This time last year, I was weeks away from launching my children’s sock company, Sockabu, when I received a phone call with three words that derailed everything.
“We gotta problem,” a gruff voice said.
The guy on the phone was one of my manufacturing reps. I broke into a sweat.
“What sort of problem?” I asked.
“An unraveling issue,” he said.
Oh no. I thought. No no no no no. Socks + unraveling = devastation.
See, my socks aren’t designed like standard socks. Sockabu socks are special “flip” socks that allow kids to cover their toes for warmth, then uncover their toes when they need extra traction for running around. Because this design was brand-new (patented, in fact), the manufacturing process was challenging from the start.
Creating the perfect kids’ socks was way more complicated than expected. (Photo: Amy Smyth)
It was a two-step international undertaking. First, a Chinese factory loomed 15,000 toeless tube socks. Then the generic socks were shipped to a cut-and-sew factory in California, where tailors were tasked with creating the “flip” feature.
To help keep everything on track, I hired a sock contractor—a middle man who could communicate with the Chinese supplier.
He had come highly recommended. He’s a renowned expert in the field, with years of experience in manufacturing. Still, our business relationship had never been easy. When we first met, he laughed at my product idea and told me I was lucky to get a meeting with him.
I felt unsure of myself, so part of me believed him. When he grudgingly agreed to take on my project, I said, “Thank you!” instead of “No, thank you—you’re a jerk.” I told myself I could put up with his demeaning attitude. He knew what he was doing, and I felt I needed help.
He and I went through rounds of samples together. On the final sample, I noticed a tiny string on the turn welt. When pulled, the string caused the entire sock to come apart. The middle man brushed aside my concerns, scoffing that no sample was perfect. The socks looked great—that’s what mattered at this stage. I trusted him and approved a factory run of 15,000.
I decided to try again—on my terms, this time. I didn’t need some ‘expert’ telling me what to do.
When I got that dreaded phone call from my contact at the California factory, my heart sank — not just because I suddenly had a mountain of unusable tube socks sitting in a warehouse, but because I had lacked the confidence to press the issue when I first noticed it. Why hadn’t I trusted myself?
I immediately called the middle man and asked him to meet me at the factory to evaluate the problem.
Sure enough, the entire shipment was botched. “Are you rejecting this order?” the middle man asked. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
Rejecting the order would ensure I got back my $5,800 retainer, but he warned that that the damaged socks would be donated to Goodwill—thousands of defective items prominently branded with my logo. He knew that for a startup like mine, that sort of bad publicity would be ruinous.
I felt sick. Trapped. He and I had never signed anything more than a simple work order. To him, it was “just business.” To me, it was everything.
I hired a lawyer and dropped thousands more on legal fees to little avail. In the end, I kept the socks and let the middle man keep the money. I felt it was all I could do to keep my brand from being destroyed before I even launched.
Flashback to the Great Unraveling Debacle of 2017.
The experience was a huge setback, financially and emotionally. For weeks, I struggled to figure out my next steps: Do I give up? Say screw it? Because being a mom is really all that matters? Or do I take another stab at it despite the failure, despite the humiliation? Do I suck it up and rebuild because I’m a mom?
After intense reflection, I decided to try again—on my terms, this time. I didn’t need some “expert” guiding me through the process and telling me what to do. I was the expert now. I knew more about my product than anyone else. I invented the damn thing and had two patents to show for it. I knew the challenges. I knew what worked and what didn’t. And I knew what needed to be done to bring this idea to life.
It’s funny, because it’s exactly how I began my career in TV journalism. In those early days, I eagerly jumped in and learned everything — in addition to serving as a reporter, I did quintuple duty as my own camera person, live-shot operator, audio tech and video editor.
Launching Sockabu was no different, I learned. I did my research and found an amazing manufacturer in the U.S. I communicated my standards directly to the person in charge: The socks needed to be seamless. The flip function must be smooth, the cotton soft and flexible. The nonskid detail on the heel needed to last. The socks are now completely reimagined and perfectly, beautifully functional.
My final step? A Kickstarter campaign for Sockabu. I love the idea of launching in a grassroots way that places me in a community of artists, designers, and start-ups bringing bold ideas to the public. I love the terrifying vulnerability of putting myself out there again after a huge personal failure. Yes, I’ve learned a ton about making socks. More important, I’ve learned to dig in and dive deep. When you can confidently say YOU are the expert in your venture, it’s launch time.