introduce soon, which includes product development. I used to photograph the products as well as help with lifestyle images, but now we have other people doing that. I direct the photoshoots for each catalog too.
So all those things can happen intermittently, and simultaneously. I manage the team and all of the sock rounds that they're working on, though the sock design team is a well-oiled machine at this point. I talk to manufacturers daily and any given department is emailing me or calling me to ask me for something daily. It's just literally working on 10 different things while trying to maybe work on my own specific project. It's just a juggling act."
Q: "What are some of the most challenging and rewarding things about your job?"
KS: "One of the most challenging things is to create something, whether it's small or large, and have it not work out for whatever reason. It's always sad when you put your heart and time into something and then it doesn't work out, and you have to let it go. An example would be, designing a whole category that didn’t go forward due to an unexpected price increase. You literally just have let go of all the development and designing we spent months doing.
It’s rewarding getting all the feedback from customers. People really love our socks and our products, it seems to make them really happy. One email that stuck with me, was a kid talking about how they were having a hard time in school, didn’t have many friends, but when they put on our socks, they were able to express themselves and be happy. The kid was grateful for our company and that made us feel really good. Also it is rewarding when you see it out there in the world, like a president getting your socks as gifts, or TV shows wanting to use them, or celebrities wearing them. It just feels like you're connected to people, all over the world. It’s a cool feeling."
Q: "Your team introduces, give or take, 300 to 400 new designs a year, which is far and above what most brands, especially sock brands do. How do you make sure that they're delivering quality work and great art all the time?"
KS: "Well, I don't have to make sure, I mean they're just exceptional designers and artists and they know what they're doing. And even I myself sometimes think, whoa, there's not anything else we could possibly do. We've done everything! But then all of a sudden there's 20 more designs like a month later that they've created. And you're just like, oh my gosh, how do you guys think of these things?
We do put out so much new product every season and in between, I feel like way more than most brands. And so of course, everything's not perfect or a home run. But that's why we make so much and we try and pick what will be strong. But even when you get it to market, sometimes it's funny because the outcome in sales isn’t what we expected. We bet on things that we think are going to be really good, and they only do alright. Or something we were iffy about, turns out to be a top seller. It’s just really interesting to see how they're received out there in the world. But overall, they're awesome."
Q: "Expand on that a little bit as far as managing that many skews and new designs. How do you know, do you pick a number? How does that work?"
KS: "Eric has always chosen the lucky number for each design category. With our main Socksmith line - cotton crew, we always try and do around the same number of design offerings for a certain season. Fall is always larger than Spring, but we usually do around the same number of designs every year. Then we do multiple colors of each design. We usually chose one or two colorways for each which makes for higher SKU count. But sometimes if we feel a design is exceptional, we will do three colorways. Going into designing a season, we set goals on how many women’s or men’s we will need to make, and also some themes that we are after. Like for example the holidays, we may strive to add like three to five Christmas or Halloween socks. If it is a new category or new product, Eric still chooses the lucky number, but it is always a conservative number to start. Then after a few seasons, we may expand to larger quantities. But we currently have around 13 different types of socks that we are making that all have collections that we design into every year. So we are definitely staying busy."
Q: "With your your career path, which didn't start in design as you said, what advice would you give someone who is looking at getting into the design field? "
KS: "You have to be open and able to take constructive criticism on your designs. And know that if you make something and it doesn't pan out, you've got to let it roll off your back because you're going to be making so much more. You have to know who and what you are designing for. Know when to design for what the company or customer needs, and when to take liberties on your designs. We once hired someone who had only ever done contract-based work, so they were used to designing for many different people. Then when I asked them to do simple design projects, they made their own decisions on what they thought the outcome should be rather than sticking to our brand identity. Sometimes, we do want a new spin or fresh idea on something, but other times it’s just simply go with the cohesive look of the brand.
Next, is know the Adobe products! Or you if you want to be a sock designer, you will have to learn the textile software. The Adobe softwares evolve every year. Honestly, I could go back and take another course and learn so much more. They are always trying to make things easier and more awesome and there are many shortcuts. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone gains a certain amount of knowledge and when you get into an environment full of designers, I would just ask, 'How do you do this?' because there’s many different ways to do one thing. You can teach each other. And there’s always YouTube to help when needed. You can find pretty much any tutorial on there.
As far as textile, that's a little more specific and there's not a lot of programs out there. The program that we use is great, it's just more simplified than Adobe products, but the similarities help a lot. I was able to teach myself because I had already been using Adobe stuff. I'm sure there's so much more we can learn because we've only been doing sock design. But with this software you can design all apparel.
Finally, if it's not working out or something's not perfect, you have to ask yourself, what can I do differently? Or take a break from it. Don’t be afraid to ask your peers! This is like a family and we're trying to create, collaborate and design together."